The Times – the newspaper whose Cities Fit for Cycling campaign, launched in 2012, helped pave the way for a Parliamentary inquiry that led to the following year’s Get Britain Cycling report – has today given a platform to lawyer Nick Freeman to call for cyclists to be treated equally to motorists by the law, including having to wear identification numbers. But while calling for tougher laws against cyclists, he has dismissed the government's consultation on doing exactly that as a "headline grabbing move."
Freeman., nicknamed Mr Loophole due to his ability to get his clients – many of them celebrities, including Jeremy Clarkson and Wayne Rooney – off the hook when charged with motoring offences, often due to legal technicalities, has a bit of previous when it comes to calling for the authorities to clamp down on cyclists, whom he believes “can commit road traffic offences with impunity.”
Those were the words he used in his comment piece in The Times today, although he did go on to highlight that Charlie Alliston had been jailed for 18 months for wanton and furious driving following the 2016 collision on London’s Old Street in which pedestrian Kim Briggs lost her life.
Citing the case of a woman hospitalised last week in a crash involving a cyclist in nearby Dalston in which the rider ran off but later handed himself in to police – footage posted in The Sun suggested the pedestrian ran across the road while the lights were green for traffic – Freeman wrote: “What’s needed is a system where, like motorists, cyclists are subject to a points system and pay fines, or more, where appropriate.
“This could be done by introducing mandatory identification for cyclists – for example through the compulsory wearing of numbered tabards registered to the cyclist (and not the bicycle),” he continued.
(It’s perhaps worth noting that he got Clarkson acquitted of a speeding offence because the prosecution was unable to prove that the motoring journalist and broadcaster was actually driving the car in question at the time).
The Times piece was published under the heading, ‘Treat bicycles as strictly as cars to make roads safe’, although curiously, Freeman dismisses the Department for Transport’s announcement last month of a consultation on the law relating to dangerous and careless cycling as “an empty, headline-grabbing move.”
Freeman himself says that “although every death is a tragedy, the number of cases involving a collision between a cyclist and a pedestrian is tiny” (to which it should be added that it cannot be assumed that in all of those cases the cyclist was at fault).
Nevertheless, he concludes: “Cyclists and motorists need to be able to share the road and should face similar punishments for breaking the law. It is the only way to make our roads safer.”
All of which may leave the reader of The Times article confused. As mentioned above, the government is consulting on reforming the law as it applies to cyclists, but it’s a consultation that Freeman dismisses in his article.
Back in 2006 in an interview with the Guardian, Freeman did however suggest another “way to make our roads safer,” as he put it today.
He earned his Mr Loophole nickname for his ability to successfully defend clients or have sentences overturned or made more lenient on appeal in large part because he was able to identify procedural errors on the part of the police or prosecution.
“If I repeatedly identify shortcomings in police procedures, then perhaps we will end up with better standards in policing and then we will all be safer on the roads because people will not take chances,” he said 12 years ago.
“Until then, it is my job to identify inadequate policing and procedures,” he added.
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.