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A letter from Ins Timmis

Published: 01 July 2002

Dear Sir,

Firstly may I thank your reporters for producing what I perceived to be a fair and balanced article relating to the stunt riding at Hams Hill industrial estate near Coleshill (MCN 19th June 02) and the opportunity to give comment, albeit guarded at that time for operational necessity.

By now you will be aware that contrary to public belief, over the past few weeks we have actually been present at Faraday Avenue, in plain clothes gathering video evidence to support charges of dangerous driving by a number of amateur stunt riders, We have videod some car drivers weaving their way at speed through the bikers, effectively racing one another on a public highway. We have also identified a case of perverting the course of justice by one rider who was using a variety of bogus registration plates or no plates at all. Notices of intended prosecution have been served on these men and I will ensure you are kept informed in respect of case disposal, court dates etc. Many lesser participants have received written or verbal warnings too. Last Tuesday 25th June we ran a campaign to end the stunt riding in Faraday Avenue which will no doubt be subject of a news feature in your paper.

In response to some of your readers who think we should be leaving the stunt riders alone can I make the following points. Hams Hill is not 9 to 5 but a rather busy industrial estate in use 24 hours a day. One major factory has a massive shift change at 8.30pm and your photographs do not show the true numbers of vehicles using the road or the hundreds of spectators who gather to watch the stunters perform. In recent months we have been receiving regular calls from staff and delivery drivers trying to get down Faraday Avenue but running an intimidating gauntlet of performing stunt riders and boy racers. On 18th June there must have been nearly 2,000 people in attendance. Without safety barriers or marshals, without ambulance or first aiders there was nothing to prevent an accident or anyone to deal with any casualties.

As good as some of the stunters were, none of them were in the Craig Jones or AC Farias league, they were just good amateurs and their actions in this crowded environment were extremely dangerous. (Indeed in your own article they openly admitted to around 10 collisions themselves). Add to that the petrol heads who arrived in performance cars and raced the bikes or each other between the two islands and you had an even more dangerous mix. How could we realistically stand back and let it continue? Soon there was going to be a serious crash with fatalities or serious injuries as a result and who would the victims be blaming then? We had to stop it, as our prime function is, after all, to protect life and property.

So why didn’t we stop it sooner? From past experience at these events whenever we turn up in uniform the stunts only to resume as soon as we leave. Policing by this method is ineffective when dealing with the FTP attitude.

Personally I am fed up with having stunt riders spoiling so many potential biker friendly venues in this county. The Salmon Trail at Stratford on Avon and The Navigation at Wootton Wawen for example were two good biker friendly pubs until the Display teams arrived and residents started objecting. I wanted to identify the persistent offenders who were at it all the time and to deal with them appropriately if they didn’t listen to my polite request to stop. This was a difficult call, but we needed to balance the securing of strong evidence against the risks of a serious injury and believe me there have been some close calls.

On the subject of casualty reduction, which is what this has all been about, let me advise you of another campaign about to kick off across the Midlands. It is a sad fact that while motorcyclists represent only 1% of all road users, nationally they represent over 20% of our fatal or seriously injured casualties. In the summer months (March to September) many forces report that ratio rises to around 33%. Here in Warwickshire motorcycle collisions accounted for no fewer than 10 fatalities and 279 casualties last year which I find unacceptably high.

When the Government tasks us to significantly reduce road casualties we naturally have to focus on the areas causing us the most problems. You’ve seen us running campaigns against excess speed, drink-driving and failing to wear seat belts which also contribute to road casualties, but like it or not, we cannot ignore the motorcyclists whose deaths or injuries are wholly disproportionate to your numbers on the road.

So what should we the Police be doing? As a recent TV Psychologist observed, the Police and Fire Service attract a particularly high number of ‘buzz junkies’ so its perhaps no surprise that many of us have our own motorcycles and read motorcycle magazines. We acknowledge and often agree with your campaigns for things such as dark visors. We may also individually question the policies within our own or neighbouring forces in respect speed enforcement or traffic safety cameras on roads with little or no casualty history. We also acknowledge that other road users need to be more aware of the vulnerability of bikers. Farmers need to be more attentive to clearing mud off the roads, HGV drivers need to guard against diesel spillages and car drivers need to be reminded to " look once, look twice, think bike " (remember that TV advert).

Believe me, we do listen to you and strive to make improvements where we can. We encourage you to tell us about bad roads needing attention, signs and lines needing remarking, trees and hedges that need cutting back etc. Indeed on a personal note my aim is to ensure that we strive to do all the things your readers suggest we aren’t doing, in order to truly make our county of Warwickshire the safest place to be.

However, it isn’t all one sided and motorcyclists must accept that they too are often at fault. If we are going to get the other 99% of road users to give bikers greater consideration then bikers must do their bit too. With power comes responsibility and knowing when and where to use the power of your bike and when to hold back is an important skill. Overtaking on double white lines, whacking through villages at twice the speed limit or performing wheelies in crowded areas may be phenomenally exhilarating but it doesn’t help your cause one iota.

We live in a world of increasing accountability. If a car driver knocks you off your bike and disappears you’d expect us to trace and deal with him wouldn’t you? Change the situation and it’s a biker that causes you to fall, how are we expected to trace him if the rear number plate is the size of a cigarette packet, disguised in italics or fraudulently altered by a digit or two? All of us, bikers included, must be accountable for our actions and for me there’s a big difference between a plate that’s been trimmed for aesthetics and one that’s been deliberately designed or positioned to make its rider untraceable.

Over the summer months, beginning with a high profile campaign in July, eight Midland Forces will be working together to raise public awareness of motorcycle safety issues and deal with blatant offenders. This will include diesel and mud on the roads and a reminder of the old " think once, think twice, think bike " campaign. However, as small or indecipherable plates are an automatic invitation to a roadside check, as a fellow motorcyclist I would therefore strongly advise you to put the correct ones back on again before venturing out this summer.

Providing your readers and their bikes are legal and use their performance appropriately, I welcome them to come and enjoy the roads and abundant hospitality of our beautiful county which ahs been a mecca for bikers for so many years.

Yours faithfully,

John Timmis

Inspector

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