Jail for swearing at a cyclist to ‘get off the f****** pavement’? It’s just not right (and I ride a bike)

It is hard to see how Grey could be held responsible for the tragic consequence of her actions

John Rentoul
Thursday 02 March 2023 20:00 GMT
CCTV shows moment woman swears at cyclist before she's struck and killed by car

As a cyclist, one of the things that most offends me about the behaviour of other cyclists is riding on the pavement. I confess I have, occasionally, when there are no pedestrians around, crossed a bit of their territory where that is the safest option on some of London’s tricky traffic spots. Generally, we shouldn’t do it.

That said, I was horrified by the jail sentence imposed on Auriol Grey, the pedestrian who shouted at Celia Ward, a 77-year-old cyclist who was riding on the pavement. On being shouted at, Ward fell into the road, where she was struck by a car and killed.

Grey has been convicted of manslaughter and jailed for three years, which seems quite wrong and I hope it will be quashed on appeal. In the disturbing CCTV footage of the incident, Grey shouts “Get off the f***ing pavement” and waves at Ward, but I cannot see how she could be held responsible for the tragic consequence of her actions.

This is a terribly sad case, and I think all the people involved, including the traumatised driver of the car, have suffered enough. Nothing is to be gained by sending someone who objected to a cyclist riding on the pavement to prison.

Presumably, Ward had good reason to be on the pavement, which was not wide enough to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians comfortably. Looking at the video, the traffic on the road seems close to the pavement, and you can easily imagine that a cyclist would not feel safe on the road.

When I say that I am a cyclist, I am a cyclist in London, which is not like most parts of the country. I gave up cycling many years ago because I felt it was too dangerous, but the segregated cycle lanes and junction improvements have transformed the city, making it feel so much safer than it used to be. I took up cycling again a few years ago, and since the lockdowns I haven’t looked back – apart from a mishap on the ice just before Christmas.

So in London, it is easier to disapprove of cyclists on the pavement, because there is no need for them to be there. Not that they should be shouted or sworn at, in any case. But in the car-centric wilds of Cambridgeshire, anyone taking refuge from the tonnes of fast-moving steel should be regarded sympathetically, provided they are cycling carefully and sedately, as I assume Ward was.

So Grey was wrong to shout and gesticulate. If the object of her pavement rage had been a young pizza-delivery rider on an electric bike, eyes fixed on a smartphone attached to the handlebars, she might have had more justification. But either way, she shouldn’t go to jail for it.

The real issue here is the design of our road spaces. In too much of the country, there is no provision for safe cycle routes at all, and in many other parts, the provision consists of a few narrow cycle lanes painted on roads that are not quite wide enough to take motor traffic, cycles and pedestrians – in which case, in my view, it is the motor traffic that ought to cede the most space.

Instead of sending Grey to jail, Cambridgeshire County Council should spend the money on building a Ward memorial cycle lane so that cyclists can feel safe travelling in that part of the country. Instead of sending Grey to jail, we should be trying to turn the whole country into a kind of London, so that people can feel safe cycling, and so that pedestrians can feel safe from cyclists as well as from motor traffic.

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