Hit and run - it's only a cyclist!

Penwortham St Theresa's FC, for whom Dylan Crossey played. Picture Flckr cc: Jez Torence
Does it take the tragic death of a 15-year-old schoolboy for Lancashire Police to finally take hit-and-run collisions with cyclists seriously, or will they continue to say "there's only so much we can do"? Is it because it's only a cyclist, or just that road crime isn't treated as real crime in Preston, and is nowhere on their list of priorities as traffic officer numbers are slashed again?

Friday night hit and run

On Saturday news broke that 15-year-old Dylan Crossey had died in Manchester Children's Hospital in the early hours of the morning. Another cycling casualty in a Preston hit-and-run collision, except this time fatal.

The Lancashire Evening Post reported that at around 11.00pm the previous night Dylan had been cycling along Chainhouse Lane in Whitestake Preston, towards Penwartham Lane, when he was involved in a collision with a silver 3 Series BMW car, whose driver failed to stop at the scene. Dylan, a young footballer described as having "mesmering skills", sustained serious head injuries from which he never recovered.

Press reports confirm that a 42-year-old man from New Longton has been arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving and excess alcohol, and that a silver 3 Series BMW was also recovered.

It's only a cyclist

I heard about this tragic story via an e-mail from a Cycling UK local campaigner, who had previously e-mailed me twice in the last month with links to articles about other hit-and-run cases near Preston involving cyclists, and sent copies of his e-mails to the Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Clive Grunshaw.

Reading about Dylan I couldn't help but reflect on the concerns raised by our local campaigner about the lack of priority given to those hit-and-run cases, and his observation to Mr Grunshaw that it was hard not to think that this was because "it's only a cyclist".

There's only so much we can do

On 21 July, 14-year-old Jack Connor was cycling along Lightfoot Lane, east of Preston, when he was knocked off his bike by a silver VW 4x4 vehicle and left unconscious in the road. He suffered concussion, a dislocated shoulder and a broken left wrist. Jack remembers the driver was wearing a hi-vis jacket and came to check he was still breathing before leaving the scene.

According to his mum Julie, Jack made a statement and she was told that the officer would be back in touch. After hearing nothing for four days she phoned to ask what was happening, to be told the officer was on holiday and nobody else was dealing with it.   

Given Jack's comments about a hi-vis jacket, Julie asked whether enquiries had been made at a nearby building site. She was told an officer had been once, but the site office was closed. Nobody had been back and nobody knew whether any CCTV had been checked. When she asked why, the police response was that "there's only so much we can do".

How much the police can do depends on the priority they give to roads policing generally, and to collisions involving cyclists in particular. Commenting on Lancashire Police's priorities, Julie said: "I believe that it would have taken for my son to have died to have made this more of a priority."

I believe that it would have taken for my son to have died to have made this more of a priority.

Julie Connor, mother of 14-year-old Jack Connor

Friday four-hour response time

Jack's mother's frustrations were echoed in September by Ruth Smith, wife of 43-year-old Adrian Smith, who was left for dead in the middle of the road at the junction of Ribbleton Lane and Andrew Street near Preston, following another hit-and-run at 3.10pm on Friday 2 September.

Adrian was cycling home when he was knocked over the bonnet of a VW Golf turning right into Andrew Street, landing on his face. He suffered extensive facial injuries including a broken cheek and the loss of several teeth. He also required an operation to repair damage to his right hand, which was broken in several places, with Ruth indicating that doctors suggested the damage to his hand was so severe that he might never regain full use of it.

Despite the severity of the incident and the injuries, and although the police were contacted straight away, nobody came out for four hours. Speaking to the Lancashire Evening Telegraph, Ruth said: "So if the driver was drunk or on drugs it's too late to know. And I've been told that they can't access CCTV until Monday. I'm really, really angry that the police are so stretched that they can't come out to something like this for hours."

Lancashire Police priorities

It was because of the apparent ambivalence and lack of priority given to the investigation of these hit-and-run collisions that Cycling UK's local campaigner wrote to Mr Grunshaw, asking whether this was because "it's just a cyclist", and stating this should never be allowed to happen again. He has received an acknowledgement letter, but no substantive response.

The Lancashire Evening Post fared no better when contacting the police about both Jack's and Adrian's cases, being told there "was nobody available for comment".

Of course officers can only be sent to investigate road traffic collisions if somebody has allocated resources within their police force to roads policing. Has Lancashire?

In 2010 Lancashire Police had 171 full-time equivalent police officers dedicated to roads policing. That fell to 142 by March 2014 and then to only 113 by March 2015, the third largest fall in roads police numbers over that year of all 43 police forces in England and Wales.  

Road Crime is Real Crime

Back in April this year, prior to the PCC elections in May, Cycling UK asked PCC candidates to treat Road Crime as Real Crime, and commit to allocating resources to roads policing. We received no response from Mr Grunshaw, whose PCC website lists priorities which omit reference to roads policing, road safety or vulnerable road users. The message concerning policing priorities starts at the top.

It is of course important to note that in the tragic case of Dylan Crossey last Friday, officers were clearly allocated to enable a suspect to be apprehended and a vehicle seized relatively quickly, but it shouldn't take a death for a hit-and-run incident involving a cyclist to be properly investigated.

Just one of those things

Two weeks ago Cycling UK met with officials from the Ministry of Justice concerning the Government's review of motoring offences and penalties. We explained why failing to stop after a collision, particularly where injuries have been caused, needs to treated more seriously as a significant aggravating factor in sentencing, and should be considered within the review.

All well and good, but largely academic in many cases if police forces treat non-fatal hit-and-runs with cyclists as just one of those things. They need to catch offenders first.

Our local campaigner cited West Midlands Police's recent close pass enforcement initiative to Mr Grunshaw, as an example of how a police force can demonstrate that they take cyclists' safety seriously. As indicated above, however, he still awaits an answer.

Perhaps following three hit-and-runs within a few miles of Preston in just over three months, including one fatality and serious injuries to another two cyclists, Mr Grunshaw might like to look again at his policing priorities and the resources allocated to roads policing. If not, he can expect to be asked again whether that's because "It's only a cyclist".