Councillors Approve Police Seizure of Cars Which Avoid Speed Humps

Friday, March 5th, 2010. 7:44pm

Councillors approved police proposals to confiscate vehicles which swerve to avoid the Water Street / Fen Road speed cushions.

Councillors approved police proposals to confiscate vehicles, like the one pictured, which swerve to avoid the Fen Road speed cushions.

Drivers in North Cambridge who drive between, rather than over, speed cushions are to face confiscation of their vehicles under a new police priority approved by Liberal Democrat county and city councillors at the North Area committee on the 4th of March 2010. Repeat offenders could even see their cars crushed by the police.

The police are proposing to use legislation which has previously been applied in the city mainly to deal with those using mini-motos and motorbikes in an anti-social manner to clamp down on drivers swerving around traffic calming features. The law to be invoked is Section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002 which gives the police power to deal with a vehicle which is being driven carelessly and which “is causing, or is likely to cause, alarm, distress or annoyance to members of the public”. Those dealt with under this provision are warned on the first occurrence and face seizure of their vehicle on the second.

A major problem with this law is that it gives excessive powers to individual police officers and PCSOs; it doesn’t allow those faced with action under it the opportunity to go in front of a court and argue their case. The use of these powers appears to be an attempt by the police to deal with a criminal act (careless driving) in a non-criminal manner; presumably to avoid pesky court cases where the police would be required to provide evidence and defend their actions. I am astonished and appalled that the Liberal Democrats have approved the police use of yet another draconian and inappropriate police tactic in the city (Earlier this year they renewed dispersal powers). I think those voting Liberal Democrat expect Liberal Democrat councillors to stand up for basic principles of law such as the right to a fair trial, something which I and others who have looked at the implications of the Section 59 powers conclude are denied to those the police use these “S.59″ powers against.

Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate Julian Huppert is standing on a platform of defending civil liberties and at a recent hustings event he said : “I’ve had a bit more involvement in trying to direct it [Cambridge] since we in the Liberal Democrats took control of the City Council”. I cannot see how he can square both his support for civil liberties and his proud association with the Liberal Democrat City Council.

Elsewhere in the country it has been reported that the police are using “Section 59″ powers against speeding drivers; presumably where they don’t have enough evidence to making a speeding charge stick in front of the magistrates. Drivers are understandably furious when they find out that our MPs have given the police the power to issue summary justice in this manner without reference to the courts. I think our legislators need to be a lot more careful that they don’t give excessive powers, without due safeguards, to the police (or others) when they enact new laws.

Drivers who swerve into the cycle lane pose a danger to cyclists.

Drivers who swerve into the cycle lane pose a danger to cyclists.

I drive a car which doesn’t deal with speed bumps very well; where it is safe to do so I always try and avoid them or drive over them in such a way as to minimise the damage they are doing to my car. Now due to the action of the car-hating Liberal Democrats in the city I face the risk of having by car taken away from me, summarily, based on a PCSO’s interpretation of my actions. I am furious, both with the Labour MPs who pushed this draconian and far too widely drafted law through Parliament and with my local Liberal Democrat councillors who have endorsed the police expanding their application of this provision, and avoiding the courts as they do so. When the law was brought in The Labour Government’s Home office spokesperson in the Lords said:

we should trust the police to exercise their discretion operationally as to when seizing a vehicle would be appropriate.

While I want to see well trained, high quality, front line real police officers given the tools and powers they need to do their job; I do not think that “trusting them” ought be the only safeguard in place to prevent abuse of police powers. I question if PCSOs are appropriately trained to deal with offences like careless driving, and do not think that’s what they should be used for, I think money spent on PCSOs would be better spent on PCs.

I have been repeatedly asking the police why they operate a two tier system with respect to policing our roads, with youths being dealt with under anti-social behaviour legislation rather than being charged with offences under the Road Traffic Acts. What we are seeing here is creep of the Anti-Social behaviour laws to apply them in ever increasing circumstances. I am very uncomfortable with many aspects of new Labour’s antisocial behaviour laws, and think their application ought be more limited and not expanded.

I think the police in North Cambridge were trying it on; they were pushing our councillors to see what they can get away with. It was noted that Sgt. Wragg, who presented the police proposals, was grinning from ear to ear when councillors approved the priority without raising any objection to his proposals to use S.59 powers against those swerving to avoid speed humps.

Fen Road

Councillors’ approval of the new use of the police powers came as part of priority aimed at dealing with problems related to driving in Fen Road, Chesterton. This is one of a few areas in the city where I have feel I’ve almost got killed while cycling on more than one occasion. There is a real problem, part of which is cars, vans buses and lorries swerving into the cycle lane as they avoid the speed bumps.

For years now members of the public, and councillors, have been aware the speed cushions have been built badly. Both Cllr Blair, a Liberal Democrat who represents East Chesterton, and Mr Bond, the spokesperson for the Old Chesterton Residents Association have admitted to driving through the middle of the speed bumps on the road themselves. It is an ironic aspect of these events that councillors have asked police to tackle behaviour that they themselves have admitted to at a council meeting.

Cllr Blair was the only East Chesterton councillor to turn up to the North Area Committee on the 4th of March (Liddle and Kerr were absent). I think a lot of the area’s problems are directly due to the election of councillors who perform poorly. Other East Chesterton councillors rarely turn up and rarely speak and while Cllr Blair is regularly present, and talks a lot; I more often than not am left unimpressed by her contributions. On the 4th of March, as well as supporting the police action, she was calling for the contractors who had installed the speed cushions to be required replace them without further charge to the public purse. This was despite the fact that the contractor was not technically at fault had been established in November 2008 – a fact Cllr Blair’s Liberal Democrat colleagues had to remind her of yet again.

Cllr Rupert Moss-Eccardt suggested making a bid for some “Cambridgeshire Together” activity on the street which would bring together various different agencies. He reported this was a very expensive scheme which the County Council were running and he thought the Fen Road area could benefit from its attention.

Cllr Blair reported to the meeting the fact she had been asked by local residents to organise a meeting to discuss the problems; she said she would be in favour of a multi-agency approach.

A police speed survey found an average speed of only 20mph on the road. This doesn’t chime with residents’ (or my own) perceptions. Full details of the survey have still not been released, so it may be the speed detection equipment was located on areas of the road where drivers are slowing for hazards such as parked cars and the level crossing.

From my own observations many vehicles using this road, which is the only access to the travellers’ site, don’t appear roadworthy, they often look over-loaded, occasionally dangerously so. It’s the one part of Cambridge where one can reasonably regularly see people driving even with flat tyres. My impression is there is a particularly high incidence of careless and reckless driving on this road. I don’t think the police ought allow lawless areas of the city to emerge and that’s a key part of what needs to be tackled here. It is really important that everyone is treated fairly and equally by the law and the police; we must not allow one law for some and another for others; which is what the anti-social behaviour laws have resulted in.

Many cyclists, particularly students and rowing coaches, use the pavement in this area.

Many cyclists, particularly students and rowing coaches, use the pavement in this area.

I think some of the £62,000 councillors used to resurface the parking area could more usefully have been applied to improving the cycle lanes on the adjacent road. When the proposals for that area were under discussion I wrote to Cllr Liddle, the lead councillor, saying: “The opportunity to integrate the cycle paths in this area with the adjacent cycle paths on the road/pavement is being missed.”

See also

33 comments/updates on “Councillors Approve Police Seizure of Cars Which Avoid Speed Humps

  1. Andrew Bower

    Thanks for reporting on this shocking decision by Lib Dem councillors. I had forgotten about this outrageous legislation.

    Along with wrecking the constitution the loss of civil liberties is the most worrying aspect to me of the Labour government.

    We have had ID cards, the Civil Contingencies Act, the Religious Discrimination Act, the loss of double jeopardy and countless other abuses of our historic freedoms as Englishmen.

    Each time Labour put down all arguments against their plans by claiming that such and such “isn’t intended to be used” a certain way or that we should trust discretion to be used. Time after time these assurances are proved to be worthless. This is not the way to make law. It is the way despots operate – rules forbidding virtually everything and then executive fiat or discretion used to decide what actually applies at any one time.

    I hate to think what more damage Labour could do with five more years and that’s just with civil liberties, let alone the economy and education. The trouble is the local Liberal Democrats are doing their best to prove that they are not really liberal at all and if Peter Oborne’s analysis is correct they would side with Labour in a hung parliament – not that that is a surprise to anyone who has met their activists or has noticed how they predominantly attack the Conservatives not Labour.

  2. Unbiased but Idle

    First, I’m not a local. I was just browsing the web for “speed cushion” stories because we’ve had the problems associated with full-width humps and I’m trying to get policy changed.

    Then Google search engine picked up your first paragraph (and I got diverted for an hour or so). I couldn’t believe what you were asserting, especially of Lib Dems (I’m one), so I checked the agenda at (page 17).

    Having the Councillors discuss and note the Crime and Disorder Partnership’s recommendation for “Continuation of enforcement in response to speeding vehicles and the
    anti-social use of vehicles in Kings Hedges and Northfield Avenue” is hardly a bunch of Lib Dem Councillors threatening to crush your car is it? You’re trying to score a cheap point.

    In fact last time I checked it was your Chief Constable who decided how the law would be applied and who ‘badges’ PCSOs. All of your beefs seem to be with the Law and the Police. Talk to your MP.

    I also note that “I drive a car which doesn’t deal with speed bumps very well” … and wondered exactly how low slung a production car has to be to have problems with standard road features. A pot-hole can damage the car but not a speed-hump for goodness-sake!

    Your hostile, politically-motivated and “always angry with everyone else” stance is probably why only one of the three Ward councillors turns up.

    Regrettably, your behaviour fits a stereotype so are you actually a Party member campaigning without declaring (or accounting election expenses)?

    These Councillors are your community’s representatives but I have (over many more years than you) noticed that women don’t like bullies. A swift check of the election results shows that the electors decided they wanted these people, not you. You’re stopping the electorate getting what it asked for.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’ll defend anyone who’s been chosen by the people as their spokesperson – I’m a Democrat. I’ll also defend your right to an opinion – I’m a Liberal – But please don’t assert your rights over the rest of the citizens THAT’S BULLYING!

    If you want to prove you’re right, stand at the next election. I’d give you 5 (IT literate) votes with your attitude!


  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    Dear Unbiased But Angry,

    I am glad that you find how Cambridge Liberal Democrats are behaving as astonishing as I do. My article is completely accurate, the police proposed a new local policing priority which would involve them using S.59 powers to deal with those swerving round the speed humps on Water Lane / Fen Road in Chesterton. The councillors present then approved making that a priority. I accept that the priority, when the official wording is agreed, will probably refer to the anti-social driving problem in the area and not the specific power to be used to tackle it however while the police were making the case for the priority they left no doubt how they would take action if a priority was set.

    This was a priority suggested at the meeting, it is not based on a priority in the agenda. What happened was councillors and the police decided that one priority – the shed burglary priority – ought be taken off as the police reported they thought they had caught the person responsible. This Sgt. Wragg argued left a “free slot”; he pitched to councillors that they ought give use that free slot to support his proposal to use the S.59 powers on Water Lane / Fen Road. S.59 is all about confiscation of vehicles; our local police speaking at public meetings regularly say that repeat offenders face getting their vehicles crushed under S.59.

    I am certainly very angry with the increasingly oppressive policing we have seen in this country over the last decade. I think I’m doing the right thing by not arguing with police officers on the street but taking my and others’ experiences to public meetings and elected representatives and writing about what is going wrong. At its core what’s wrong is the police abuse of powers which they’ve been given to keep the peace to try and subvert justice and avoid the courts. Ensuring everyone has a right to a fair trial and a right to justice is really important and something it is worth spending time and effort fighting for. What I think is particularly terrible in relation to this latest occurrence in North Cambridge is that some of those voting Liberal Democrat will have done so intending to elect someone who will defend civil liberties and a right to due process and we’re finding in Cambridge that Liberal Democrats in power are not defending those principles, which they were elected on. One thing I want to do by drawing attention to the Lib Dem support for dispersal and S.59 is to make clear to electors considering where to place their vote what the Lib Dems are up to. Far from stopping the electorate getting what it asked for I’m asking for these people who’ve found themselves elected as Lib Dem councillors to think about what those who put them in power were expecting of them.

    Our local Lib Dems are quite open about the fact they struggle to find people to stand for them, and are aware that in some areas they’ll get elected whoever stands. This is what results in us having Lib Dem councillors who might, in other circumstances have stood for other parties, or have Lib Dem councillors who simply don’t do anything and don’t contribute at council meetings.

    As for PCSOs; I am aware of how PCSOs receive delegated powers. It is through freedom of information requests which I have made that information on the powers of PCSOs in Cambridgeshire are now available to those who search from them.

    In Cambridge we have a system where local City and County councillors set local police priorities. I think this system has great potential. It is our local councillors who have supported this latest police priority so it is entirely right to challenge them on their decision. I tackle policing related problems at appropriate levels. Where the law is at fault I have corresponded with my MP, where the problem is local oversight I have written to, and attended and spoken at the Police Authority.

    I and other members of the public in Cambridge are not hostile at Council meetings. Councillors typically face polite and well researched questions from members of the public raising serious points. One thing the Liberal Democrats do well in Cambridge is allow public contributions to council meetings; often the most important contributions to meetings come from members of the public.

    I am an huge fan of democracy; I think it’s the best way to run society. I have huge respect for all those who’ve been elected, I think its really important though that we all watch what our representatives are up to and hold them to account. That’s what I’m doing in this article. I’m drawing attention to a decision which doesn’t appear to me to be in line with what these people claim to stand for.

    As a Liberal Democrat perhaps you would have more influence than I do; perhaps if you wrote to Cllrs McGovern, Pitt, Blair, Nimmo-Smith, Moss-Eccardt, Ward, Pellew and Levy and let them know about the fact you think their decision was contrary to Liberal principles they might take some notice, or at least explain themselves.

    I am not a member of a political party. I am not campaigning on behalf of a party without declaring or accounting for expenses. Doing what I do isn’t that expensive in terms of money, though it is in terms of time. The only costs which come to mind occured when I and another member of the public agreed to do all we could to publicise the police priority making element of an area committee in return for councillors giving us a specific time for the policing item; I spent about £100 on flyers advertising that meeting which I personally distributed throughout the area. I’ve also spent about £40 on cards which I use for giving my phone number and web address to those I meet who’re interested; I also use these when campaigning on various local matters around Cambridge. I often print letters to use when email won’t do – eg. when writing to people in a particular street. I’m happy to be completely open.

    As a final clarification I have never stood for election to a local council.

  4. Phil Rodgers

    “As a final clarification I have never stood for election to a local council.”

    In the relatively early days of this blog, Richard did post an item announcing his candidacy for a City Council seat in Arbury ward, before withdrawing it shortly afterwards.

  5. Richard Taylor Article author

    Eric, the new Liberal Democrat contributor who appears to be from Yeovil in Somerset, has written to me directly letting me have a copy of a Home Office Guide to Anti-Social Behaviour Powers; the guide has been written for councillors.

    I could not find a copy online so am hosting one on my site via the above link.

    Eric wrote:

    This new Home Office guide says (a) you only get your car crushed if you drive so far from the humps that you’re on the pavement and (b) you get a warning for the first offence. I think your “lead sled” is safe.

    The guide mentions S.59 powers in the context mini-motos and off-road driving of vehicles.

    The problem is that this guide is not the law, while the police were expected to only use the powers in these circumstances the legislation is not limited in this way.

    I have no doubt that it wasn’t the intent of those writing the law to allow it to be used as a way of tackling speeding and careless driving offences. Tackling them in a way which denies those given the warnings their day in court, but that is how our police here in North Cambridge are now going to use the powers.

    My point is that these powers are being used for a purpose they were not intended for.

    Eric says he is a councillor, he appears to be giving far to much weight to a Home Office guide. A Home Office guide isn’t going to warn councillors that these powers are too broadly drafted and may be misused by the police; but councillors, Liberal Democrat ones particularly as they’ve been elected to defend civil liberties, need to be aware of that and need to be considering it when giving their support to the use of such powers.

  6. Richard Taylor Article author

    At the South Area committee on the 11th of March I asked how S.59 powers were being used in the South of the City. I asked if they were being used there to tackle things like speeding and careless driving.

    I was assured by a police sergeant called Gavin that the powers were not being used like that in the South of the City.

  7. John Ionides

    I remain concerned. Having been based in Russia for a while, I am very aware what tends to happen when instituions such as police have wide powers that they are asked to apply selectively. It can definitely put the rule of law under pressure.

    And if I was one of the travellers living at the far end of Fen Road I am not sure would have too much confidence in getting a fair crack of the whip either.

  8. David Vincent

    One of the potential concerns about the Police selectively using powers against anti-social drivers on Fen Road is that they will use them entirely against travellers. Indeed, that might well be the original intention behind the suggestion. Whilst I am sure that there are many anti-social drivers in the traveller community, there is also much bigotry in the Police where that community is concerned. I hope the Police are not seeking to use a different power to act against a community they “believe” to be generally criminal, but which they struggle to police in other ways.

  9. Richard Taylor Article author

    The Cambridge News have written an article on this:

    There’s a quote from Cllr Blair who says she thinks:

    “This is something that will strike a great chord with people that live here.”

    The article quotes the police as saying:
    “In cases when a section 59 is not appropriate, alternative road traffic enforcement will be used depending on the circumstances of the incident.”

    What I don’t understand is when S.59 powers are ever appropriate for dealing with speeding or careless driving. If the answer is that they’re used where there isn’t enough evidence to make a charge stick in court then that’s wrong. As I and others have pointed out if the police are using confiscation of cars to deal with some people who are speeding but giving others access to due process that’s wrong too.

  10. Richard Taylor Article author

    An Ecops message today boasts about the police use of these powers on Chesterton High Street; clearly they are spreading away from Fen Road slowly and perhaps will soon be being used across the city.

    The police wrote:

    To begin, in relation to one of our key aims at tackling dangerous and anti-social driving in the City, we recently successfully dealt with the driver of a Transit van who was seen driving his vehicle in a dangerous and anti-social manner, trying to intimidate a member of the public on High Street, Chesterton. He was issued with a Section 59 warning, which contravenes the Road Traffic Act 1988. This relates to careless or inconsiderate driving which is causing, or likely to cause, alarm, distress or annoyance to members of the public. If further problems occur with this driver using the same vehicle or a different vehicle, it will lead to further action by us taking place in terms of seizing the vehicle and crushing it and dealing with the driver accordingly. We will continue to use these powers to tackle this persistent problem.

    From this description of events it sounds to me as if this case ought to have been heard in-front of magistrates.

    As for:

    He was issued with a Section 59 warning, which contravenes the Road Traffic Act 1988.

    I’m not sure quite what the possibly whistle-blowing officer (Emma Hardy) means by that. Perhaps she is signalling to the wider community that she is unhappy abusing the new S.59 power where provisions under the Road Traffic Act – which would allow the accused access to due process – could have been used instead (assuming the police have evidence to back up their allegation).

  11. Richard Taylor Article author

    On Thursday the 10th of June 2010 I attended the North Area Committee.

    Inspector Kerridge of the police verbally updated the written police report saying that since the priority was adopted in March five S.59 notices had been issued on Fen Road and two vehicles had been seized.

    The Inspector noted that S.59 notices applied to both drivers and vehicles so “pool vehicles” could be seized if they were being driven badly by a succession of different drivers.

    The police argued the priority of tackling driving problems on Fen Road using S.59 needed to continue. S.59 was specifically mentioned on the police’s slide outlining their proposed priorities making clear that councillors were being asked to approve both the aim of the police action and the specific power to be deployed to seek to achieve it.

    Before the meeting I had submitted notice of a public question (as the council’s procedures permit) specifically on the Fen Road policing priority. I was able to ask if S.59 was being used where there was insufficient evidence to take alternative action. The Police Inspector had noted that the road layout on Fen Road made recording speeding difficult so I asked if S.59 was being used to tackle speeding in cases where the police were unable to collect evidence. I noted the police Inspector had said during his presentation that S.59 was being used in other areas of the city; I reminded him that I had asked if it was used to deal with speeding in the South of the city at the South Area committee to be told by the police sergeant there such powers weren’t and wouldn’t be used against speeding in the South and asked where else in the city, other than Fen Road S.59 was in use to tackle careless driving and speeding. I explained one of my concerns was the idea of one law for some in one area for the city and another law elsewhere.

    As I began to argue that S.59 was an illiberal power, denying people due process and justice and therefore shouldn’t be supported by Liberal Democrats who were elected with a mandate to promote civil liberties, access to due process, and justice. The chair of the North Area committee, Cllr Ian Nimmo-Smith, in an abrupt and unprecedented move, ordered me to “hand the microphone back”. The reason he gave for stopping me from speaking was: “you don’t understand what goes on at meetings”. No councillors objected to Cllr Nimmo-Smith’s decision to silence me.

    What I understood was happening was councillors were about to set the police priorities for the North Area of Cambridge for the upcoming three months or so. The police and councillors were inviting representations from members of the public about what priorities ought be set and I was making such a representation. Had I had the opportunity to continue I would have said I supported keeping the priority of taking action on Fen Road. I agree it is a lawless and dangerous road and action needs to be taken, but I oppose the specific approach being used. I want to see the police taking more action there against speeding vehicles, unroadworthy vehicles, untaxed and uninsured vehicles but taking that action in just the same way as they would anywhere else in the force area.

    Inspector Kerridge responded. He attempted to reassure me, the councillors, and the public that all police powers were used proportionately and appropriately. He also gave an assurance that all “primary offences” for example drink driving would be dealt with in the usual manner and not via S.59. This was the sort of assurance I was seeking, but I would have liked it to extend to speeding and careless driving. The Inspector told me the Sergeant who was answering questions at the South Area committee was on his second day of duty in the area, suggesting what he said ought be ignored (Inspector Kerridge was in the room too and didn’t intervene when the Sergent gave his response). Inspector Kerridge said that traffic officers in the city issued S.59 notices.

    After I’d been silenced Cllr Mike Pitt followed up on the line I had been taking and asked the Police Inspector: “What comeback, what appeal process to those being dealt with under S.59 have access to?” he added “As Liberal Democrats we like to ask about these kind of things”.

    The Inspector floundered a little and was unsure how to respond. All he said was that those who had their vehicles seized had the opportunity to get them back after paying a fine. The Inspector said that most of those who have their vehicles seized simply walk away from them and leave them. Cllr Blair reported to the committee that she was aware that one of those who had had their car seized on Fen Road had paid £150 to get it back.

    I was astonished that even Cllr Pitt then said: “So there is follow-up”; and appeared to be satisfied with the response. However there is no right of appeal against a S.59 warning; there is no access magistrates to contest the accusation, this wasn’t made clear to councillors.

    That concluded the discussion on the Fen Road priority. After discussing other police matters the North Area committee unanimously, in a proper vote, all sticking their hands up, voted for a set of priorities including continuing the use of S.59 on Fen Road. All City Councillors on the North Area committee were present, but County Councillors Moss-Eccardt, Wijsenbeek, and Wilkins – all Liberal Democrats, and all with a vote on the policing priorities, were absent.

  12. Richard Taylor Article author

    Some quotes on the use of S.59 against drivers of vehicles on the roads from around the web:

    The huge difficulty with s59 is there is no right to appeal


    As you say, S.59 can’t be appealed and is IMHO, one of the most unjust pieces of legislation in existance.


    The problem is you don’t actually have to be committing any offence to receive a section 59. The police officer only has to believe that you may cause alarm, distress or annoyance and not have to therefore prove it.

    There’s nothing on the ticket about appealing;

    you can’t appeal


    You cant dispute a section 59, as I got wrongly given one and tried, to no effect.


    these section 59′s are just something that is issued based on the opinion of a police officer when he knows that the correct and respected legal procedures of going through a court of law would fail to get a conviction.


    Section 59s arent part of the british justice system mate, they are a way around the british justice system for coppers.
    Its entirely in their hands, no right of appeal, no judge, no jury.
    Its only a small thing, but some of them LOVE it, I think they believe they are judge dredd or something


    The only course for redress would appear to be in the civil courts and an action against the relevant force for reimbersement of the recovery costs.


  13. Richard Taylor Article author

    During the election campaign I spoke to Julian Huppert who is now Cambridge’s Liberal Democrat MP about the use of S.51 against drivers on Fen Road. He essentially said he didn’t know enough about the position to comment.

    Following the renewal of the police priority at the North Area committee on the 10th of June I tweeted Mr Huppert to say:

    @JulianHuppert Plse repeal/focus Police Reform Act 2002 S.59 as Cam #LibDems are supporting its illiberal use

    I would like to see the law repealed, or the potential for its abuse minimised by for example precluding its use when another offence eg. driving without insurance, careless driving, or speeding has been committed and precluding its use where the reason for invoking the power is a lack of evidence required to pursue a prosecution. I would also like to see a robust route of appeal to magistrates for those who think they have been wrongly issued with a s.59 warning or had their vehicle seized.

  14. Richard Taylor Article author

    In June 2010 councillors on the North Area Committee renewed their Fen Road priority. The police expressly stated again their intention to keep using S.59 powers.

    I sought to lobby against this decision at the meeting but was silenced by Cllr Ian Nimmo-Smith.

    Cllr Pitt did take up my concern about a lack of safeguards; but shockingly he was reassured by the police saying that those who get their vehicles seized can get them back on payment of a fine.

    More details are at:

  15. Richard Taylor Article author

    I attended the North Area Committee on the 15th of July 2010.

    During the open forum I spoke on the subject of the police use of S.59 of the Police Reform Act on Fen Road in Chesterton. I said I wanted to understand what had happened at the last North Area Committee, where councillors unanimously approved the prioritisation for a second time.

    I asked if this was due to Liberal Democrat localism and if as the police and a ward councillor (the only one who speaks) had supported the the use of of draconian powers the other liberal democrat members had supported that despite the measures being used denying people access to justice and due process because they gave such great weight to the opinion of the local councillor.

    I noted that at the last meeting at which the priority was renewed Cllr Pitt had asked the key question. He asked Police Inspector Kerridge what safeguards, and appeals process were in place. I asked why, despite being told that no appeals route existed (the only “redress” described was the opportunity to get a seized vehicle back on payment of a fine/charges.

    I pointed out that that was not an opportunity to access due process and said it wouldn’t be of any use at all to an individual who felt they had been wrongly given a S.59 (leaving them liable to having their vehicle confiscated).

    I explained my concern that the police may use these S.59 orders when they have insufficient evidence to proceed with a charge of speeding or careless driving (the two offences which they cited when asking the committee to approve the priority for Fen Road). I said that if I was wrongly accused of speeding I would want the opportunity to go to the magistrates court and argue my case, something denied to those the police deal with under S.59.

    I told the committee that I agreed Fen Road was dangerous and lawless, and agreed it was right to set it as a police priority. I asked councillors if they thought they were merely identifying the area as a problem, or if they were voting for the specific police tactic being used.

    I suggested:

    • The committee ought, in future, be clear about if they were supporting a particular, in this case illiberal, police tactic, or just identifying a problem.
    • The committee ought ask County Cllr Wilkins, a member of the Police Authority who was present, to use his position to look into the police’s use of S.59 powers against those committing offences such as speeding and to ensure the authority were happy with any appeals process in place.

    Cllr Ian Nimmo-Smith the chair of the North Area Committee responded first. He said that when he voted for the Fen Road priority he was “not endorsing a particular profile of approaches”.

    Cllr Pitt spoke to say that while he remembered asking Inspector Kerridge about the appeals process, at the previous meeting, now in retrospect, he wasn’t sure that he had in fact been reassured by the answer. He said “if there is no appeals process then we should be asking the police not to use the powers”.

    Cllr Ian Nimmo-Smith suggested the committee ask the Executive Councillor with responsibility for policing, Cllr Bick, to look into the “protocol used by the police when using S.59 powers in Cambridge”. Cllr Nimmo-Smith ordered a report so that the committee would be well informed when considering the renewal of the priority at the next North Area Committee meeting.

    Cllr Blair, Liberal Democrat City Councillor for East Chesterton spoke next. She said that she took a different view from Cllr Nimmo-Smith. Her support for the priority she explained was a support for the specific police tactic of using the S.59 powers. She said this was in reaction to the public pressure for action from the residents in the area. She re-iterated: “I support the police actions” adding “if only they tackle the problem”, it wasn’t clear if the latter statement made her support conditional on success or was an exclamation expressing her wish that the problems be solved. Cllr Blair said that she wouldn’t go as far as I had and describe Fen Road as “lawless” but she listed problems including white vans driving on pavements.

    Member of the public Mr Bond (who is secretary of the Old Chesterton Residents’ Association, and may or may not have been speaking in that capacity) said : “We have one or two idiots living in East Chesterton. Section 59 is not the 1st line of approach; the police issue warnings before using S.59″. Mr Bond told the committee that many of those S.59 was being used against were indeed clearly committing offences, for example using unroadworthy vehicles. He also told the committee that there had been “only one appeal”.

    Mr Bond may well have been better informed than most of the committee, I suspect he attended the meeting with the police and Cllr Blair which was only open to selected individuals.

    Cllr Wilkins spoke to say he would work with Cllr Bick and the “Policing Committee” to look at the way S.59 was being used. (I believe that by calling the Police Authority the “Policing Committee” he was suggesting he finds the authority ineffective and powerless.

    Cllr Ward spoke to raise a caution about the way Cllr Nimmo-Smith and Mr Bond had suggested the police had a protocol in place with respect to their use of S.59 powers. He suggested this might prompt me to make an FOI request for the protocol and then Inspector Kerridge would have to write it. I heckled to say that’s not how FOI works.

    Cllr Pitt spoke to say he appreciated that what happened in Fen Road mattered more wildly as what the police do first there, with approval of councillors, may then spread elsewhere. (The police reported to the last North Area Committee that already these S.59 powers were being used more widely). Cllr Pitt made a commitment to personally research the law and ensure he was voting from an informed position at the next North Area committee.

    My View

    I think it is that its really important that those very close to a problem such as the one faced on Fen Road, and who as a result are prepared to throw away key safeguards like access to courts for justice and due process, have their demands for draconian police action tempered by others taking a broader view.

    I think it is very damaging to democracy when a councillor elected as a Liberal Democrat fails to defend key Liberal Democrat principles such as protecting civil liberties and the right to all be treated equally under the law.

    At the last full council meeting the leader of the council, Liberal Democrat Sian Reid, said that she was confident that all her colleagues shared her Liberal Democrat values. I think Cllr Blair’s support for the use of these S.59 powers against those speeding and driving carelessly (rather than the police charging offenders with the offences) on Fen Road shows that in Cambridge the party has rogue members. At the full council meeting the council leader was defending decision making in Lib Dem group meetings; we need to see debate at public meetings so that the views of individual councillors can be made public. If Cllr Blair stands again in East Chesterton then electors in that ward need to be able to find out that despite being elected as a Liberal Democrat she has been very quick to ditch the party’s core principles.

    I think the, open, public Area Committee ought to have been used to discuss the problems on Fen Road with residents, rather than the meeting which was held.

    I think it the decision of the committee to ensure they are better informed next time they address this question is excellent, as is Cllr Wilkins’ commitment to draw the police authority’s attention to the problem. It is astounding though that councillors did not ensure they were properly informed the first time they took the decision to approve the priority.

    I think councillors ought to have identified Fen Road as a problem to the police; but think they should ask that Fen Road be policed in just the same way as any other road in the country, with those committing offences being charged with them. We ought be seeing people having their vehicles confiscated if they are driving without a licence, MoT or insurance. Those speeding, driving carelessly, or driving as many do – while on mobile phones ought find themselves dealt with in just the same way as any other driver elsewhere. This shouldn’t be a road where insecure loads, driving on flat tyres, speeding and other dangerous behaviour is tolerated.

  16. Brian Johnson

    This is 2 issues.

    First, the speed pads are dangerous to all road users and should be replaced with speed bumps. As long as they’re there and as long as it’s safe to do so, I will ALWAYS change my path to go either between them or evenly over them.

    Second, Section 59 (S.59) is unjust law. Depending purely as it does on the whim of the police, it provides for no democratic oversight. It should be removed from the Act.

  17. Richard Taylor Article author

    An ecops email message sent on the 10th of September says:

    There has been a lot of proactive work that is ongoing around the issue of anti-social driving, as officers and PCSO’s take statements to issue section 59 warnings and in several cases seize vehicles

    “Taking statements to issue section 59 warnings” intrigues me. Are these notices now being handed out when the police have not witnessed the behaviour first hand?

  18. Richard Taylor Article author

    The above “holding answer” makes clear there is no appeals process. Hopefully that will be enough evidence for Cllr Nimmo-Smith and his colleagues to at least put some effort into making clear if they support the police use of the power on Fen Road or not.

    The fact it is a holding answer is encouraging too; perhaps they are going to consider abolishing this bad law (constables have plenty of powers to keep the peace).

  19. Richard Taylor Article author

    The Cambridge News are reporting someone has been seriously injured in a collision with a white van on Fen Road:

    My view is the police need to stop treating speeding, careless and dangerous driving on this road as “anti-social behaviour”. The police have admitted to the North Area committee they are unwilling to prosecute travellers, they say this is in the interests of “community relations” – I think that stance needs to change, as treating one group of people differently from another and accepting dangerous behaviour is something which is really causing the area to be unsafe.

  20. Richard Taylor Article author

    I submitted a public question/statement to the Cambridgeshire Police Authority meeting on the 20th of December 2011. I attended the meeting in person to put it to the authority.

    At the September 2010 meeting of the Police Authority, in response to a public question I asked, the authority said it would investigate and monitor the force’s use of powers under Section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002.
    Since then I have regularly chased this up with authority member Cllr Wilkins when he has attended my local police priority setting meeting, Cambridge’s North Area Committee. I’m still awaiting any action.

    Police Authority response:

    The minutes of the meeting say the following in response to your question at the full Police Authority meeting held on 30th September 2010:

    “You have expressed concern regarding how front line police officers and PCSOs are using their powers under Section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002, in a specific street in Cambridge. As this is an operational issue, I have asked the Constabulary to respond.”

    Since then we understand you have shared with Cllr Wilkins your general concern regarding the legislation, but no specific complaints. If you are aware of any specific complaints that need attention that we are not aware of please let us know.

    This response fails to reflect that the authority rejected their secretariat’s response at the September 2010 meeting and committed to monitoring the police’s use of these powers.

    (See under the heading “Question One” in my article on the September 2010 meeting)

    Members of the public have no opportunity to see the draft minutes before they are considered so it is impossible to note errors and omissions.

    I have raised a strategic matter, a matter which the authority have agreed requires oversight. It would not be appropriate in my view to raise specific complaints with the police authority as they suggest.

    The problem is in essence that the only appeal route following the use of these powers is to seek judicial review. This is in my view totally inappropriate and disproportionate for an allegation of speeding or careless driving.

    While I do have a concern with the legislation itsself, the matter which I am raising with the Police Authority is Cambridgeshire Police’s use of the powers under the act and their interpretation of MP’s intent in this area.

  21. Richard Taylor Article author

    On the 27th of September 2012 Sgt Wragg told the North Area Committee that some people have had their vehicles confiscated under the Police Reform Act ten times and have paid to get them returned.

    Sgt Wragg admitted that the police need to try using alternative routes.

    My view has always been that using due process and the courts is the way to go and people will be more receptive to enforcement action which results in a risk of them losing their driving licences.

    Despite hearing about the instances of ten confiscations of the same vehicle councilors still failed to ask the police not to use the inappropriate legislation, however it appears the police are now grasping the problem themselves.

  22. Richard Taylor Article author

    Today’s Sunday Times reports Home Affairs Select Committee Chairman Keith Vaz as promising an inquiry into the police dealing with criminals other than by taking them to court.

    The announcement is in the context of use of police cautions; but I hope it also covers the use of anti-social behavior laws, including the one which is the subject of this article: Section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002

  23. David

    Careless drivers across Britain who hog lanes or tailgate can now be punished with on-the-spot police fines. Under the new measures, officers can issue £100 fines and three points rather than taking drivers to court.

    The article suggests the following offences may be targeted:

    - Driving too close to the vehicle in front
    - Failing to give way at a junction (not requiring evasive action by another driver)
    - Overtaking and pushing into a queue of traffic
    - Being in the wrong lane and pushing into a queue on a roundabout
    - Lane discipline, such as needlessly hogging the middle or outside lanes
    - Inappropriate speed
    - Wheel-spins, handbrake turns and other careless manoeuvres

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.
Please consider saying where you are from eg. "Cambridge".
Required fields are marked *


Powered by WP Hashcash