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. A suggested template letter you can use is present here (a pdf document):

http://www.speed-awareness.org/Letter-to-MP-2.pdf

(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.

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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

A Letter From a Government Minister

Brandon Lewis, M.P., is the Minister of State for Policing and the Fire Service.

In response to a letter I wrote to my local M.P. on the subject of speed awareness courses, Brandon Lewis sent a reply which is given here: http://www.speed-awareness.org/Brandon-Lewis-Letter-2016-12-15.pdf

If you read it you can see where the Government is both misinformed on this subject and is turning a blind eye to the abuses perpetrated by the police. Specifically:

  1. It ignores the evidence that the ABD has collected on this matter.
  2. The letter seems unfortunately to contain a typical example of the “ends justifies the means” kind of argument on the basis that it might improve road safety. Apart from the dubious nature of that approach, there is no evidence that getting people to attend a speed awareness course has any impact on road casualty figures whatsoever.
  3. It also states that “road traffic law is an operational matter for the discretion of the police” which is an argument we have heard before from those benefiting from this legal abuse. Nobody disputes that the police have discretion to ignore minor offences – this is a long established legal principle. But they do not have the authority to accept payment in return for ignoring offences (undoubtedly a criminal act – namely perversion of justice) nor the right to establish a whole new justice system without authority from Parliament.
  4. The ABD has supplied clear evidence that the police are using this abuse of their power to raise revenue which is applied to whatever they desire. Effectively drivers are being blackmailed into paying up with the threat of prosecution. It is simply unprincipled. To suggest that this helps to relieve the pressure on the Courts and Justice System is neither here nor there. Such arrangements as now established do of course motivate the police to increase the number of “offenders” who are caught in this web of deceit.
  5. All we are asking for is a proper consideration of this matter, in terms of well established legal principles, some evidence that it has any benefit whatsoever, and that there are regulations established to control these arrangements (including provisions to ensure that the police cannot profit by this distortion of road safety policy and cannot use funds so obtained to finance more speed cameras and their associated operations).

We suggest supporters of this campaign write to Mr Lewis with your own comments on this issue!

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.

Roger Lawson

More Evidence on Revenues and How Applied

The supporters of this campaign continue to provide evidence on the money received by the police from speed awareness courses, and how it is spent. Here are another two examples:

  1. Nottinghamshire Police received £1.3 million in 2015 based on the £35 referral fees via NDORS from the fees paid by course attendees. They issued 83,853 NIPs in that year with 39,610 courses attended. They declined to provide information on where that money is spent.
  2. South Yorkshire Safety Camera Partnership had an overall income budget of £1,460,266 in 2013/2014 of which £830,788 came from the “Driver Diversion Course Fees” (Source; South Yorkshire Safety Cameras Operational Plan 2013/14 to 2014/15). The rest came from Local Authorities. The budgets are similar for 2014/2015 although the Local Authority contribution was forecast to fall. When looking at the Expenditure in 2013/2014, which matched the expected income, there is £855,646 on staff costs and £353,000 on Equipment Maintenance Costs.

But when you look at page 36 of that document which gives a detailed organisation structure diagram it is clear that there are 10 staff directly involved in “Enforcement” including Camera Technicians. In other words, a very large proportion of the costs are involved in operating and maintaining speed cameras so it is very clear that the claim that the revenue from speed awareness courses is solely used on administration is nonsense.

In addition South Yorkshire do not appear to even split out administration of speed awareness course invites from other activities, but as they have more staff on “enforcement” than on “administration”, and the latter includes other work than administration of speed awareness course invites, plus the “equipment maintenance costs” are clearly not administration costs, it is very obvious that speed awareness course kickbacks via NDORS are funding the installation, maintenance and operation of speed cameras.

Roger Lawson

Evidence of Course Profits from LTT

Local Transport Today, the magazine read by local authority traffic engineers, have published an interesting article on the activities of Hertfordshire County Council in their provision of Speed Awareness Courses.

The article notes that there are 24 accredited course operators. That includes three private sector organisations, six police forces and 15 local authorities. All of them can generate very substantial profits above the costs incurred in providing the courses. For example, LTT report that Hertfordshire County Council generated a surplus of £947,000 in 2015/2016 by delivering 1,891 courses attended by 41,641 drivers giving income of £3.7 million (source: Local Transport Today). Hertfordshire are apparently looking to expand their “business activities” in this area according to Chief Executive John Wood. One can see why when it is such a money spinner.

The police and local authorities may well spend some the surplus from running courses on road safety measures (there is no legal obligation to do so) but private sector operators can simply lose the profits in high salaries and directors fees. For example in October 2015 the Sun Newspaper ran an article that suggested the directors of AA Drivetech received £5.5 million in directors fees in 2013.

One disturbing aspect is that although the police do not set speed limits or determine the location of speed cameras, they do advise on those matters. But local authorities do directly control speed limits so they may well have a financial incentive to lower limits and introduce more cameras so as to increase the demand for speed awareness courses and the hence the profits they receive.

Roger Lawson