Saturday, 29 January 2011

And justice for all?

In January 2010, Paul Chambers tweeted a message he would live to regret. Snow had closed the Robin Hood airport, and he needed to fly to Ireland. In frustration, he tweeted "Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!".

The end-result was that he was arrested at his work, and he was charged under the Malicious Communications Act.

The whole affair was sad, and nobody actually believed he was at any stage planning a bomb-threat. Even the airport manager admitted they considered it a total non-issue.

On Friday, 28 Jan 2011, a certain Jamie Underhill, Leamington Spa, tweeted that all cyclists should get out of the middle of the road in front of him, or he WILL run them over. Sadly Mr Underhill has since deleted his tweet, but the evidence remains scattered all over Twitter, while the actual Tweet of course still exists in Twitter's databases.

Now for the top question: do I believe he actually would deliberately and intentionally run over any cyclist? No, I absolutely do not believe that for one moment.

Mr Underhill is a self-confessed Top Gear fanatic and is F1 besotted. Fine, each to their own, I say, and admitting to some degree of addiction to Jeremy Clarkson's dribble may perhaps not reflect well on his ability to perform independent thinking, but it isn't a crime, either. Such influences may have led to his thoughtless and stupid tweet - a bit like Jeremy Mansfield's infamous insinuation that all truck drivers murder prostitutes.

To be fair to Mr Underhill, he has apologised many times over on Twitter, and has gracefully accepted a great deal of flak.
On the other hand, it also didn't come across as genuine, more so as Mr Underhill was also tweeting messages like this: "hows you? i'm rebuilding my twitrespect after insulting cyclists! whoops!".
That makes all his apologies seem like nothing but a damage-limiting exercise worthy of Tony Blair's spin doctors! The like-minded supporting tweets from some of his followers on Twitter suggests he associates with a group of people that support threats such as what he had sent.

The whole issue raises one question I'd love to find out the answer to: will Mr Underhill be arrested and charged under the Malicious Communications Act? As we have seen from Paul Chambers' experience, claiming it was all in jest is no defence at all.

If Mr Underhill was charged, and subsequently convicted, we can turn around and say that justice may be warped, but at least it was applied fairly.

However, it is my suspicion that Mr Underhill will receive absolutely no attention from the Police at all. And why would that be? Well, simply because the Police has repeatedly shown their unwillingness to investigate any offence in which cyclists seem to be the victim. Even when they can be bothered, the CPS typically refuses to take the case to court, regardless of evidence.

And this now leaves me in a predicament. To be absolutely clear, I do not wish for Mr Underhill to be formally charged for the idiotic threat he had made, just as I never wanted Paul Chambers to have been charged (much less convicted!).
I do wish that the Police would have a quiet word with Mr Underhill, and that he would learn to change his attitude towards cyclists!

However, for justice to be seen as fairly applied, the court should either reverse Paul Chambers' conviction, and the Police should offer him a public apology, or the Police should charge Mr Underhill under the Maliscious Communications Act.

In closing, Mr Underhill was actually unbelievably stupid in making that threat. Can you imagine the payout he may have to make if one day he accidently runs over a cyclist? Upon being taken to court there'd be a wealth of evidence for the claimant to use - evidence that may make the court believe that Mr Underhill had intentionally run the cyclist over!

Want my advice, Mr Underhill? From this point onward, give cyclists LOTS of room, and patiently sit behind them until it is safe for them for you to overtake.