Paying For More Speed Cameras in Yorkshire

The Northern Echo recently ran a story about how 15,000 motorists were caught speeding in the A1(M) road works over the last couple of years. North Yorkshire Police issued 12,094 fixed penalty tickets in 2015 and 2016 for speeding between Leeming Bar and Barton alone the article said. There are likely to be many more in the current financial year after completion of the road works was delayed by another six months.

The article also reported that 6,492 people were offered and accepted a speed awareness course at a cost of £85 each which means they paid £551,820.

The article quoted Brian Gregory, an ABD Director, extensively. It included: “The work on this scheme has been going on for months and it seems like another example of opportunistic fund raising. There are extremely wide lanes on both sides most of the way which have no road works on them at all. Words fail me. I am flabbergasted at the mendacity of these organisations who use road safety as a cover to generate revenue”. Brian also called for a independent regulatory body to look at speed camera operations.

A North Yorkshire Police spokeswoman is quoted in the article as saying after the usual platitudes about road safety and speeding that “The money generated from the courses is used to fund more safety camera vans and equipment and enables us to tackle the issue of speeding and other offences head on”.

So here we have further evidence that reinforces our claim that the police are using speed awareness courses to not just cover their administration costs but to fund both more speed cameras and other equipment. They have recently doubled the number of mobile speed camera vans to 12 in North Yorkshire. See more background on this in our web page giving the evidence on how speed awareness courses are being used to finance more camera operations here: http://www.speed-awareness.org/evidence.html

This is surely not about road safety but about financial empire building by the police. More cameras and more staff to operate them, and this process will continue until the Government puts a stop to this illegal funding arrangement.

Roger Lawson

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Hayes Response and Course Evaluation

I have received a response from John Hayes, M.P., who is the Minister directly responsible for the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill which is currently going through Parliament. This is a response to my letter to Chris Grayling on police waivers and “education courses” but Mr Hayes letter says nothing new and is simply dismissive of our concerns. It fails to respond to some of the key issues that we raised.

However, as a General Election is being called, this will halt the progress of all business in Parliament although the aforementioned Bill is likely to be revived in the new Parliament. Or it might get rushed through the Lords without debate which would be most unfortunate.

Mr Hayes says in his letter that, as we already knew, research is currently underway which will report before the end of the year, on the impact of education courses. This is what he said to the Public Bill Committee on that topic:

“The Department, in conjunction with the Road Safety Trust, has commissioned an evaluation of national speed awareness courses. As the hon. Gentleman will know, this is only one of several courses offered, but it covers about 85% of those that offend. The evaluation methodology will be suitable for the future evaluation of other schemes. Because the hon. Gentleman will ask me, I will tell him in advance that the research is examining course impact, including reoffending and reconviction rates and collisions. That will therefore provide analysis of the data requested in new subsection (6A) of the amendment. In fact, the amendment suggests a one-off basis, but I want to do this on a continuing basis. I expect the final report to be presented to the project board no later than the end of this year. 

The project board overseeing the work includes representatives from the Department for Transport, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Road Safety Trust, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety and the RAC Foundation. The project team has worked hard to ensure that appropriate and rigorous data processing arrangements are in place to enable data transfer between the police, the DVLA and Ipsos MORI, which is the organisation we have commissioned to do the work with those organisations.” 

Comments: Apart from the fact that the Government is not waiting for the results of this research before pushing ahead with enabling legislation, you will note that one of the joint sponsors is the Road Safety Trust. That is one of the organisations that are the main financial beneficiaries of the money raised from drivers for attending the courses and is a major source of their finance. In addition the police in the form of the NPCC are involved when the police are also a major beneficiary of the funds from courses. Will the report really end up being negative about this whole matter even if the results do not support the use of speed awareness courses?

If you have not already written to your Member of Parliament, please do so now. You should write via post or email opposing this Bill and ask for amendments to be made to it. (Include your name and full postal address even in an email to ensure your M.P. will respond).

How do you write to your M.P.? You can obtain their contact details from this web page: http://parliament.uk  (enter your post code at the bottom left). This will take you to a page giving their name, postal address and email address – an email will do fine.

DO WRITE TO YOUR M.P. NOW – THIS IS URGENT

Also please write similarly to any Member of the House of Lords that you know.

Roger Lawson

Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill Update

The Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill is going to make police waivers and “education” courses legal for the first time. The Bill is currently passing through Parliament and is now in the Commons Committee stage. It is being heard by the Public Bills Committee – see http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2016-17/vehicletechnologyandaviation.html for more information and where you can see the progress of the Bill.

Although the ABD has called for proper legal regulation of this system, the proposals in the Bill actually make matters worse. There is a provision that any excess over costs must be used for promoting road safety but there is also a provision that “promoting road safety” includes the prevention, detection or enforcement of offences relating to vehicles. So this fixes into law the ability of the police to finance more cameras and their operation so as to generate more cash, and so this dubious industry will be expanded as a result. This has nothing to do with road safety and everything to do with empire building by the police.

The discussions in Committee so far have been on other parts of the Bill. Unfortunately the key part of the Bill so far as we are concerned are a relatively minor part of this Bill. In effect this positively dangerous new legislation has been snuck into a Bill on other major topics and hence is not getting much attention. Perhaps that was deliberate and introducing it when there are other important politic issues going through Parliament is also prejudicial.

These are the Members of the Committee discussing the Bill: James Gray and Joan Ryan (joint Chairs), Steve Baker, Alan Brown, Richard Burden, Jackie Doyle-Price, Vicky Foxcroft, Richard Fuller, John Hayes, Drew Hendry, Sir Greg Knight, Kit Malthouse, Rob Marris, Christian Matheson, Andy McDonald, Victoria Prentis, Andrew Selous, Gareth Snell, Iain Stewart, Tom Tugendhat.

If you personally know any of these Members of Parliament, or they are your M.P., then please let me know. Likewise if you personally know any Member of the House of Lords who may take an interest in this matter, let me know. Phone 020-8295-0378.

If you have not already written to your Member of Parliament, please do so now. You should write via post or email opposing this Bill and ask for amendments to be made to it. (Include your name and full postal address even in an email to ensure your M.P. will respond).

How do you write to your M.P.? You can obtain their contact details from this web page: http://parliament.uk  (enter your post code at the bottom left). This will take you to a page giving their name, postal address and email address – an email will do fine.

DO WRITE TO YOUR M.P. NOW – THIS IS URGENT

A Meeting with Brandon Lewis, Minister of State for Policing

One contact we have had recently was with Brandon Lewis as part of trying to obtain awareness of the issues surrounding the Bill. Here’s a brief report on the meeting:

On the 17th March, Dr Geoff Luxford and I met Brandon Lewis M.P. (Geoff is one of his constituents). Brandon Lewis is Minister of State for Policing and the Fire Service at the Home Office and my M.P. had corresponded with him previously on the issue of police waivers and “education” courses – to no effect. Geoff has previously been involved in complaints about speed cameras.

Geoff opened the meeting by making some of the key points regarding the new Vehicle Technology & Aviation Bill (the section on the use of education courses):

– Lack of public consultation re the proposals.

– No evidence that the courses provide any benefit (I later said the Government is pre-empting a report they have commissioned on that).

– The fact that the Bill will make payments to the police to waive prosecution legal.

Mr Lewis responded in essence that nobody has to accept the offers of a course – they can take the punishment for the crime if they wish. He suggested it was similar to a “plea bargain”, i.e. you can take a lesser punishment by admitting the crime, and also suggested that it was similar to payments under the Proceeds of Crime Act. [Comments: I have looked into these claims subsequently. Plea bargains do appear to be available in the UK in some circumstances – for example where there is doubt about the evidence or the proof may be difficult to obtain. But a speeding offence is not like those in that the evidence should be clear and indisputable. Plea bargains are not generally available. As regards the Proceeds of Crime Act, the Police can receive part of the award. This is a relatively new legal arrangement and likewise may create dubious incentives in terms of police operations].

But I and Geoff did make the points that it was leading to a focus on money raising and was in essence corruption. I said I considered it was illegal and was intending to challenge it with a judicial review. Profits were being generated by the police and being used for purposes other than road safety.

Mr Lewis made it clear he did not support our stance, but he did say he would represent his constituent’s views to the Department for Transport who are apparently behind the Bill and the relevant section.

It was of course a relatively brief meeting and the result was not particularly unexpected, but I think we got some awareness across of the issues. However Mr Lewis seemed unwilling to seriously consider the legal issues or any of the other issues we raised.

Incidentally at one point I asked Mr Lewis if he had attended a speed awareness course and he said yes – he had participated in one. Presumably another example of someone keen to avoid having a criminal record or having points on his license.

Roger Lawson

Making Bribery of the Police Legal

As followers of the AMPOW campaign against police waivers and speed-awareness courses will know, we have been considering a legal challenge to the abuses that this system has created. But the Government have launched a Bill in Parliament that could make it very difficult to challenge.

The Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill is currently passing through Parliament and is due for a second reading on the 6th March. In Part 4 Section 23 of this Bill the offer of courses as an alternative to prosecution for Road Traffic offences is covered. That effectively would regulate, and make legal, the use of police waivers and the offer of speed-awareness courses.

For the first time in British history this Bill would introduce into English law the concept that it is legal to pay bribes to the police to avoid prosecution for offences.

The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) has shown how these arrangements have been abused. Such practices have enabled the police to generate cash to fund their operations and that includes equipment and services that have nothing to do with road safety. In addition it has financed the acquisition and use of more speed cameras. In effect the police have been using the funds so obtained to maintain their establishments and the consequence is that there are clear incentives to the police to raise money in this way. This is a distortion of the justice system.

The evidence on how these arrangements are currently being abused by the police are present on this web site maintained by the ABD:

http://www.speed-awareness.org/index.html

Although the ABD has called for proper legal regulation of this system, the proposals in the Bill actually make matters worse. There is a provision that any excess over costs must be used for promoting road safety but there is also a provision that “promoting road safety” includes the prevention, detection or enforcement of offences relating to vehicles. So this fixes into law the ability of the police to finance more speed cameras and their operation so as to generate more cash, and so this dubious industry will be expanded as a result. This has nothing to do with road safety and everything to do with empire building by the police.

Indeed the evidence obtained by the ABD shows that the police are diverting the funds raised in this way to other activities and are misreporting the profits generated. This is a natural consequence of the perverse financial incentives that are being created.

Please write to your Member of Parliament (via post or email) opposing this Bill or asking for amendments to be made to it. (Include your name and full postal address even in an email to ensure your M.P. will respond)

How do you write to your M.P.? You can obtain their contact details from this web page: http://parliament.uk  (enter your post code at the bottom left). This will take you to a page giving their name, postal address and email address – an email will do fine.

DO WRITE TO YOUR M.P. NOW – THIS IS URGENT

You can read the draft Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill and follow it’s progress through Parliament here:

http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2016-17/vehicletechnologyandaviation.html

If you agree with us, and wish to stop the financing of speed cameras by this dubious practice which has nothing to do with improving road safety, please register your interest by signing our petition and joining the campaign here if you have not already done so:

http://www.speed-awareness.org/join.html

Roger Lawson

Improper Exercise of Police Powers

We have commented on the perversion of justice involved in the offer of speed awareness courses before (for example, on this page of our web site: http://www.speed-awareness.org/justice.html). It has been pointed out to us that this is made even plainer by the Guidance published by the Government on the application of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 – namely in Circular 2015/01. That contains the following paragraphs:

Section 26: Corrupt or other improper exercise of police powers and privileges.

  1. Section 26 of the Act makes it an offence for a police constable to exercise the powers and privileges of a constable improperly where the constable knows or ought to know that the exercise is improper. The exercise of a constable’s powers and privileges is defined as being improper where it is for the purpose of achieving a benefit for the officer or another person or a detriment to another person, and a reasonable person would not expect the power or privilege to be exercised for the purpose of achieving that benefit or detriment.

The offence also covers the situation where a constable fails to exercise a power or privilege of a constable or threatens to exercise (or not exercise) such a power or privilege and the purpose of the failure or threat is to achieve such a benefit or detriment and a reasonable person would not expect a constable to so fail or threaten for such a purpose. Exercising or not exercising the powers or privileges of a constable includes performing or not performing the duties of a constable.

  1. The offence is triable only on indictment and carries a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both. The offence supplements rather than replaces the existing common law offence of misconduct in public office.

____________________________

So you can see that it is quite clear that the offer by police to waive an offence as an inducement to pay money to a third party (namely a provider of a speed awareness course) would be an offence. That is particularly the case where the police benefit in terms of the employment of themselves and other staff, or the provision of equipment, financed by kick-backs from the fees paid by motorists who accept the offer of such course.

Why the Government continues to permit such corruption is incomprehensible.

Roger Lawson

Mail Article on Driver Diversion re Phone Use

Today the Mail on Sunday have published a good article on the issue of mobile phone use while driving, and the diversion of drivers to education courses under the headline “Fury as police say: send drivers using phones on course”.

It highlights the new increased penalties for using a hand-held phone while driving from March – a doubling of the fine and penalty points. The Government has written to Chief Constables asking them to stop offering education courses to such drivers but the reaction of Suzette Davenport, Chief Constable of Gloucestershire Police, was to rebuff this advice. She said that “chief constables will make the decision on how they enforce it….”. This is what I am quoted as saying in the Mail article: “I am astonished the police are ignoring the Government on this. They seem to think they are a law unto themselves”. Indeed the whole scheme of “waiver of prosecution” in return for payment to attend courses was invented by policemen without any legal structure being put in place and without the approval of the Government in any way. It is exceedingly doubtful whether it is supported by law.

Ms Davenport is of course involved in the gravy train of making money from drivers by the waiver of prosecutions as she chairs the Road Safety Trust through whom the funds are channelled and is also a director of UK ROED Ltd who operate the NDORS scheme.

For the avoidance of doubt, let me make it clear that the Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) has supported stronger penalties for mobile phone use. Having said that there are circumstances when the police might use their long-established common law right to waive prosecution – for example when the vehicle is stationery in a traffic jam or there is genuine emergency. But the drivers should not be asked to pay a bribe in the form of an education course fee in that case.

The Mail article is present here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4168076/Fury-police-say-send-drivers-using-phones-courses.html

Roger Lawson

Letters from Supporters

Following our note to supporters of the AMPOW campaign asking them to write to Brandon Lewis, M.P., Minister of State for Policing, we received copies of a number of such letters. Thanks to all those who have written to Mr Lewis. Here are a few extracts that are particularly pertinent:

  1. From Ian Belchamber:

“Whatever anyone’s views on the rights or wrongs of “speeding” – which can include, these days, driving at a snail’s pace at 36 on a dual carriageway with safety barriers, no houses, and pedestrian / cycle areas separated from the road, two wrongs do not make a right and it is unacceptable for the police to behave dishonestly, and to exploit their powers for personal gain, break the law or their codes of conduct, etc., in enforcing the law.

Many partnerships were closed and jobs lost when partnership funding reduced a few years ago. Partnership managers had a choice – find a way to bring more money into the partnership, or potentially face the dole queue. This appalling and blatant conflict of interest would test those of the highest integrity and has led to the situation I first discovered in Dorset, a force I have been studying for more than 15 years. The DfT’s attempt to prevent the police getting their hands on the money was quickly overcome by the police using the law as a threat, then taking money instead and “overlooking” the offence.

Dorset is by far the worst – it has the highest course fee and the only force not to take part in NDORS meaning it keeps ALL the course money locally – a profit that I have had to estimate at 700% as transparency and accountability is refused.

When I asked the simplest of FOI questions, “could you please tell me the cost of course provision and what makes this up”, Dorset Police managed to turn this into a 2 year farce at no doubt some huge cost, which eventually managed to avoid providing proper answers – I have to assume, because the obscene profit

What you see here is a disease destroying the police, that has seeded from something that should never have been allowed to start – police personally gaining from “crime”. Think about it – that’s going to make them not want to stop the “crime” , but to keep it sustainable so they can continue to feed from it. Being able to use their “discretion” to fail to prosecute if payments are made directly to them, where that money provided jobs, empires, overtime, power. Of course it was all going to go wrong.

Consider also that as we have seen widespread speed limit reductions and this unprecedented level of driver “training” by the police over the last few years, we have seen a halt and reversal of long term casualty reduction. It doesn’t work. I even predicted this many years ago, it’s really simple, if the police put all their effort into taking money from the normal safe drivers who aren’t going to crash, road safety is going to suffer.

 ‘Attendance on the course is entirely voluntary’ – of course it isn’t! It is only a ‘choice’ as to have one finger cut off or two is a ‘choice’!

Yes, we need speed management on the roads of course, and there may even be a place for education instead of punishment for some driving problems as long as it is honest, transparent, and the conflicts of interest are properly declared and managed, but what we currently have is a grimy, dangerous, corrupt, money making scam and anyone who can’t see that just isn’t looking and they probably know it.

So the police offering not to prosecute in return for money is BAD, very bad indeed, not just for road safety, but for policing, and as I have discovered, wider authorities.”

Note that Ian maintains a web site at http://www.dorsetspeed.org.uk where a lot more information is given as he has been campaigning on this matter for some years.

  1. From Malcolm Heymer:

“Your letter does not address the fundamental issue of whether it is legal for the police to waive prosecution in return for these payments. It is not disputed that the police have discretion to waive prosecution in favour of an alternative course of action such as a warning, but to do so in return for a payment is surely a perversion of justice.  If a driver attempted to bribe a police officer directly it would be a serious offence, but the police are effectively soliciting bribes, although many drivers are not aware that the police have a financial interest in offering them attendance at a course.

The origins of this unsatisfactory situation date back to the turn of the century, when the former Labour government rolled out nationally the cost-recovery system for ‘safety’ camera partnerships to fund their activities from the proceeds of their enforcement. This led to an explosion in the number of speeding fines issued and the size of the speed enforcement industry.  The government eventually realised the unintended consequences of the cost-recovery scheme and curtailed it, and the subsequent Coalition government further reduced the funding available for camera enforcement.  However, a great number of jobs within the camera partnerships and their equipment suppliers were by then dependent on payments made by speeding motorists.  The speed awareness course industry grew out of the need to replace that funding stream.

If you doubt the financial motives behind awareness courses, you may remember a couple of years ago that one of the major insurance companies announced it would increase the premiums for drivers who had been on a course in the same way as for those who had paid a fixed penalty. This caused panic within the speed enforcement industry, as one of the main reasons for drivers accepting the offer of a course was to avoid an increase in insurance costs.  If they were to be penalised in the same way as if they had been prosecuted, the incentive to take a course would be removed.

Police forces and organisations such as the Automobile Association (whose subsidiary Drive Tech is a major provider of awareness courses) vigorously attacked the insurance company’s decision, and sought to reassure drivers that other insurers would not follow suit. They did not mention, of course, their own financial interest in the matter.

Some police forces have raised the threshold up to which drivers are offered a course instead of a fixed penalty, and some have reduced the minimum period between repeat offenders being offered a second course. The purpose of these changes is to divert more drivers onto courses and raise more revenue to keep the camera partnerships in business.

I am not opposed to driver improvement courses per se. Indeed, I am a firm believer that education is much more effective than punishment.  But the cynical and, I believe, illegal abuse of speed awareness courses to maintain the growing speed enforcement industry is unacceptable.  I hope you will agree and will take a more robust position concerning the misuse of course fees.”

If you have not already written to Mr Lewis with your own comments on this issue, please do so now. Write to The Rt.Hon. Brandon Lewis, M.P., Minister of State for Policing, 2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF – it is preferable to do this by post as emails that mention “speed awareness” are blocked as spam by many ISPs.

So get writing now!

Roger Lawson