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Case raises wider issues regarding investigation and sentencing in cases where victim is a cyclist

A Portsmouth man has been jailed for 23 months after admitting deliberately running over a police officer who was patrolling on her bike in Southsea. From the wider perspective of how the law deals with criminal cases where the victim is a cyclist, it does raise wider issues about investigation and sentencing.

Freddie Field, aged 28, pleaded guilty of causing PC Alison Zachs actual bodily harm, as well as driving while disqualified and dangerous driving, reports Portsmouth News.

He was arrested after the newspaper issued an appeal relating to the incident, which happened in May last year.

PC Zachs had been following Field’s vehicle in a residential area and planned to tell him to slow down.

When he saw her, however, he drove away, and knocked the officer off her bike as he did so.

PC Zachs was treated in hospital for her injuries, and in a statement read out to the court said: “This ordeal at the hands of this person will remain with me for the rest of my life and serve as a constant reminder for doing my job and doing what I thought was right.

“The actions of the driver have left me with a dark spot on the ability to do my job.”

Recorder Nigel Pascoe QC, handing down the court’s sentence to Field, told him: “What you did was to drive towards a police officer doing her duty.

“The police officer put her bike in the road twice. You reversed, you drove towards her and you hit her.

‘Her bike which had been between her and your vehicle was taken along the road and for a short distance, so was she.

“She faced therefore a terrifying ordeal which she has described in moving language in her victim statement.

“I want to commend the officer for her courage, her professionalism and her ability to continue with her job after a terrifying ordeal,” he added.

Besides being sentenced to 23 months’ imprisonment for the offences he admitted in connection with that incident, Field also received a three-month prison term, running concurrently, relating to a separate public order offence.

Following sentencing, PC Zachs issued a statement in which she said: “I would like to thank everyone in the emergency services and within the local community who helped me on the night I was injured in Sedgley Close.

“I am most grateful to all my colleagues who have been so caring and supportive since I returned to work.

“I also feel it’s important to acknowledge the amount of effort, dedication and persistence shown by CID in tracking, arresting and charging Freddie Field.

“Offenders like him cannot escape and will be brought before the courts to face justice.”

With the charges against Field including that one of actual bodily harm and driving while disqualified mean that the sentence handed down to Field is not directly comparable to those in other cases where the victim is a cyclist, it’s likely that the fact it was a police officer involved here will have had an effect on the outcome.

The law tends to be vigorous in prosecuting and sentencing those who assault police officers as deterrent to others. The courts are also likely to view an offender capable of assaulting a police officer as likely to be a greater danger to the wider community.

The aggravating aspect of driving whilst disqualified – and thereby ignoring the process of law – is another aspect that is unlikely to have evoked much sympathy from the court.

Concerns have been raised by cycling organisations and campaigners in recent months regarding the perceived leniency of sentences given to drivers in some cases where cyclists have been killed.

Last year, British Cycling and CTC met with justice minister Helen Grant as part of the campaign they are leading to urge a review of sentencing in cases where a cyclist is the victim.

Afterwards, Martin Gibbs, director of policy and legal affairs at British Cycling, described the meeting as “a significant step forward.”

Among the cases that gave rise to that campaign being launched was one from 2010 regarding the death of British Cycling employee Rob Jefferies, in which the 18-year-old driver was given a 12-month community order after pleading guilty to causing death by careless driving.

Earlier this year, CTC launched a separate campaign urging people in England and Wales to take part in a new campaign to lobby their Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) to make road safety a priority.

CTC says that the police should investigate road traffic incidents involving vulnerable users such as cyclists thoroughly and that appropriate action be taken against motorists involved.

Its contention is that one reason sentencing is so light is that often the quality of the investigation and thus the evidence available to the prosecution is so poor – explaining why they want to press PCCs to make road safety a priority, which it is hoped will in turn lead to the police investigating the case properly, as they clearly did here.

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.