Sunday 28 August 2011

I Was Almost Arrested

The following as a document that I have just sent to the local police. It is part of a more detailed complaint relating to a visit I made to Milngavie Police Station on the 14th August 2011. My visit was to report an incident/crime that I considered and still consider to be serious in nature. I have removed details of this from this blog as I still wish to pursue this with the police. I have also removed the officers name as this could prejudice any investigation.

The majority of this document was written upon returning home from the police station. At this point I was a little shell shocked. For a while I was not sure I was going to get home without being arrested.....

Arrived at the station at approximately 2:30pm. Talked to lady at front desk. Showed attached documents xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.
I explained briefly the problem to the lady officer, who took the documents away. She came back and explained that after talking advice, she was not bringing the officer she was speaking to, out (more senior?). If she did, ‘you wouldn’t be leaving the station without being arrested’. Obviously I was quite shocked by this statement and asked for clarification.

She suggested that I was not allowed to cycle with a helmet camera the way I do, and posting the videos in a public place, i.e. licence (number) plates and faces are private. She also said I was not allowed to post on YouTube. I was of course shocked by this statement and mentioned that I have already talked to lawyers etc and that I have taken advice from the Information Commissioner. She continued to point out that the advice she had been given (from her colleague) was contrary to this. Eventually she said, ‘Right! Wait here!’. She disappeared off into the station. Her manner was suggestive of, ‘now you’re getting into trouble’. I was expecting to be arrested.

A short while later Officer xxxxxx  came out and took me to an interview room. It was made very obvious that they were not interested in my crime report, only in the ‘illegal’ nature of my filming and posting.

Officer xxxxxx and another officer, who entered the room (I did not get his name) started stating that what I was doing was illegal and that videoing and posting videos to YouTube could get me arrested. They pointed out (all the way through the discussion) that number plates and faces are private and that I have no right to film them. I fact officer xxxxxx pointed out that his number plate had his initials on it and he considered it private. I pointed out several times that all the information that I have (including the Information Commissioner) suggests that filming and posting as I do is perfectly legal. They told me I was wrong. 

I felt that they softened their tone as the discussion went on and they then were suggesting that I could be sued by someone for one of my videos. They did however say that, if I cycled past a school, and inadvertently filmed some children, that if a parent was alarmed by that, I could be arrested  for filming children. Officer xxxxxx said ‘I would arrest you, no questions asked’.  I pointed out that the issue of intent, i.e. that my filming has nothing to do with filming children. He agreed that this would be a matter of the courts or procurator fiscal. Is it policy to arrest people who film children without question if a complaint is received?

I then asked about xxxxxxxxx (my crime report). He dismissed this off hand. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

On a number of occasions he pointed out that organisations need CCTV signs when using cameras and he asked a few times if I was licenced to film. He suggested that I needed to be, and as far as he was concerned what I did was not exempt from the DPA under the recreation exemption. He asked me to define ‘recreation’ with regards to the DPA. I pointed out that I did not know this and that was why I contacted the Information Commissioner. 

I also pointed out that I had reported incidents before, and I mentioned an incident that I reported to Milngavie police station of an oil tanker that nearly killed me. I described in detail why it didn’t go to court in the end due to a Supreme Court ruling meaning that the original testimony of the accused no longer being acceptable for use in court. He seemed a little confused about the issue of corroboration at first, i.e. I pointed out I’d need an expert witness to talk to my footage as it was not seen as independent otherwise (specific to Scots law I believe). Upon considering this, he agreed. I pointed out that all the way through this investigation when talking to the police and the Procurator Fiscal that no-one suggested my filming was illegal. He was dismissive of this.

At one point he pointed out that if a woman decided to strip off in her front garden and I inadvertently filmed her (and she saw me and complained), he would arrest me for that. This is blatantly not true.

I also pointed out that the MET in London actively encourage the use of helmet cameras. Officer xxxxxxxx pointed out that that was in England and this was Scotland, so would explain the difference. This of course is wrong as the data protection act is UK is covers both Scotland and England.   
The meeting ended with nothing being done about xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx and I felt shocked by the way I was treated as the accused. 

On the way out I mentioned that the lady at the desk had suggested that I could get arrested today. He agreed that was not the case, but that I had to be careful.

I left the station at approximately 15:00. I felt very shocked by the experience. It really did cross my mind that they were going to arrest me when they took me through. Very unpleasant!!

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Riots and Road Rage

We've all seen the pictures of the violence and looting on the streets of London and other English cities. Shocking wasn't it. The violence, the looting, the loss of control. It makes you realise that society is not as happy or in control as we often like to delude ourselves.

What is most surprising though is....that we are surprised.

What do I mean by that?

Just look at my videos, and the videos of countless other road users (not just cyclists). It doesn't happen every day but, hold up the wrong driver for a few seconds, sit a little further out on the road than someone likes, etc and the red mist descends and road rage soon follows. Just watch the following video as an example (not mine).

The experts are arguing over the cause of the riots. Gang culture, rap music, single parent families etc are all being touted as causes. Perhaps it is a lot simpler than that. Perhaps we see violence as the norm. People know that there is a lot they can get away with without serious consequence. For example the attacker in the above video is only being sought for a public order offence and not for assault. Will that stop him doing similar again in the future?

So should we be shocked by the riots? No. There is violence and aggression on the streets every day. Just not mob violence.

The public outcry over the riots is encouraging the courts to look at stiffer penalties and firmer policing, Great. But where is the outcry for incidents like this? When will the police, and the courts get tough where it is actually needed?

Until then, Joe Criminal will know that he can get away with 'murder' with only a slap on the wrist.

Actually, you can actually get away with long as your weapon of choice is a car.......

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Meeting With First Bus - Outcome

As I mentioned previously, I was invited to meet with First Buses South East and Central Scotland. I was invited as I was unfortunate enough to have had an incident with one of their buses during a commute home.

The meeting was arranged well in advance but I was a little in the dark about what exactly it would entail. I knew we would discuss my incident, but I wasn't sure what else. However, as I was due to meet with the managing director Paul Thomas and the training manager Mike Wilson, I hoped that the meeting would go a little further. Therefore I prepared a little.

First Bus have the right idea here!

So armed with a number of things to discuss, including campaigns that First might consider being involved in, a number of issues that cyclists had raised on my blog and via twitter, and a lot of curiosity about the training that First provide for their drivers, I made my way to their depot and training centre in Livinston.

I considered cycling there, but not wanting to sit through a meeting in sweaty Lycra I decided to drive. Once there I noticed something curious, you had to park your car by reversing into parking spaces. No driving forward into them. Why? It turned out that as you are more awake at the start of a shift, you were more likely to reverse safely when coming to work than when leaving it. Safety certainly seemed to be taken seriously....

As I arrived a little early Paul was not there yet, however I was quickly introduced to Mike Wilson. Straight away I was put at my ease, as Mike was very welcoming and seemed genuinely interested to see me, and hear about my filming, especially what equipment I use to do it.

Mike it turned out started off as a paramedic motorcycle rider, and then moved on to work with the police. His job with the police was to train police drivers and to inspect and conduct driver examinations. It was after meeting with First Bus about 6 years ago that he was offered a job with First Buses. The aim, was to bring the standards of driver training that are expected in the police to bus drivers. For the last 5 years he has been trying to change the standard of bus driving for the better.

Mike explained how they were using a number of techniques to improve driver training. One system that had made a big difference was the introduction of Green Road. I was given a excellent demonstration of how Green Road works by Graeme (otherwise known as Trigger!). The system is a GPS system that records the diving habits of the companies drivers that can be reviewed later. It records any unusual driving, such as fast cornering, hard braking etc. These 'incidents' are recorded using a traffic light system, with red being something out of the ordinary. Drivers also get instant (delayed 3 seconds) input on their driving, so that they know if they are hitting amber or red. There are incentives to keep the system in the green with further incentives for improved drivers.

I was also shown some of the training materials that they use. They base the training on the Smith system. Something that I had not heard of before, although a lot of the material made sense. Planning well ahead, making space for yourself etc. 

Another technique that they use are the mystery passengers. They routinely hop on buses to watch driving real time. Obviously they cannot have mystery passengers on every bus, but they can respond (in some cases within minutes) to customer complaints and Green Road information. Any driver who is failing in any way is brought back for training or other help. One thing that was nice to hear is that they do look 'around' the problem. If a driver has been great for 10 years, and suddenly drops in standard, it suggests that there is a problem, possibly even outside work. They try and get to the bottom of the issue to help the driver instead of just treating the driving. A good approach I feel.

At this point Paul came into the meeting! Actually, Trigger showing me the Green Road and the Smith system came later and to be fair I was early for the meeting. Some biscuits arrived as well, including Waggon Wheels. I was instantly won over! ;-)

Paul re-iterated much of what Paul had said to me, whilst explaining that he felt that the incident I had deserved more than just a standard letter. In fact at this point we discussed the standard letter. I pointed out that it can often feel like a fob off when you receive one. It rarely answers any of the issues raised by the complainer. It is understandably difficult, considering the issues surrounding confidentiality. However, Paul did note this and suggested he would look into it.

Getting back to my complaint they also agreed with me that the driver should have driven better, i.e. should have hung back. They also agreed that the cycle lane was of very poor design and is contributory in this particular incident. I asked if they would back me if I was to bring up the issues I have with this particular cycle lane, and whilst they did not jump at the chance, they did suggest that they agreed that the overall design of that road could be improved. They suggested they could help me pursue a site visit with the council. Something I will certainly pursue.

I then started mentioning some of the other campaigns that they might consider being involved in. I mentioned my Celebration Stations idea, and they agreed that this sounded good and they would be happy to be involved (training buses for cyclists to sit in to see blind spots, for example). They were already aware and looking into the Spokes/Lothian buses campaign.

I also mentioned cycle training for drivers. This is where Paul mentioned that they are in the process of introducing the Cycle to Work Scheme (Cyclescheme). That sounded like a step in the right direction. However, I asked if they would consider integrating some form of cycle training with that, even if only to encourage more employees to cycle. For example that could be as simple as led rides for those considering cycling, or more advanced cycle training sessions. Again the idea didn't get anyone jumping out of seats in excitement, but it wasn't a lead bomb either. Perhaps if anyone knows what is available I could pass details on.

My final suggestions was that I myself would be willing to do a talk about cyclists for the drivers. I enjoy giving talks at work, and I've a fair amount of experience at doing it (sometimes in hostile environments!) This talk would NOT be a talk where I say, 'you should drive like this, you should drive like that'. I wouldn't presume to have the first clue about driving a bus. However, I could certainly try and explain why cyclists cycle the way the do, why they complain about certain types of driving etc. Mike seemed interested in this and was happy to look at any materials and ideas I came up with for this. So I will be following this up as well. Working title: Bloody Cyclists! :-)

After all of this, and Mike passed me his contact details (you will be hearing from me shortly!!) I went off with Trigger to see the Green Road system, and a bus!

Yes, I did get to drive a bus. A real one, not a simulator. No, don't worry, it wasn't on open roads. Just in the training yard. I also only managed to go forward and backwards. Unfortunately time was too short to do anything else. Although the driving was limited it was still an eye-opener. Visibility is terrible! Not only the well documented blind spots. It's the ones created by the door supports, the mirrors (getting in the way!), etc. Every cyclist should have a go at sitting in a bus cab.

So, overall I was very impressed with my visit to First in Livingston. I was made very welcome, and I was very impressed with the attitude to safety. Of course that doesn't mean everything is perfect. It isn't, there are still incidents on the roads. But, maybe, just maybe, with a little collaboration between different groups of road users we can make our roads a safer and happier place to be for everyone.