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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.

11 comments

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cat1commuter [1421 posts] 3 years ago
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So what, exactly, was the offence of which she was convicted?

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Coleman [335 posts] 3 years ago
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Why didn't plod advise the driver not to park in the cycle lane? Sounds a bit like London - zero enforcement of dangerous or inconsiderate parking where bike lanes are involved.

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Simon_MacMichael [2448 posts] 3 years ago
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Cycling without due care and attention (aka careless cycling), as it says in the first paragraph.

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cat1commuter [1421 posts] 3 years ago
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OK, I guess it is this offence: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/52/section/29

I wonder if, from a purely technical legal perspective, the cycle path she was on is a "road".

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Bigcog [21 posts] 3 years ago
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It's quite hard to "knock" a wing mirror off without losing balance or having an accident, unless of course you kick it.. !  4

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JohnS [198 posts] 3 years ago
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Sounds to me like someone getting rid of a candidate for police commissioner because she's a cycling campaigner.

Can't have them pesky cyclists telling the plod to do their job for a change so far as cycle lanes, ASLs, illegal parking, speeding, dangerous driving and dooring are concerned, can we?

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Cauld Lubter [132 posts] 3 years ago
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Good heavens, no. A decent swing with a gloved fist does it just fine. So I heard.  19

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MattT [24 posts] 3 years ago
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I'm a keen cyclist and often get annoyed at cars that are parked illegally. However, I wouldn't deliberately break a car's wing mirror, nor would I cycle off if I caused the damage. If she couldn't cycle through the gap but tried anyway and caused the damage then surely she has been inconsiderate. Just because she's a cyclist doesn't make her right.

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Grizzerly [285 posts] 3 years ago
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Nah, I've knocked one off with my elbow whilst barely deviating from my line.

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bikecellar [268 posts] 3 years ago
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£350+£140! Remember the four cyclists killed in Wales a few years back, outcome £140 fine for dodgy tyres.

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Alan Tullett [1566 posts] 3 years ago
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Seems an excessive fine for the offence. You can get less than that for shoplifting.

In Cambridge I've broken 2 wing mirrors going past on the inside with barely the edge of my handlebar (long time ago now). Hardly noticed it both times. The drivers were pretty angry but didn't take the matter any further as they knew they were in the wrong for being too close to the kerb in the first place.

And if the car was illegally parked why wasn't that prosecuted and fined.

The whole thing sounds politically motivated and distinctly dodgy.