The charity Cycling UK is demanding that The Sunday Times retracts and apologises for “inflammatory and dangerous” remarks made in last weekend’s edition by columnist Rod Liddle in which he praised transport secretary Chris Grayling for ‘dooring’ a cyclist outside the Palace of Westminster last week.
The incident took place in October with details only emerging last week, and was caught on camera by another rider.
The cyclist, Jaiqi Liu, was riding close to the kerb when Grayling opened the door of his ministerial car as he approached.
The transport secretary, who checked the cyclist was okay and shook his hand but departed the scene without leaving his details, was reported to have implied that Liu was riding too fast.
The cyclist said that after the initial shock wore off, he suffered pain, and his bike was damaged. Cycling UK has offered to help fund a private prosecution on his behalf against Grayling.
The episode received widespread media attention, including from Liddle, whose columns in The Sunday Times and The Spectator frequently attract criticism from his targets – including cyclists – for his outspoken views.
In his column in The Sunday Times last weekend, also published online under the heading Think Twice, Think Bike, Liddle wrote:
At last we have a transport secretary prepared to take the menace of cyclists seriously. Chris Grayling opened the door of his ministerial car to knock one off his bike — a beautifully timed manoeuvre. Grayling then leant over the prone and whimpering Jaiqi Liu and told him he’d been cycling too fast. Respect! The cyclist had been “undertaking” — a practice enjoyed by many cyclists that, while not illegal, is discouraged in the Highway Code.
Grayling devised a suitable method of discouragement. When in London I repeatedly open and close the door of my taxi to try to catch one of them at it and send him flying. I like to think I’m doing my bit to make London a safer place for normal humans.
Cycling UK has today written to Craig Tregurtha, managing editor of the newspaper and its sister publication The Times, demanding that the column be retracted and an apology published.
The charity pointed out that in English law, it is a strict liability offence to open “any door of a vehicle on a road so as to injure or endanger any person.” A collision is not necessary for an offence to be committed.
It also highlighted that Liddle’s column ran contrary to the Cities fit for Cycling campaign launched by The Times in 2012 after its reporter Mary Bowers sustained life-changing injuries when she was run over by a lorry driver while riding to work at its former premises in Wapping.
Paul Tuohy, Cycling UK’s Chief Executive, said: “Liddle’s comments endorsing and celebrating the injury of a cyclist run totally contrary to the ethos of a family of newspapers that has campaigned so hard to make our roads safer after one of their own reporters was very seriously injured while cycling to work.
“This article is in shockingly poor taste, as cyclists have died due to ‘car dooring’ incidents where people have not looked. In a national newspaper, Liddle revels in the suggestion that he actively tries to copy these actions – that’s inflammatory and dangerous and we respectfully request The Sunday Times to retract this article and apologise.
“Despite its potentially lethal consequences, ‘car dooring’ is treated as a minor offence with a maximum £1,000 fine. Liddle’s flippant attitude clearly spells out the need for Government to include ‘car dooring’ in its ongoing review of road traffic offences and sentencing, to help prevent more tragic incidents like that involving Sam Boulton from happening in the future.”
A separate letter of complaint about Liddle’s column has been sent to The Sunday Times by May Hamilton, whose husband Robert suffered fatal head injuries in January 2014 when a motorist opened her car door without looking.
The driver, Joanne Jackson, was fined £305 and received a six-month driving ban.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.