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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.

17 comments

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ronin [263 posts] 2 years ago
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This man made law is stupid. Surely it should be an eye for an eye. Put him on a bike and then let someone drive a car at him.

The problem here is that the most vulnerable in this case the cyclist is not given a priority (as it should be on the road). Anyone who uses a car against someone on a bike or a pedestrian deserves the highest sentence.

This country has two flat tires, and no-one wants to repair them.

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doc [167 posts] 2 years ago
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A regrettable comment by Ronin, the law is not based on the principle he evokes, and a good thing too. The officer was doing her job and the actions of the driver must have been skirting attempted murder, although without full facts it is hard to take a view. Priority on the road should be everyone's safety, as such anyne in charge of a ton or more of powerful vehicle has a large responsibility. Which does not absolve cyclists and pedestrians from taking proper care and staying legal. In this case the driver behaved very badly and deserved the sentence handed down, but bear in mind 23 months is effectively 11.5 months, with the rst at liberty on licence. Whether this will deter a very foolish and possibly dengerous man from stupid actions in the future is debateable, noting he is going to serve 3 months concurrently for a public order offence. Seems to be a pattern here, disregard for the law.
Which is probably why other cases are less severely dealt with, and often less than acceptable driving standards are seen as "mistakes"!

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paulfg42 [382 posts] 2 years ago
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So the only way to get anything like justice when you are on a bike is to be wearing a police uniform?

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stumps [3183 posts] 2 years ago
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So the only way to get anything like justice when you are on a bike is to be wearing a police uniform?[/quote).

"The law tends to be vigorous in prosecuting and sentencing those who assault police officers as deterrent to others".

Absolute rubbish, nothing could be further from the truth.
Try getting spat at, verbally abused and injured whilst trying to do your job and to be told "its part of your job, just accept it".

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stumps [3183 posts] 2 years ago
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Sorry that didnt come out right, there should be a gap between pauls comment, bloody computers  14

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kie7077 [833 posts] 2 years ago
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Wow, if you want a light sentence for assaulting a police-person, just aim your car at them!

Prejudice is legal if your prejudice is against cyclists, and the legal system itself is even prejudiced.

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alronald [58 posts] 2 years ago
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http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-21785413

Much more serious of the police person isn't on a bike obviously

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dunnoh [197 posts] 2 years ago
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I just don't get it. A man drives a car at a lady cyclist and runs her over and gets 24 months. I really worry that the law and sentencing guidelines aren't sufficient in many cases especially where cycling is involved.

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therealsmallboy [162 posts] 2 years ago
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alronald wrote:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-21785413

Much more serious of the police person isn't on a bike obviously

Better sentencing in Scotland? Either way this doesn't seem like a good enough punishment. Imagine what would happen to him in Thailand, or Dubai. Hands and feet chopped off or something equally deserving I'd hope. Huff!

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ronin [263 posts] 2 years ago
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Not really regrettable, more an attempt to make the reader put themselves in her situation for a moment. I wonder if the judge asked him what he thought the outcome would be by taking such actions. Simply, what did he intend by doing what he did.

As cyclists we often have to use our skill to get out of potentially life threatening situations that perhaps stem from carelessness; how then would it be to be in a situation that is deliberate, as you said "skirting attempted murder".

The question is: Is the law there to serve the people or it's own purpose? Where is the person that thinks that this sentence was justified? (Apart from the judge)

As I said, the law should be based on the most vulnerable (and no, not to take advantage of such a law), but so that people take care and consider others - and that goes both ways.

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Carl [135 posts] 2 years ago
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Best wishes to the officer. I've always found cycling patrols to be very friendly and definitely would like to see more.

Seems the courts don't appreciate physics, eg a 1-tonne vehicle hitting a body - if deliberate, it should be attempted murder or at the very least very serious assault.

Also wondering what the sentence would have been if the victim was not a police officer.

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Colin Peyresourde [1636 posts] 2 years ago
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ronin wrote:

This country has two flat tires, and no-one wants to repair them.

+1 - though I actually think its a cracked chain stay.

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Colin Peyresourde [1636 posts] 2 years ago
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ronin wrote:

This country has two flat tires, and no-one wants to repair them.

+1 - though I actually think its a cracked chain stay.

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Sedgepeat [93 posts] 2 years ago
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Let's not forget that this was a deliberate act and not specifically because she had a bike, although not riding it at the time. It seems that there only need be a bike in the vicinity to evoke cycle outrage. It wasn't because she was a cyclist.

What we cannot do, as this article is implying, is to confuse a deliberate act which could've even been attempted murder in slightly different circumstances, with an accidental death on the road when it comes to sentencing.

The fact is had this PC been sitting in a car, she would've been OK.

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rickallison [8 posts] 2 years ago
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Just shows again this country's pathetic legal system generally .

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K Stand Ken [59 posts] 2 years ago
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"Field also received a three-month prison term, running concurrently, relating to a separate public order offence."

What's with this 'concurrent' crap? If you do the crime, you should do the time.

IMO 23 months is nowhere near long enough for attempted murder, and as has been mentioned above the custody time will be seriously reduced. This is wrong, wrong, WRONG!

It's perfectly obvious why prison sentences are so light. The jails are full to bursting and Cameron and his cronies ought to be made aware in the strongest terms.

As I have stated in my club magazine; if you want to bump someone off, buy them a bike then "accidentally" run them down. If you're very lucky you'll get a slap on the wrist and an invitation to visit Specsavers.

The guy who killed five members of Rhyl RC some years back only appeared in court for tyre offences FFS!