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Local politician acquitted of criminal damage in case related to dispute over builders blocking cycle path

A former leader of Cambridgeshire County Council who sits on the county’s police authority was last week cleared of criminal damage after breaking a car’s wing mirror while cycling, but was instead convicted of cycling without due care and attention, although she claims she was given insufficient time to prepare her defence to the latter charge.

Shona Johnstone, aged 50, who had been hoping to become Cambridgeshire’s first police commissioner prior to the allegations being made against her, was temporarily suspended by the Conservative Party from carrying out her duties as a councillor but is likely to be reinstated following her acquittal on the more serious charge, reports Cambridge News.

The incident giving rise to the charges against her happened in February last year as Ms Johnstone was riding home along a cycle path on Station Road in the village of Over near St Ives.

Cambridge Magistrate’s Court heard that Ms Johnstone had knocked the wing mirror off a Ford Fiesta illegally parked with two wheels on the cycle path as she tried to squeeze past it, but she did not stop, nor did she inform police of the incident.

The vehicle belonged to a builder who was working on a nearby site and who confronted Ms Johnstone at her home about the damage to his vehicle and called police.

The manager of the building site, Richard Peters, maintained that there had been a long-standing dispute between those working there and Ms Johnstone regarding parking on the cycle path, and that the verbal abuse he claimed she gave them led to her being nicknamed “Tourette’s” and the “village idiot” by builders.

Defending Ms Johnstone, Michael Magee insisted that allegations that his client had been aggressive were an “utter fabrication” and that the incident had been due to “poor parking,” an  issue she had earlier highlighted to police.

He maintained that the site manager had seen “an opportunity to make trouble and to keep her off your back” through the incident that resulted in the wing mirror being broken.

The magistrates did not accept a claim that Ms Johstone had broken off the wing mirror with her hands, saying they were not persuaded that she had the strength to do so with one arm, but they did say that the standard of her cycling had dropped below that required by law.

“In leaving the scene at pace having had a collision, she didn’t take responsible action appropriate of a person of good character to look around for people or damage, nor did she take appropriate action to report the incident, knowing Mr Singleton had called police,” said the chairman of the bench, David Bredin.

“In a known hazard area she didn’t take appropriate action to avoid a collision and showed poor judgment.”

Following her acquittal on the criminal damage charge, Ms Johnstone, who was fined £350 with costs of £140, claimed in a series of messages on Twitter that she had been given insufficient time to prepare her defence to the alternative charge laid against her.

“Delighted to have been cleared of the charge of criminal damage,” she wrote. “The case against me was a complete fabrication

“Is it reasonable to lay a second charge at 4-00pm the day before the hearing and expect my lawyer to have time to prepare a defence?

“Is it reasonable to wait 5 months, 30 days and 23 hours before laying a second charge? In other words an hour before the time limit expired.

“Am I angry about that - you bet. My faith in British justice is somewhat shaky this morning,” she added.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.