I fought the law & I won
16.09.11 by Mike Bessenger
I felt a PCSO in Soho was harassing me. This ticket was the second where he’d approached me on the corner where my firm stand by, and accused me of a violation of traffic law. When I asked him where and when he was vague, at best, about the location and each time told me it had been ’10 or 20 minutes ago’.
The first ticket I paid. After receiving the second, issued amid a throng of boris bikes nailing it along the pavement in Broadwick Street, I went straight to the cop shop. After shouting about victimisation blah blah blah, I was told by a ‘real’ police officer to calm down, contest the ticket and forget about it. Nobody was going to take a messenger to court for the sake of £30. So I sent off the paperwork contesting the ticket in late October ’10.
In late March 2011, I received a summons asking if I still wanted to go to court, or if I wanted to change my plea and pay a fine, which was now £80. I felt helpless. I’d taken the advice of the real police officer, who had seemed to sympathise with me at the time, only to face an increased fine or a day in court.
Not only was this individual following me around Soho on a bike (once I took him around Golden Square 3 or 4 times), now I was getting hit in the pocket. Then my controller suggested I have a word with a motorbike rider, Super 85, on account of him being particularly savvy with traffic law.
I instantly liked Super 85. I felt anxious about asking for his advice or time, but he made clear that he got a buzz out of doing it. He made sure I knew there was no guarantee of winning in court and didn’t attempt to convince me one way or the other about pursuing the matter. I could bang on about him all day, but he was tireless in thinking of ways to discredit the officer’s report.
Every time I saw him standing by he was arched over a photocopy of the statement appending notes. Outside Bruno’s one time I arrived to him on the phone, saying in his best south-Asian-Micheal-Caine voice, ‘yes, this is a legitimate request for information. The Freedom of Information act of 2000 entitles me to a response from Westminster Council within 20 working days, hopefully a lot sooner. Goodbye.’ He carefully instructed me in, and guided me through, everything I had to do despite my best attempts to mess things up.
On the day we arranged to meet in Bromley a couple of hours before my 1.45pm hearing. I arrived around 10:00am, found a greasy spoon and started to prepare the folders Super 85 had told me to do seven days earlier. He arrived at 11.30am, ordered a breakfast and joined me.
‘F*** me, mate, what’s this?’ he said, holding a copy of the summons showing a 10.00am hearing. I’d been looking at the original summons, the date and time of which are always adjourned. My heart sank.
As stated, I received endless help from this man, he’d taken a Friday off work to offer moral support and I hadn’t even managed to be on time. I honestly wanted to cry. My head was spinning as we sprinted towards the court with bundles of loose evidence wedged under our arms.
Sitting outside the court room I noticed the officer who’d issued the ticket. His suit was ill-fitting, he hadn’t polished his shoes and he had a pot of gel in his hair (not dissimilar looking to Dazzler). The Salvation Army shop on Princes Street provided me with a dapper suit for £20, I was clutching 5 folders of evidence and I had my consigliere Super 85. I got the sense he was shitting himself more than I was. My anxiety allayed a little.
Having been scheduled for a 10am appearance I finally entered the court at 12.15pm. Due to my lateness the case couldn’t be heard in the morning session as planned. I was asked if I wanted to change my plea, but politely declined. The prosecution started to pry about the nature of my evidence.
For once I kept my trap shut as Super 85, sitting directly behind her, made a ‘zip it’ gesture across his mouth. Asked to return after lunch we went to the pub. I started to shit myself. Super 85 was telling me to chill. We had a Guinness. And a large whisky.
Back in court the prosecution lawyer put the PCSO on the stand and asked him leading questions. All the time I was staring at him and making notes on what he’s said. Even if there was nothing noteworthy I pretended to, because I noticed it made him nervous and distracted from his answers. Then I had to cross examine him.
I asked him how he got a clear view of my face when his statement indicates he had his ‘back to Bourchier Street’, in which I was accused of cycling. He described Wardour Street as ‘one of the busiest streets in Soho’, yet he claimed to have heard a bike behind him. I asked him what a bike sounds like. His answer was: “pedals”. The magistrate understandably asked him to clarify what he meant.
I then asked him to read the last 3 lines of his report:
Bourchier St is sign-posted at either end as cycling prohibited. This is the official Highway Code sign. Signs at either end of Bourchier St are clearly visible.
‘These are your words, are they not?’ I asked.
‘And you’d stand by these words?’
‘I’d stand by every word’, he says.
‘Then please could you describe the appearance of the official highway code sign’, I ask. He starts to mumble something and gets asked to make his answers audible by the magistrates, but I’m not listening. I’m preparing Super 85’s first bombshell.
Referring the court to exhibit ‘A’, a photo of the junction of Bourchier st and Wardour taken the week before (see pic), I ask him to point to the sign in question. As there isn’t one, he’s a bit flustered. After a little while he settles on the theory that it has been removed sometime in the last 6 months.
I repeat the questions for the junction of Dean and Bourchier street and he again claims the sign must have been removed. The court is then invited to view exhibits ‘C’ and ‘D’, Google Streetview screen-grabs of the same junctions in 2009, and I again ask the officer to point to the signs. He can’t because there weren’t any in 2009 either.
I ask: ‘so you are claiming that within the space of 18 months Westminster Council erected signs at either end of Bourchier St then decided to remove them, but on the day that I’m accused of cycling they were definitely there?”
‘Yes’, he answers. I let out a small sigh and give the magistrates a look that says see what I’m dealing with.
The next piece of his statement I ask him to read claims that ‘Bourchier Street is so narrow that in order for 2 people to pass one would have to step aside and give way to the other’. The court is invited to view exhibit ‘E’ (see photo) and I ask him if he stands by his statement. He claims that you can see the street getting narrower in the background, I explain that this is called perspective and glance again in the direction of the magistrates.
After presenting more evidence that places me in Kings Cross less than ten minutes earlier I have to take the stand for my cross examination. A geezer asks me to swear on the bible. I smirk, and he guesses I’m not religious so I repeat a promise to tell the truth in court. The prosecutor is a nasty cow, but rarely gets me to say anything other than the mantra 85 has drilled into me: I feel the officer is mistaken in his identification.
Afterwards the clerk tells me the mags have heard all the evidence and now is my chance to make a closing speech, but I’m not obliged to do so. I accept the offer, saying that I feel the officer’s inaccurate report casts doubt on the reliability of his testimony, that evidence places me away from the scene at the time and that in any case ‘McLoed Vs Hamilton’ (1965) seems to be the authority for the proposition that there is no offense committed in the event that the local authority fail to erect appropriate signage (another of Super 85’s bombshells). The prosecution jumps off the bench objecting to something, but it’s been said and done and the magistrates are busy reading about this case from 1965 which I’ve included in their folder of evidence, but not given to her.
After 20 odd minutes the mags return to court. They thank the officer for attending, and reel off a customary line about how his plastic, sorry professional status means that his word carries with it an integrity and authority……… HOWEVER.
At this point I knew I was off, and my thoughts quickly turned to getting a drink.
If at any point I have given the illusion that I was cool and collected, I wasn’t. It’s testimony to how much help I received from Super 85 that I got off. I will say that the whole episode was pretty bloody stressful, it cost me more than the original £30 and I doubt I’d do it again. I’d just cough up the dough. But it was quite a rush walking out of the court. My principle interest in telling this story is to big up Super 85, a true gent. His story about defending himself when he knew he couldn’t lose is much more entertaining.