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Addison Lee boss could be prosecuted over bus lane letter to drivers

Crown Prosecution Service asked to decide if John Griffin letter constituted a criminal offence

Addison Lee minicab boss John Griffin could face criminal prosecution for urging his drivers to break the law and drive in London bus lanes.  The letter was part of his campaign against what he sees as discriminatory ban which keeps mini cab drivers out of London's bus lanes while allowing licensed black cabs to use them.

In the letter Mr Griffin promised to indemnify any driver fined for driving in the bus lanes, although as was pointed out at the time repeat offences would have carried the possibility of sanctions far greater than a simple fine against which he would have been unable to indemnify them - they couldn't put all those penalty points on his driving licence.

According to media reports both Transport for London and the Labour MP Ian Austin, Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group have asked the Metroplitan Police whether Mr Griffin committed an offence, the Met has in turn forwarded those enquiries to the Crown Prosecution Service. Writing to Mr Austin Commander Adrian Hanstock confirmed that Transport for London had asked the police to“actively prosecute any contravention of bus lanes by unauthorised vehicles” and that doing so was a "recognised priority".

The most likely offence that Mr Griffin could be charged with is criminal incitement under Section 59 of the Serious Crime Act. If Mr Griffin were charged with this offence prosecutors would need to show that he believed his drivers would act on his suggestion and commit the offence.

However in response to enquiries from The Times an Addison Lee spokesman pointed out that, "It was clear in the letter that it was up to the driver whether they drove in the bus lane and that if the passenger told the driver they didn’t want to use the bus lane, they didn’t have to go in them.” CPS prosecutors would need to decide whether on that basis they stood a reasonable chance of obtaining a successful prosecution before taking the matter further.

The other factor that might make a prosecution for incitement more difficult than it at first seems is that - as we understand the CPS guidance - the offence of incitment is as serious as the offence that is being incited - so incitement to murder carries the same penalties as murder, driving in a London bus lane is an offence that usually carries a fine and won't result in a criminal record - indeed while it may be prosecuted as a criminal offence it is in many parts of the country in reality a civil offence.

Addison Lee withdrew Mr Griffins' letter last month after Transport for London obtained a temporary injunction against the company preventing the mini cab firm from encouraging or instructing its drivers to use bus lanes in the capital pending the outcome of a judicial review on the issue. Currently only buses, black cabs, cyclists, and latterly motorcyclists can use London's bus lanes. The Addison Lee boss contends that allowing black cabs but not mini cabs in to the lanes gives the former an unfair competitive advantage - his position is that either both should be allowed to use the lanes or neither.

Addison Lee is Britain's biggest mini cab firm - although it is largely London based -with 3.500 self employed drivers, the prospect of all those extra cars in cycle lanes led to opposition from cycle campaigners which in turn provoked some spectacularly ill-judged comments from Mr Griffin penned a column for the Add Lib regarding cyclists and their safety which he signed off:

“It is time for us to say to cyclists, ‘You want to join our gang, get trained and pay up’

That column was a PR disaster for the company and led to cancelled contracts, a boycott and a 'die-in' by hundreds of cyclists outside the Addison Lee offices as well as a tsunami of vitriol directed at the company on social networking sites in which many Londoners made clear their feelings about the company, Mr Griffin, and the alleged poor standards of driving frequently exhibited by Addison Lee drivers.

The High Court is likely to come to a decision about allowing mini cabs in bus lanes in July it is unclear how soon the CPS will come to a decision on whether or not to prosecute the company's chairman.

Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.

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