Monday, 29 June 2015

My Day in Court: The Fog Clears

Last week I attended court and at the time wrote a blog on the experience and the outcome, which for reasons I detail in that blog, I thought was wrong. It's well worth a read. I must admit my brain was pretty foggy when I wrote that blog as I had had a long day at court, had been questioned fairly vigorously, and had been on a bit of an emotional roller-coaster. That explains why I gloss over a lot of the detail in the blog as it was all a bit mixed up in my head.

It was only when I was heading home the next day that the fog lifted. I was cycling up Crow Road through Anniesland when I suddenly remembered probably the most crucial part of the trial. It hit me like a bit of a brick wall. I must admit when I got home I was pretty livid and as a result I took the weekend to chill out before writing about this. I didn't want to write it in anger.

If you look back at the trial blog, you'll see that the main issue was the identity of the vehicle. The magistrate had brought this up in the summation and effectively directed the defence to follow that line of defence. This was despite the fact that the driver was the only driver of this particular car and admitted driving along that road that evening at around that time, the fact that I shouted out the registration at the time of the incident (i.e. I witnessed it), the fact that the car appearance fitted the car that the registration matched (colour and general type) and the fact that the police, had they been asked, could have confirmed that the shape of the car from the back suggested it was an Audi.

Beyond, reasonable doubt?

However, my memory had cleared and I remembered something quite significant that happened during the trial.

As I was being shown the video the Procurator Fiscal (PF) asked me to recite the registration of the car in the video, and that I had had the incident with. I managed to recite the first four characters, but at that point my mind went blank, and I stumbled. I asked the PF if she could read back my statement to remind me (something I believe I am allowed to ask for). The PF started to look for it. As she did so the magistrate interrupted. He said something along the lines of...'this is not in dispute, is it?' First he looked at the PF and then the defence lawyer. The defence lawyer rose a little and said, 'it is not your honour'. As a result I was not asked to complete my recital of the registration.

There was no dispute.

The trial continued.

It was only at the point of summation, when the defence lawyer was trying to convince the magistrate that the car wasn't close at all, that the magistrate started questioning the identity of the vehicle. The defence lawyer never did during the trial itself. The magistrate suggested that we couldn't be certain that that car was the car being driven by the defendant, and yet the magistrate was the one who had clarified and received an answer that the registration was not in dispute and I was not required to say it in court.

I am therefore, as I am sure you can imagine, very confused as to how this all occurred.

The identity of the vehicle was not in doubt, but then it was.

I have looked into possibly of getting a transcript of the case, but I'm not sure I can, or if it even exists at all. I've seen suggestions that in non-jury trials, transcripts are often not taken/recorded in Scotland. Why?!? So whilst I am pretty angry about this, that's just about as far as it can probably go. Unless anyone knows any different of course!

In the grand scheme of things, my wee court case probably doesn't matter. It's small fish to a centuries old legal system that would appear to still be running things as if it was running centuries ago. However, something certainly conspired against me.

So what exactly is the required level of evidence for a dangerous driving conviction? I'm bu%%ered if I know.

Anyway, it just so happens, I'm off to court again tomorrow. Joy.....

Friday, 26 June 2015

More Court Case Woes

 Recently you may remember that two of my dangerous driving cases were dropped. Unfortunately I still don't know the reasons why these cases were dropped despite chasing this up a few times. I have therefore made the following complaint to the 'Response and Information Unit' at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

I'm not having much luck with cases at the moment....


Dear Sir/Madam,

I have recently been involved in two separate cases recently (case1 and case2) where I was the main prosecution witness and victim. Both were cases of dangerous driving that occurred on the same day whilst I was cycling to work. I recorded these incidents on helmet and rear bike mounted cameras, reported them to the police and was subsequently cited to appear in court for both cases. Both drivers were charged with dangerous driving.

Case case1 was dropped on the day of the trial whilst I was attending Dumbarton Sheriff Court. I was not informed at the time why the case was dropped. Upon calling the the COPFS I was informed that I would need to contact the COPFS via e-mail if I wanted to know why the case had been dropped. I did this on the 19th May 2015.

Case case2 was dropped the day before I was due to attend court. Again I was informed by the COPFS that I would have to e-mail them to find out why the case had been dropped. I duly did this on the 4th June 2015.

It is now the 26th June and I still have not received any feedback on these cases. I am still in the dark as to why these cases, which I consider to be serious in their nature, were dropped. I have sent three e-mails asking for a response for case case1 (I have received one e-mail back saying I would hear back soon, but never did). I have sent two e-mails asking for a response for case case2.

Both of these incidents were distressing for me (you can watch the videos of the incidents yourself http://www.magnatom.net/2015/06/the-failure-of-justice.html). Both the drivers in these incidents will be fully aware of why the case has been dropped and yet, despite myself chasing the COPFS up on a number of occasions now, I am still none the wiser.

Through my campaigning work for safer roads for all with Pedal on Parliament (http://pedalonparliament.org/) I have met families who have unfortunately lost their loved ones in road incidents not too dissimilar to the ones in the video above. I know that they feel like I do that the rights of the victims are treated more contemptuously than the accused.

Please can you investigate the COPFS and find out why I have not been passed on the details I have requested and please can you help me gain these details. I have attached the e-mails in question to aid your investigation.

For your information this letter will be posted on my blog (www.magnatom.net) later this evening with the case numbers redacted.

Best regards

Dr David Brennan

Thursday, 25 June 2015

My Day in Court

Despite what some may think I have never actually been in court as a witness before. Today was the first case that has actually got to that stage.

First, here is the incident itself.



This occurred back in February 2014 and has only now gone to court. The case was submitted to the Procurator Fiscal (PF) by the police with the suggested charge of Dangerous Driving. The PF agreed and a trial date was eventually set to try the driver for Dangerous Driving.

So today I went to court in Glasgow. This morning was mainly spent sitting. Waiting. Sitting. Waiting. It was a long morning. Lots witnesses were getting called and either dismissed or taken into court. Only approaching lunchtime did I hear that my case was going ahead and for some reason had been swapped from court 19 to court 20.

The PF then asked for a quick word. She asked me where my cameras were placed. I pointed out they were on my helmet and, at that time, on my downtube. That was all the PF spoke to me about before the trial.

Soon I was taken through to court and there I was standing in the witness box. There was the judge...actually a magistrate in this case, a clerk, another person who I think was a clerk and who seemed to be just doing some random work on a computer, the PF, the defence lawyer, a police officer and the accused. There was no-one in the public gallery throughout the trial.

First off the PF asked me questions. My name, age, occupation, what happened how did I feel, etc. This was all before the footage was shown. At this early stage I have to be honest, but I felt the PF was nervous, hesitant and unprepared. I was asked about passing distances, who recommended it etc.

At one point I was asked a particular question about acceptable driving. The magistrate then pointed out to the PF that this would only be appropriate if I was deemed an expert witness. The PF was hesitant about this. She was not sure about this at all. The magistrate then suggested that I be removed whilst this was discussed.

When I came back in, though I wasn't told the outcome, it became clear that I was not considered an expert and that my opinion was to be limited to what was relevant to cycling, though saying what was too close etc was ok.

In the video used in court two cars overtaking were seen from the rear camera. These cars gave me room. The magistrate asked if this could have been related to the change in lighting. I suggested it wasn't.

I was asked about my visibility, where I pointed out my lights (2 on back, 2 on front). I also mentioned my hi-vis. Yes this is not necessary, but it wouldn't hinder my case. I did not mention and was not asked about wearing a helmet, although that was probably implied by having a helmet camera!!

We started looking at the footage and after watching all the way through I was asked questions about it. What was happening, where I was, the road conditions and details about the incident itself. During this section we approached lunchtime and the case was ajourned until after lunch.

I treated myself to a roll and sausage!

Back in court the video analysis continued. How did I feel. How close did I think it was, and importantly what position did I ride on the road. This led to discussions of the primary and secondary road position. What it was, why it was recommended and where exactly I was. I was probably in a strong secondary just over a metre out.

Then the PF rested her examination. I have no idea how long it was! At a guess, 30 mins.

Then the defence lawyer started asking questions. He was definitely more assured. I can't remember everything that was asked but there were a few things he focused on....my position....did I agree that my position was an attempt to control the traffic behind me?.... was I wobbling as I went up the hill?.... Did I really swerve at all as the car passed?....and most importantly, how close was the car.

He definitely thought that his strongest defence was the car was not as close as I suggested and that it was in fact perfectly safe. He did point out at one point that I wasn't hit and thus this suggested that it wasn't dangerous. He asked about speed limits. He was keen to point out that the driver wasn't actually speeding and that the speed limit in this area was national (60mph). I agreed that this was true.

He then suggested that what had actually happened was that I had just not expected the car and had had a bit of a fright when the car had passed unexpectedly.

Then the police witnesses were brought in and they were questioned to make sure they had done the interviews etc correctly. They had.

Then, the summing up. This is where it got interesting. The defence lawyer went first. His main line of defence was that the video was not clear enough in demonstrating that the pass had in fact been dangerous. He suggested that it was in fact very difficult to determine how close the car was. Then something unexpected happened....

The magistrate interrupted and said something along the lines of....'my biggest problem is that it is not clear from the footage that it is the accused's car that is in the video.

This very obviously caught the defence lawyer by surprise, as he ummed and awwed for a few seconds. He quickly composed himself and said, 'yes, I was obviously coming to that'. The defence lawyer then focused on the fact that the registration could not be identified, and that thus there was no corroboration.


Hmm. This really surprised me. In the video, right after the incident I shout out the registration. I witnessed the car. I was one point of corroboration. The police earlier had confirmed that the driver admitted driving the car that night. He admitted that he had driven along that road at approximately that time. That was the second point of corroboration. However the focus was on the fact that the car was not identifiable from the video itself.

The PF tried to dispute this, but, in my opinion, very weakly. She pointed out that I said the registration right after the incident and that it was on camera, but this wasn't good enough. I sat there willing her to just say....but there was a witness.....me!!!!! I saw it. I also said that I remembered the reg even when I had got home.  mentioned this during the trial itself. But no. The magistrate just kept focusing on the fact that from the video it could have been many different types of cars.

The driver admitting being there, and driving the car....me describing the car as a black estate car (I'm sure in my witness statement I also mentioned it was an Audi), and the fact that I had a registration that fitted all of the above, was not good enough in the magistrates opinion. Not beyond reasonable doubt.

And so the judge summed up. He pointed out that two things have to be met to reach a conclusion of guilt. First, what the car was and who was driving it (there was no doubt about who drove that particular Audi as he was the only driver). That was not proven in his opinion. So the driver was not guilty.

The other condition that had to be met was the seriousness of the incident. The incident had to be 'well below' the standard expected of a reasonable driver. On this the judge was very clear.

'Had we been able to confirm your identity beyond reasonable doubt, I would have found you guilty of dangerous driving'

And that was that.

Not guilty.

As we left I saw the the driver looking relieved and shaking his lawyers hand. It seemed this did matter to him. The PF did come out to ask if I understood what had happened. I did. In my opinion she had failed to prosecute properly. I didn't say that. However, it wasn't the defence lawyer who saved his client. It was the magistrate who didn't think there was enough corroboration.

When I went outside the police were waiting to have a chat. They were very surprised by what had happened and could not understand where the issue with corroboration was. They had done their job well, and for that I am grateful. They fully understood that this was not about this one driver, but about the big picture.

It was in my opinion, the wrong decision. However, we must respect the courts decision. I don't personally feel any animosity towards the driver. I'm pretty sure he knows what happened that night was wrong and to be fair he has suffered some punishment. You don't get legal aid for cases such as this, so he will be out of pocket by a fair bit paying for his lawyer. I suspect that he will driver more carefully in the future.

If indeed the driver is reading this, I would be more than happy to meet and confidentially hear his side of the story, perhaps over a beer or a coffee. If you are up for this, feel free to contact me via this blog. Rest assured I have no ill feeling towards you personally.

The important positive that has come out of this is that a magistrate agreed that a close pass can and does constitute dangerous driving. He made that perfectly clear. That should encourage others to report similar incidents and to request they are taken seriously.

Let me know your thoughts, and if there are any lawyers out there, let me know what you think!

Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Vigilante Ped-Al-Qaeda Nazi Cyclist

Anyone who hasn't been on another planet for the last few days will have seen headlines along the lines of..

Cyclist vigilante nazi scum, declare war on peace loving cuddly saintly car drivers.

OK, that particular headline might be one I have lovingly conjured up myself, but to be fair, it is less controversial than some of the actual headlines that have graced the chip paper over the last week.

I am not going to link to any of them, so if you want to find them, you'll have to search for yourself.  I would ask that you refrain from doing so, as these articles serve two purposes, the first of which is to create controversy and thus to get people clicking through to their website, or buying the paper, thus pleasing the advertisers.

The second reason is that newspapers are struggling. Print numbers are down and online competition for readers is significant. Redundancies at newspapers are not uncommon. The way we consume news is changing and the old guard is fighting for survival.

Prejudice sells.

Of course prejudice of this nature is nothing new. In fact one of my claims to fame (I mean infamy) is that I'm one of the first cyclists (perhaps not the first...) to be labelled a vigilante. I even wrote about it way back in the frontier days of 2008.

My 'proudest moment' in that debacle  was being called by John Smeaton in the Sun Newspaper, Ped-Al-Qaeda.

Happy days....

So, just about everything that has been written is the recent articles has been said before. None of it is new. Prejudice rarely is.

So what's happened to me since 2008. Have a descended into a spiral of vigilantism? Do I now cycle around wearing a mask, pants outside my tights, with a butler back at helmet cam cave?

Hmm, not quite. I'll leave you to decide how I've turned out. However, one thing is certain, I wouldn't be where I am today without my helmet camming. I don't mean that it made me famous and I'm now lapping in the spoils of fame and fortune....Oh no. I mean that I learned so much about cycling, road safety, road infrastructure, and the need for change, and all that came as a result of publishing videos.

Over the years I've heard absolutely every argument against my cycling and cyclists in genaral. I honestly don't think I could be surprised by anything anyone could say. Each time I faced a new argument, I went away and learned the truth behind that argument. There is no road tax. Cyclists rarely hold up traffic. Cyclists do not generally go about terrorising old grannies.

I've also learned that it's not about cyclists at all. It's not even about people on bikes. It's about people. It's about making our cities, and our countryside people friendly and not just friendly to people who are driving a car.


The truth is that the roads don't feel safe when I ride my bike, but they feel safe when I drive a car. The truth is that I've felt my life has been seriously threatened by drivers when I'm on my bike and I've never felt that in a car. The truth is that I've never been threatened, spat at, driven at or shot at, when I've driven a car, but I have on a bike.

So, I'm sorry. I'll be wearing a helmet camera for the foreseeable future. But I will also be doing everything else I can to make cycling safer, either through Pedal on Parliament or otherwise.

If that that makes me Ped-Al Qaeda, then so be it.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Glasgow's Message for Bike Week

As I'm sure many of you will know, it's been bike week. What is bike week? Well have a look here. Effectively it's a celebration about everything bike, and a vehicle (oh and unintentional pun there) to getting more people out on their bikes.

Yes, I do harp on about infrastructure and investment being the way to mass cycling, and that education and advertising not being the answer, but I do actually like the idea of bike week. It helps continue the drip, drip, drip of positive information that will perhaps help to change people's (and by people the important people here, are politicians) minds and attitudes towards cycling.

Most importantly, Pedal on Parliament is listed as a Bike Week event (you don't actually have to happen in bike week!) and through them we get indemnity insurance. So yeah for Bike Week!

Truth be told, not much actually happens up our way for the actual bike week. A few Dr Bike sessions, the odd bike breakfast and a few other bits and bobs, but nothing major.

This year though I got an e-mail from my employers (NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde). As part of bike week they wanted cyclists who work for them, to share their stories of cycling to and from work. The best entry, be it 'good, bad, witty or earnest', would win a prize: a bike package up to the value of £500.  You could enter this either via e-mail or via Twitter using the hashtag #nhsggccycling. Now, being a bit of a Twitter guy (though not during work as the NHS does not let you use it during work, which is sort of a mixed message as they are asking you to tweet pictures....)...I decided to share my story.

I'm not going to share it all here, you can pop along to Twitter and search for #nhsggccycling if you are interested, but here are a few that were representative of my week.






It was though, a picture from today really summed everything up with regards to cycling in Glasgow, perfectly for me.....Let me explain.....

Earlier in the week I noticed that the cycle lane leaving the Clyde Tunnel had been completely blocked by building work for the Fastlink development. Those who read this blog will know I've talked about this white elephant before (here and here and here). It's a disaster for many parts of Glasgow. Creating segregated routes for buses, who really need them for their safety (ahem), so that they can get between the city centre and the SGH a little bit quicker. Many of these new segregated lanes exclude cyclists, so we are left to mix with the the traffic on the now narrower roads. Yes, they have are supposed to be putting in alternative routes for cyclists, but they are quite frankly..... a pile of steaming turd.Yes, that is the technical term.

I know no-one, not one person, who likes Fastlink.

Anyway, it is running way, way behind schedule (and almost certainly over budget) as it was supposed to be finished by now, but it is far from finished. Linthouse is currently a building site. All around there is new concrete being poured, and disturbingly, pedestrian barriers are being put up left, right and centre. In Glasgow the bus (and no, not an electric or hybrid bus, just your standard 'cough, cough' diesels) reigns supreme. I feel so sorry for the residents of the areas this is travelling through. Not only is the construction causing disruption, it is going to leave the areas they live in much less people friendly. It's very sad for the area.

Anyway, back to the main point of my story...

So earlier in the week I noticed the lane was blocked. You could get around it on the path, by bumping up and down a few kerbs and taking a few sharp turns. I mumbled a bit and one of the builders heard me. I just mentioned in passing that had they been doing work on the road, a proper diversion would be in place. They wouldn't just shut off a road. He mumbled back at me.

Here's a tweet someone else made about the same issue.


So, today, I cycle out the tunnel and I see that I have been given a response. A response that pretty much sums up Glasgow City Council and its attitude to cycling. Yes the council that claims to have 305km of cycle infrastructure, when the truth is very much far from that. You couldn't miss the response. I'm not sure it could have been any bigger...




So that's that then. Glasgow City Council's take home message for Bike Week and for anyone cycling to the spanking New Southern General Hospital, a hospital that now employs 10,000 staff, is: 

You're just a bloody cyclist, get off and walk.
CYCLISTS DISMOUNT!

Whilst I think this is the perfect photo that represents cycling in Glasgow, I strongly suspect that NHSGGC will not be giving me a £500 prize.....