London’s mayor is all bluster but produces little action for fellow cyclists, says the lawyer in the capital who several weeks ago forced prosecutors to drop a fixed-penalty fine in a landmark decision.
Oliver Jeffcott, an associate at Islington-based Bolt Burdon Kemp, acted at the end of last year for a cyclist who had challenged a police-issued fixed penalty. Alex Paxton was fined in August for allegedly crossing an advanced stop line (ASL) in Fulham High Street against a red light.
Paxton contested the fine, and through the Cycle Defence Fund instructed Jeffcott and barrister Puneet Rai of Thomas More Chambers. At the end of last year, the CPS dropped the case against his client just days before it was set to go to trial.
That move fell against the backdrop of six cyclist deaths in a fortnight on London’s streets at the end of last year. Speaking to The Lawyer, Jeffcott, who two years ago launched his firm’s cycling department with one other lawyer, slammed mayor Boris Johnson for appearing to support cycling while producing few tangible improvements.
“Boris Johnson has not been a friend to cyclists to date,” he said, claiming the mayor’s highly touted “Vision for London” document – published nearly a year ago – “made all the right noises, but little has progressed since then”.
Jeffcott said the London mayor “lost the confidence of myself and many cyclists when, in the midst of the spate of cycling deaths in London in November, he commented on Nick Ferrari’s radio show that he was alarmed about cyclists wearing headphones. This was a transparent attempt to detract from his failure to take action to protect cyclists by seeking to blame the victim.
“A few days after the show I received an e-mail from a cyclist who was hit by a driver on a roundabout, who had simply ploughed into her side when it was the cyclist’s right of way. The driver later tried to blame the accident on the cyclist wearing headphones, although the cyclist said she was not wearing any.
“But whether or not she was is irrelevant as the result would have been the same. When you see the harm that can be caused by idle words by the mayor it is very disappointing.”
Jeffcott – who styles himself on line as the Cycling Solicitor – is also highly critical of police attitudes to cycling. He claimed that London’s Metropolitan Police especially find it easier to target cyclists over motorists who are breaking the law.
“The idea of stopping a cyclist as opposed to a car with blacked-out windows – even though that car might be causing much more of a hazard – is a lot more appealing to the police,” he said. “And they see it as causing a lot less disruption than stopping cyclists. You can understand the psychology, but it has led to a dangerous situation, where the people who are causing the real potential harm are being favoured.”
Jeffcott qualified five years ago at Cheltenham-based personal injury specialist firm At Law Solicitors. He moved to Bolt Burdon Kemp on qualification, where he also specialises in child abuse cases.
In the wake of that spate of cycling deaths in the capital, Jeffcott maintained the police initially voiced an interest in improving safety. “But when it came down to it, the result was just to target cyclists to get a quota of 10 spot fines a day. That was very disappointing and completely ridiculous.”
Jeffcott is also cynical over last December’s parliamentary inquiry into cycling, which he described as “betraying a real lack of understanding”.
Indeed, Jeffcott pointed out that cycling legal battles are not limited to London. A few days ago the Advertising Standards Authority upheld a complaint against Cycling Scotland for the charity’s recent promotion of a “Nice Way Code”.
That campaign involved a television advertisement showing a woman cycling in the road without a helmet, triggering some complaints. The ASA ruled that because the cyclist was depicted as being more than a metre from the verge, and because she wasn’t wearing a helmet, the advertisement was sending “dangerous signals” – despite the law not stipulating that cyclists wear helmets.
“I find that astonishing,” said Jeffcott, claiming that Cycling Scotland is considering a challenge. “It shows how divisive the issue can be. If you think about the harm caused by speeding motorists against the backdrop of all the fast car adverts on television and in the cinema. Even though the adverts don’t explicitly say ‘this car can go 150 miles an hour’, they are still filmed showing velocity. They can get away with it because they don’t literally show the cars breaking speed limits on the public roads.
“Yet 25 per cent of deaths or serious injuries on the roads are caused by speeding motorists.”
Jeffcott cycles daily on a Charge Plug fixed gear bike from his flat on four-mile journey to the law firm. He said Bolt Burdon Kemp is “very supportive of cycling. We have showers and changing facilities and I am hoping to organise a firm charity ride. Plenty of firms are doing similarly to encourage cycling amongst their staff.”