I finally received an apology last week from the police for losing my bike, after my moan to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) made it all the way up to the Superintendent at Belgravia police station. I have to admit that as I made my way down to meet him, I felt like a bit of a pillock. After all, I did get my bike back in the end, and while I was angry with the way I was treated, I'm sure the police have bigger things to worry about than missing bikes. Still, if no one ever complained, perhaps things would never improve – and I do think it's wrong that the police can go round chopping up locks and confiscating bikes, even when there are no signs to let you know you can't park there.
For those who didn't read the story, the police took my mountain bike in April when I chained it to railings in Trafalgar Square, leaving me a note to say it had been taken to Belgravia station. When I went to recover it, there was no record of any bikes being confiscated on that night, nor any sign of my bike among the hundreds hiding in its underground car park.
Many calls and several weeks later, it did show up. Although no one was able to explain where it had been, or why it had been taken, I was thankful that all I'd lost was my £40 lock.
At the time, I wondered whether it had been stolen by a policeman who returned it after I made enquiries – a theory that Supt Ovens of Belgravia wasn't particularly keen on when I put it to him last Friday. Nevertheless, he was kind enough to buy me a coffee and apologise for the way I was treated, before explaining why my bike had been confiscated.
Producing a list of bike-bomb incidents dating to the 1930s, he said the police's mandate to protect the public gives it the right to remove bikes if they are deemed to be a threat. Although that doesn't mean they make a habit of picking up every bike they see, you'll be lucky to find your wheels where you left them if you parked in the Government exclusion zone around Westminster, as I did.
I can't argue with the police's desire to protect the public. But it does strike me as slightly ludicrous that they can go round chopping off people's locks when there aren't even any signs warning that you can't padlock your bike there. But street signs are not the police's responsibility, said Supt Ovens. Take it up with Westminster council.
I did, however, leave with a promise that the police will make a bigger effort to book-in every bike they confiscate, and will make a better effort to reunite these bikes with their owners. The rest, however, is up to the local authorities and Government – who we cyclists must continue hassling for more formal and safe urban bike parking. If the Government is serious about more people getting on two wheels, it should listen up.