A lawyer who calls himself “Mr Loophole” has joined a helmet camera-using cyclist for a bike ride in London. But his experience hasn't changed his view that cyclists should be made to wear helmets and high-visibility clothing, with their bikes carrying registration plates - an attitude a road safety campaigner describes as "extremely worrying."
Nick Freeman of Manchester-based Freeman & Co Solicitors joined Essex-based Dave Sherry - who has been described as a "cycling vigilante" in the mainstream press - on the ride in June.
Sherry, who claims that the footage he films has helped convict dozens of drivers, invited the lawyer to join him for a ride after Freeman said motorists should "fight back" against cyclists who use helmet cameras. The cyclist uploaded a video of the ride to YouTube.
Freeman has helped a string of clients including household names such as Jeremy Clarkson and Wayne Rooney avoid convictions for motoring offences, often by exploiting legal technicalities, hence his "Mr Loophole" nickname, which he has trademarked.
Many of the cases Freeman handles concern offences such as speeding where there is no injury element, but he has also represented motorists in cases where they have been charged with causing the death of a vulnerable road user.
After learning of his ride with Sherry, road.cc contacted Freeman to ask him whether it had changed his perception of cyclists.
Cyclists "totally vulnerable" on roads
He told us the ride had been an eye-opener, because of “asphyxiation from fumes, something that I’d never considered … and total vulnerability.”
“At all times you’re aware if you make a mistake and fall you’re dead meat," he said. "You only want a slight swerve, or someone looks down at their phone or something, and irrespective of the fault you are totally vulnerable.”
However, the experience hasn’t changed Freeman’s mind that cyclists should be identifiable for actions like riding two abreast on country roads. Even though this is not illegal (Rule 66 of the Highway Code, permits cycling two abreast, as illustrated by this video featuring Chris Boardman and Master Driving Instructor, Blaine Walsh), he believes it constitutes “inconsiderate cycling”.
He said: “You can’t say to me you’ve got a three mile stretch of straight, 60mph road, that drivers should sit behind a row of cyclists doing 20-25mph for that three miles.”
“On those rare occasions when they’re cycling on a narrow country lane, and they know they will be identifiable, they will be less inclined to breach the Highway Code and they will be more inclined to go in single file,” he added.
He also believes dedicated cycle lanes should be built but their use should be mandatory, as should that of cycle helmets.
Duncan Dollimore, road safety and legal campaigns officer at the charity Cycling UK, told road.cc he viewed the comments as “extremely worrying” and stressed that though Freeman specialises in defending motorists, he is repeating “tired mantras of those reluctant to share the roads”, without evidence to back up his arguments.
Freeman spoke to us about two specific cases in which he had acted for drivers accused of causing the death through careless driving of vulnerable road users.
Cyclist, 77, killed by left-turning driver "would have got up and walked away" if she'd worn a helmet
In one, the victim was an 83-year-old rabbi walking along a road at night, while the other concerned the death of a 77-year-old woman who was cycling to visit her husband's grave, which she did daily.
The woman was killed when Freeman’s client overtook her before turning left into a Porsche garage, hitting her, with the driver only becoming aware she had struck her when she was told by other motorists after parking her car.
However, Freeman insisted the victim was partly responsible because she failed to brake in time, and was not wearing a helmet.
“My client overtook her, no suggestion she was going too fast, then she had to pull in front of her to go to the Porsche garage; she was driving a Porsche Boxster," he said.
“The lady wasn’t wearing a helmet, she was in her 70s and [Freeman's client] pulled in front of her, the lady didn’t brake, so there was an error in judgement on both sides I would say and that seemed to be accepted by the court.
"The most minute of contacts, which had fatal consequences for the old lady. She wasn’t wearing a helmet and the evidence was had she been wearing a helmet she would have got up and walked away.”
The victim, Margaret Ward, suffered head and chest injuries in the collision, but a Manchester Evening News report of the case in September 2013 made no mention of whether she would have survived had she been wearing a helmet, nor was it reported that she was found to be at fault.
In court the judge told the driver, 51-year-old Tracy Capal, who had pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving that Mrs Ward had "met her death as a result of your driving.”
"Religious people" should wear hi-vis
In 2015, after his client Simon Martins, aged 24, was sentenced at Manchester Crown Court after pleading guilty to causing the death through careless driving of Rabbi Hyman Steinberg, known as Chaim, Freeman called on the government to make it compulsory for pedestrians to wear reflective clothing at night.
Speaking to road.cc, he reiterated his view that "religious people" who wear dark clothing due to their beliefs should wear high-visibility clothing.
“He [Rabbi Steinberg] was dressed in black, black hat black robes, it was dark, he crossed in front of this car, it was pouring with rain, one of the streetlights wasn’t working, I said, look, people if they’re out in certain conditions, religious people should wear some form of hi-vis jacket. It would have made him noticeable and he wouldn’t have been hit in that particular incident.”
Last year, Freeman said drivers should “fight back” by recording cyclists who break the law, and insisting that some riders deliberately "goad motorists."
Those comments were made after a video posted to YouTube entitled 'Clown takes a pratfall' became a viral hit. However, the driver was later cautioned by police for a public order offence, threats to commit criminal damage and assault. The man later admitted the offences and apologised to the cyclist via the police.
Lawyer's views "extremely worrying," says safety campaigner
Cycling UK’s Dollimore called Freeman’s comments "extremely worrying."
“It is difficult to know where to start when commenting upon Mr Freeman’s view on the responsibilities of different road users,” said Dollimore. “He appears to believe that a rabbi, unsurprisingly dressed in black, is somehow at fault when killed crossing the road without wearing a hi-viz jacket. Presumably Mr Freeman also objects to black cars which, when silhouetted against a dark road surface, must be equally invisible?
“Perhaps it is not surprising that the lawyer who once encouraged drivers to ‘fight back’ now suggests that a cyclist questioning a motorist about his driving was ‘goading’ him to lose his temper, but fails to condemn the subsequent attempted assault upon the cyclist, preferring of course to blame the victim.
“Alas it would probably be naive to expect a more informed debate from someone who, despite claiming to be a specialist road traffic lawyer for many years, had not realised that the roads were paid for by general taxation and not specifically by motorists, and who repeats the tired mantra of those reluctant to share the roads with cyclists, namely that cyclists should be licenced. An argument oft floated and never explained.”
Freeman says his job is to “provide proper representation” for drivers, but admits the “net effect of certain cases” might be that dangerous drivers get off without prosecution.