Caught on film: the camera that always lies

Police admit that motorists are allowed to speed illegally with dummy roadside apparatus
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The Independent Online
Motorists in many parts of the country are being allowed to break the speed limit because the police cannot afford to prosecute drivers caught by roadside cameras, it was disclosed yesterday.

In some cases film has been deliberately removed from cameras and the speed limit set at an artificially high level so that fewer motorists will be caught. In other instances no action has been taken against drivers filmed breaking the speed limit. Residents of Gantshill, in east London, say that one camera on the busy A127 to Essex has not worked for three months.

Chief constables yesterday appealed for extra money to carry out prosecutions, arguing that the speed cameras were an extremely effective method of reducing road-traffic accidents. They believe convicted motorists should contribute to prosecution costs.

About 30 out of the 43 police forces in England and Wales use speed cameras, fitted at accident trouble spots. They are triggered if a passing vehicle exceeds a set speed. Most drivers are liable to a fixed pounds 40 fine and three licence penalty points, although more serious cases are taken to court.

However, only one in eight motorists filmed speeding are prosecuted, according to a report published last Wednesday by Lex Service, of the sales and leasing group. For example, in Avon and Somerset the police can only afford to process and prosecute a certain number of motorists so they set their cameras to a higher limit than normal - ensuring that only the very worse law breakers are caught. A spokesman for Avon and Somerset said: "There's no point in photographing motorists we cannot afford to prosecute."

Geoffrey Markham, spokesman on speed enforcement for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) and Assistant Chief Constable of Essex, explained: "We have to back away from it, and not put film in the camera perhaps, or limit the numbers we process, or put the profile for speeding at too high a level.

"We have to do all sorts of artificial things to remain within our own budgets. But ... if a particularly powerful weapon that we have at our disposal is blunted because we are unable to use it in certain parts of the country, that is not a good road-safety message," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Chief Inspector Jerry Moore, of Essex police's traffic commission, and an assistant to the Acpo committee examining this issue, said: "In Essex if we could not afford to deal with any more cases we would close down the cameras until the backlog had been dealt with."

He warned: "We don't want motorists to know where they can speed and where they can't. Our main aim is to reduce the number of road-traffic accidents."

The police want to be paid a percentage of the fixed penalty payments made by speeding motorists, which at present goes to the Treasury. When cameras were first introduced in 1992 they produced just 300 prosecutions but by 1994 this rose to 20,600.

The Metropolitan Police said they supported the call for extra funding. A spokesman for Sussex police said: "It is impossible to do everything so we target known black spots. Where there are problems you have to target your resources as we do not have a bottomless pit of money." But other forces questioned, including Humberside, Thames Valley, and Hertfordshire, said they prosecuted all motorists caught over the speed limit.

John Bowis, transport minister, said it was important that cameras should work and that people should be prosecuted. "I'm after a system where the police see that as one of their priorities, and so do implement effective camera work," he said.