The head of one of Britain's largest minicab companies, who has donated more than £250,000 to the Tories and attended parties as a guest of Prime Minister David Cameron, was forced into a damage-limitation exercise yesterday after provocative comments he made about cyclists prompted an outcry.
John Griffin, the chairman of Addison Lee – whose vehicles is used by at least six Whitehall departments – caused a storm when he suggested cyclists were to blame for many of the crashes in which they were injured or killed.
In an article published in Addison Lee's in-house magazine, Mr Griffin wrote: "These cyclists are throwing themselves on to some of the most congested spaces in the world. Should a motorist fail to observe a granny wobbling to avoid a pothole or a rain drain, then he is guilty of failing to anticipate that this was somebody on her maiden voyage into the abyss.
"The fact is he just didn't see her and, however cautious, caring or alert he is, the influx of beginner cyclists is going to lead to an overall increase in accidents involving cyclists."
He pointed out that drivers of motor vehicles had to pass a test and pay for insurance and road tax, adding: "It is time for us to say to cyclists, 'You want to join our gang, get trained and pay up'."
A "boycott Addison Lee" campaign sprang up in response yesterday, backed by Lord Prescott and Jenny Jones, the Green Party's candidate in the London mayoral election.
Tom Bogdanovich, of the London Cycling Campaign, said cyclists were "disgusted" by the comments. "They are just ordinary people trying to get to work and school," he said, pointing out that experienced cyclists were also at great risk on the roads.
The negative reaction prompted Mr Griffin to release a statement, although he refused to apologise.
He said:"I accept that the tone of the article was perhaps a little too inflammatory. It was meant to entertain and generate debate, but the online reaction has obscured the main message that there are many inexperienced cyclists who need better training to be safe."
Mr Griffin had already come under fire this week for encouraging Addison Lee's drivers to illegally use bus lanes, saying it was unfair that black taxis could use the lanes while his minicabs could not. Labour's mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone accused Addison Lee of thinking it has "carte blanche to flout the law" because he donated £25,000 to Boris Johnson's last election campaign.
Case study: Dead cyclist was 'very professional'
The first cyclist to be killed on the capital's roads this year was not a "granny wobbling to avoid a pothole or a rain drain". Henry Warwick, 61, was a "brilliant" cycle courier with 10 years of experience, his family said.
The father of two was killed in east London after a collision involving a bus. Far from Addison Lee chairman John Griffin's image of a cyclist on their "maiden voyage into the abyss" getting into trouble, Mr Warwick would cycle dozens of miles each day, according to colleagues, and he even featured in a video about the dangers of cycling in London.
Following Mr Warwick's death in February, his brother Ed Wawrzanek said he was a "very professional cyclist and courier". "He was very much into cycling since being a teenager and considered the sport to be his lifelong hobby," he added.