Rod Liddle wasn’t condoning ‘dooring’ cyclists in his Sunday Times column last weekend when he appeared to applaud transport minister Chris Grayling for his role in an incident that left a cyclist injured – he was just using “heavy irony,” says the newspaper.
We’re glad that’s been cleared up. The newspaper was responding to a complaint made by charity Cycling UK, which had asked for the piece, which it described as “inflammatory and dangerous,” to be retracted and for an apology to be issued.
The Sunday Times also received a letter from May Hamilton, whose husband Robert was killed in Southport in January 2014 after a motorist opened her car door into his path without looking.
In case you missed it, here’s what Liddle wrote under the heading, Think Twice, Think Bike:
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.
We must admit, we missed the “heavy irony” the first time we read Liddle’s column, and even on repeated re-reading, we’re finding it hard to discern the irony – obviously, we apologise to the writer for confusing his subtle road safety message with apparently encouraging acts of violence towards people on bikes.
The episode that gave rise to Liddle’s column – and the complaints from Cycling UK and Mrs Hamilton – happened in October and was widely reported on last week after footage was posted to YouTube by another cyclist.
Cycling UK today received a reply to its letter from Sunday Times executive editor, Bob Tyrer, who said that Liddle is no more than "a commentator on human foibles, not a diplomat."
The charity’s road safety and legal campaigns manager, Duncan Dollimore, said in a blog post today that the response suggests “it's fine for national newspapers to print articles promoting and encouraging crime, distressing victims’ families, and with boasts about the columnist's own attempted crimes.
“You just print it and say you were being heavily ironic - the poorest excuse for lazy journalism ever.”
He went on: “Cycling UK were concerned that Liddle considered Robert, Sam Boulton, and Sam Harding, all to be people outside of his ‘normal human’ category.
“People therefore deserving to be the target of his London taxi door tactic; except it's too late, as all three have died whilst cycling in recent years, in car dooring incidents,” highlighting that Liddle had described that – with what we now know to be “heavy irony” and nothing more – as a "beautifully timed manoeuvre."
Dollimore continued: “It seems however, that we at Cycling UK, and May Hamilton, must have a sense of humour bypass. We aren't sophisticated enough to appreciate Liddle's cunning intellectual wit.
“So, when May exchanged e-mails with me last night after receiving Mr Tyrer's email, expressing the view that she thought she deserved better from The Sunday Times, she was obviously, like me, just missing the heavy irony thing.
“We thought that irony was a poor excuse for inciting violence, but we obviously didn't get the clever journalist bit, where you say something outrageous but mean something else.”
He added that Mrs Hamilton now plans to raise a complaint to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, but said “it seems that encouraging criminal activity, boasting about trying to assault cyclists, and distressing the families of victims who have died, does not fall neatly within the existing IPSO editors code!”
In conclusion, he wrote: “Just a final thought as I try and grasp how to apply the ‘heavy irony’ ruse: does this mean that if I write an article outlining how people should respond to Mr Liddle if they meet him in the street, that I can claim ‘heavy irony’ as a defence if somebody does what I suggest?
“T'was not my fault M'Lud. T'was those unsophisticated people who didn't understand my sense of humour – I was being heavily ironic!
“No doubt the editors at The Sunday Times have an explanation as to why the rules would be different for me, given that I am, unlike Liddle, not a respected commentator on people's foibles.”
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.