Sunday Times glorifies Transport Secretary’s car-dooring of a cyclist

Sunday Times columnist Rod Liddle. Photo: Paul Murphy (Creative Commons)
The injuries suffered by cyclist Jaiqi Liu, hit by Chris Grayling MP’s ministerial car door, has prompted a mocking response from Sunday Times columnist Rod Liddle. Cycling UK Policy Director Roger Geffen reacts.

When the Guardian released footage of Transport Secretary Chris Grayling 'car-dooring' cyclist Jaiqi Liu, there were were several aspects of the case that concerned us at Cycling UK.

It emerged that, following this incident (but before the footage appeared), Grayling had given an interview complaining that some of London’s cycle facilities were poorly designed. He added that too many cyclists jump red lights and that drivers have difficulty watching out for them. Never mind that the provision of good protected cycle lanes could perhaps have prevented this incident, reducing the need for drivers and passengers to watch out for cyclists using shared road-space. At the time of the incident though, Grayling blamed Liu for cycling too fast – which experienced cyclist Liu denied – before leaving the scene without anyone exchanging contact details.

Liu did not wish to pursue the matter further. However we suspect his injuries, and the damage to his bike, might well fall into the £1-5K bracket. This means that the Government’s proposed 'reforms' to injury compensation would prevent him from claiming his legal costs following a successful claim. Cycling UK - along with the pedestrians' and road crash victims' charities Living Streets and RoadPeace - is calling on its members and supporters to help us persuade Ministers that Road Victims are Real Victims. Injured pedestrians and cyclists shouldn't have their ability to claim compensation undermined, ostensibly as part of a crackdown on bogus whiplash claims. The number of cycling or pedestrian injuries involving whiplash is negligible. 

Meanwhile, car-dooring is an offence for which Cycling UK believes the Government should consider stiffer penalties, as part of its road traffic offences and penalties review. The current maximum penalty for this offence is a £1,000 fine. When 25 year old cyclist Sam Harding was killed by the door of Kenan Aydogdu’s car in 2012, police and prosecutors rightly felt this was inadequate. Yet they were unable to prosecute for a ‘driving’ offence. In the absence of other options, they attempted a manslaughter prosecution. However Aydogdu was acquitted, despite his car windows being covered in dark film which reduced his visibility to 17% of normal levels.

Earlier this year, 26 year old teacher Sam Boulton was killed when a taxi door was opened in his path as he cycled past Leicester station.  An inquest into his death has been opened but was put on hold, while the Crown Prosecution Service decides whether to bring any charges.

Yet none of this deterred Sunday Times columnist Rod Liddle from describing Grayling’s action as a “beautifully timed manoeuvre” intended “to take the menace of cyclists seriously”.  In his Sunday Times article - which he will doubtless claim was written in jest - he described “undertaking” (we believe incorrectly) as a practice that, “while not illegal, is discouraged by the Highway Code”.  Well Rod, if you read rule 163 of the Highway Code (which applies to all road users), I think you'll find that cyclists are as entitled as drivers to overtake on the inside in slow-moving or stationary traffic.

But Liddle then said: “When in London I repeatedly open and close my taxi door to try and catch one of them at it and send him flying. I like to think I’m doing my bit to make London a safer place for normal humans”. 

Cycling UK has complained to Craig Tregurtha, managing editor of The Times and The Sunday Times, pointing out that this could not only incite dangerous and illegal actions, but is totally contrary to the spirit of the Times’s ‘Cities fit for Cycling’ campaign.

Sadly, Liddle has past form in celebrating cyclists' deaths. "I worry", he said in the Spectator, "that too few cyclists are being killed on our roads each year".  He then added - of course - that "I jest, in predictably bad taste". Yes Rod. That's the kind of "jest" that comedian Stewart Lee railed against in his Top Gear diatribe, using violent humour as a powerful critique of violent humour itself.

Meanwhile bereaved widow May Hamilton has also complained to the editor about Liddle's article. Her husband Robert was killed by a car door in 2014, with the driver receiving only a £305 fine. As she says: "There is nothing funny or humorous about my family’s loss, or the injuries caused by an offence which Mr Liddle seeks to applaud, encourage and make sport of. I would hope that a responsible editor would accept that point and deal with this complaint accordingly". Amen to that.

P.S. Since writing this, the Sunday Times's Executive Editor Bob Tyrer has responded both to Cycling UK and to May Hamilton. He declined to retract Liddle's article or apologise for it. Instead he suggested that Liddle was merely engaging in some "heavy irony", which was apparently directed at Chris Grayling's carelessness, rather than at cyclists! Frankly, that's well out of order. Not content with belittling the crime that killed May Hamilton's husband, the paper is now insulting her and our intelligence. Here's a response from my colleague Duncan Dollimore.