The following unsurprising story has recently been reported in the Daily Telegraph and probably elsewhere. Please note that I am not a Telegraph reader. I saw this on the internet. I want to be absolutely clear on this. A stout fellow called Thomas Baird was sent a court summons accusing him of speeding in a 30mph zone in Staffordshire where he was nabbed by a speed camera.
It said he was doing 85mph. He knew this was blatantly wrong so challenged the summons.
Apparently the speed camera takes two images 0.5s apart. He demanded to see and subsequently received the second one and was, to cut a long story short, able to prove that his actual speed was 29.08mph by virtue of the distance travelled between the two snaps. The police had to cough up £2,000 in expenses and he was exonerated. I wonder how many people would have caved and paid just for a quiet life? Well done Mr Baird.
The cops acknowledged that speed cameras can give inaccurate readings. Office staff check each case by comparing the two photos taken by the device. But in this case staff repeatedly failed to pick up the error which begs the question, do they try to be scrupulously fair or do they just want the money?
The error has raised questions once again about the reliability of speed cameras and whether other drivers have been wrongly prosecuted. This is not news. I don’t however want to bang on about Mr Baird’s case because we’ve all moved on by now; but I do want to comment on a remark by a police superintendent.
This senior officer said, ”This is the only time this type of error, to the best of our knowledge, [my italics] has not been picked up prior to going to court. This was a one-off individual error”. I wonder.
The fact is speed cameras have been one of the causes of unfair or inaccurate prosecutions. This is not the first time I have grumbled on about this. Whilst I don’t have a problem with speed cameras (I refuse to call them ‘safety cameras’, even if that was the original, laudable intention) at accident black spots, I remain resolutely opposed to their use piecemeal. We are guilty until such time as we, like Mr Baird, prove ourselves innocent – sometimes at great expense.
I make no apology for coming back to my point of view that there is no substitute for police on the streets. I don’t in any way, shape or form blame the rank and file. I blame politicians. Our police forces are gradually shrinking and there are fewer traffic officers than ever. We need more not less.
The Thin Blue Line has so many new crimes and horrors to contend with in the modern world that they need all the support they can get. Well meaning, civic minded PCSO’s are not the answer to terrorism. The sort of decisions that a 21st Century police officer has to make on the spot can’t possibly be replaced by speed cameras or any device. They are machines. They can’t make informed decisions based on circumstances. Like any machine they can also go wrong. Geoff Maxted