Speed cameras will threaten policing, says Met chief

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The Independent Online

Government plans for a rapid rise in roadside speed cameras were attacked yesterday by Britain's most senior policeman, who said they threatened to undermine the independence of officers.

Sir John Stevens, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said the scheme to allow forces to retain money raised by the cameras to install more devices was against the spirit of law enforcement.

Last week, ministers announced a national extension of the scheme, which could place up to 6,000 more cameras on Britain's roads.

The Association of Chief Police Officers has encouraged forces to triple the number of cameras under the scheme after trials showed a 47 per cent drop in people killed or injured in speed-related accidents.

But Sir John warned against pursuing speeding motorists as a revenue-raising measure, saying the cameras were valid only as a means of reducing accidents at blackspots. "I am against blanket use of speed cameras," he said. "They should be used in the right place, targeted to reduce accidents and deaths.

"Using the revenue from speeding tickets to raise money for the police is not what the law is there for; it is contrary to the independence of the police."

The Commissioner said he was also opposed to plans outlined by the Transport minister John Spellar to relax rules on the speed at which the cameras are triggered. The previous formula – 10 per cent of the speed limit plus 2mph; for example, 35mph in a 30mph zone – will be replaced by rules that allow police to lower the threshold to the speed limit itself. Sir John pointed out that the average speed of London's traffic had been stuck at around 12mph for decades.

Scotland Yard believes a 1mph reduction in the threshold would lead to a 30 per cent increase in the number of fines, the equivalent of 60,000 tickets.

The criticism from the force chief supports comments from other senior Metropolitan Police officers who had already voiced concern that gratuitous use of cameras could alienate the public. They fear that enforcing the predicted increase in £60 fines could tie up resources when they face other priorities in the capital, such as violent crime and drugs.

There is evidence that resentment among some motorists against the cameras – known by such names as Gatso, Spec and Vascar – may be beginning to spill over into more militant action. Gloucestershire police confirmed yesterday that it was investigating the demolition of four cameras on a 15-mile stretch of the A40 by vandals who either rammed or pulled down the devices.

Despite Scotland Yard's reservations, several rural constabularies have already voiced their support for the government scheme, pointing to figures that showed trials had led to 109 fewer people being killed.

Four forces, Derbyshire, Lancashire, North Wales and Staffordshire, last week joined the eight forces where the new scheme is already in operation, from Strathclyde to the Thames Valley.

The Government has denied the cameras are a "stealth tax", saying they should be restricted to accident blackspots and new devices would be painted in bright colours to avoid claims of entrapment.