Gwent Police have confirmed to road.cc that road users, including cyclists, who submit video footage of bad driving to the force under its Operation Snap initiative may themselves face prosecution if their own behaviour, including the use of bad language, is deemed to warrant it.
You may remember our recent story about cyclist Nick Thompson, who regularly submits footage of close passes and other incidents to the force but was told that police were unable to act on incidents in which he could be heard swearing when drivers overtook him too closely.
As we reported last month, he contacted the Crown Prosecution Service to clarify the situation, and was told that “there is no general rule against prosecuting cases where victims or witnesses can be shown to have used bad language.”
That seemed to have clarified the issue for once and for all, but after submitting a further 17 videos to the force last weekend (including the one above), he received a phone call from a sergeant at Gwent Police who told him that due to bad language in some of his Operation Snap submissions, he was "committing public order offences," and that it brought his character into question.
Nick said that the sergeant told him that a victim of assault could be prosecuted for a public order offence if they were swearing when the assault happened, and also claimed that the officer told him he would be called in for interview with the intention of prosecuting him for a public order offence if he continued to submit videos in which swearing was audible.
Gwent Police denied the latter claim, saying that he wouldn’t be brought in for interview just from submitting footage, but instead was being reminded that he had committed public order offences, there is a chance his footage could be discounted by the CPS, and that he may be called in for interview if a complaint were made against him for using bad language.
Nick told us he had made a complaint to Gwent Police about the issue, and we also contacted the force to seek clarification of the situation.
In response, Teresa Ciano, partnership manager at GoSafe Wales, which runs Operation Snap, said: “GoSafe welcomes submission to Operation Snap from all road users and takes the safety of cyclists and other vulnerable road users seriously.
“Close passes of both cyclists and horse riders are dangerous and poses a risk to the safety of cyclists and horse riders.
“Every submitter, when completing the Operation Snap submission form, must declare that they have read the Operation Snap FAQ, which can be found on the GoSafe website.
“It clearly states as part of the FAQs: ‘Will my own driving or the way in which I captured the footage be scrutinised?’
Here is what the relevant part of the FAQs says:
You must be aware that when the police review the footage which you submit that they are duty bound to also review the manner of your driving and also the manner in which the footage was obtained.
For example, if you were exceeding the speed limit in order to catch up with an offending driver and then proceeded to film them with your mobile phone whilst driving, then the police will consider also taking proceedings against you.
“By confirming they have read the FAQs, the submitter has acknowledged they are aware that their behaviour on the road will also be reviewed,” Ms Ciano continued.
“The footage received by Mr. Thompson clearly demonstrates some close passing of vehicles. We have offered some words of advice to allow us to secure the best possible chance of prosecution.
“As police, we need to consider the offences in the whole and the effect of Mr. Thompson’s behaviour on those innocent road users not involved in any way,” she added.
“The advice issued about foul language is intended to allow us to prosecute offenders without having the case undermined if his behaviour is challenged in court.”
Gwent Police deputy chief constable Amanda Blakeman also provided a response to our inquiry, saying: “We want all road users to feel safe when using them.
“Many of our officers and staff, including our senior leadership team, are keen cyclists outside of work and understand the risks posed to cyclists on the road.
“We work closely with GoSafe, also known as the Wales Road Casualty Reduction Partnership, and other partner agencies to ensure the safety of road users.
“The force often provides advice and tips to road users, and the wider public, about how to stay safe while on our roads and where to report concerns.
“Any offences identified on our roads will be investigated by officers.”
She added: “We’re also duty bound to make enquiries if a member of the public makes an official report to us about an incident on our roads, including those which may not relate directly to a motoring offence.”
Of course, it is understandable why the police may, to use one of the examples listed in the FAQs, prosecute a driver who has exceeded the speed limit to catch up with another motorist whom they believe has committed an offence (the other example is less clear-cut since, as established in the 2019 High Court case DPP v Barreto, filming at the wheel using a mobile phone is not currently an offence – although a motorist doing so could, presumably, face a charge of careless driving).
There’s no mention of swearing in the FAQs, although if a cyclist were referred for prosecution for using an expletive following a close pass, one might hope that common sense might prevail at the CPS – after all, having a couple of tonnes of metal brush past you at speed is a very unnerving experience.
Likewise, in the case of a driver in court following a close pass in which the cyclist could be heard to swear, prosecutors would hopefully be able to persuade the magistrates or jury, as the case may be, that such language from the victim in no way excuses the motorist’s previous action.
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.