Don’t believe everything you read about speeding

Published: 01 August 2001

The police and media seem all too willing to believe in the big, bad menace of speeding motorcyclists… so much so that they’ve really ended up with egg on their faces this time.

Chelmsford newspaper the Essex Chronicle ran a story about a rider caught doing 137mph on a local road, and got so indignant about it that they ran a " comment " column about it, berating the rider and insisting he be heavily " fined " . The trouble is, it never happened.

It seems it was all the result of confusion resulting from an Essex police stunt in which a serving copper rode his own Super Blackbird at speeds of over 100mph on open public roads.

He was providing a target to show the local media how good the force’s helicopter was at tracking speeding riders.

A VASCAR scanner display was also set to show 137mph, a figured plucked from the air, and this was also shown to the media. And the seeds of the Essex Chronicle story had been sewn.

The paper insists it was told by a number of police sources that the rider was a member of the public, had been caught and was doing 137mph. Today’s paper (August 2, 2001) has published an admission that the story was in fact false and is now investigating how it was published in the first place.

Essex Chronicle reporter Peter Baker, who wrote the story, said: " This is all very embarrassing. I spoke to several different people from the police and got the impression from all of them that this was a real offence. "

The fact that the force sent an " unmarked " rider out to ride at over 100mph for nothing more than a publicity stunt has not gone down well either.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) said the stunt " bent the rules " .

Spokesman Don Webster said: " If the rider was not identifiable as a police officer, then I would be critical of the way it was done. "

RoSPA road safety chief Kevin Clinton said: " We don’t want to see anyone – police or otherwise – riding at those speeds.

" As the rider wasn’t clearly identified as a police officer, it would have been difficult for other people on the road to know he was one, which would have been a danger. "

As a final embarrassment to the Essex force, they invited photographers to record a mobile speed camera in action catching motorcyclists near a regular meeting place at South Woodham. All they caught was a handful of cars.