Stevenage crash: Chief Inspector on speeding concerns, Cruise-Herts meets and what they knew
PUBLISHED: 16:37 24 July 2019 | UPDATED: 16:43 24 July 2019
The Comet sat down with Stevenage's Chief Inspector, Alicia Shaw, for a frank discussion about last week's crash which left 18 injured, addressing residents' previous concerns and what we can expect the police to do differently in the future.
Q: The police station is two miles away from last week's meeting point. These weekly events have been going on for more than 10 years and residents have complained on numerous occasions. Do you still maintain the stance that you were not aware of last week's meet?
Alicia: To clarify, we are aware that meets happen on Thursdays and sometimes Saturday. However, we weren't aware of the scale of last week's meet. So yes, it was a short distance away, but the amount of people that were there, with people on the dual carriageway, when some are driving possibly at speed, that pre-warning was not something we were given.
Q: A St Margarets resident has said that in a response from both Stevenage Borough Council and the police, both said there was "nothing to be done" about the weekly meets. But, both SBC and yourselves have come out and said changes are coming. Why did it take such a tragic incident for you to react?
Alicia: Unfortunately, we weren't able to foresee what would take place. There were large numbers that we haven't previously seen, people standing on road sides and the carriageways. As part of the investigation, we will review what's taken place until now and see what we can do moving forward.
Q: Let's run through some resident's previous complaints. In particular, they have sent petitions, raised concerns about excessive noise, anti-social behaviour and of course speeding. What sort of things were being done to prevent these by-products of the meets?
Alicia: We've engaged with members of the public, with our partners including SBC and Herts Highways to address issues. Previously, where offences have been committed, these have been dealt with appropriately, either with tickets, vehicles being seized and proactive patrols in the area.
Q: Even though these are designed to be static meets, many residents have said they witnessed speeding as a by-product of these events. Why were the police not more proactively preventing speeding?
Alicia: Last week, such large numbers were not anticipated. Where we are aware and when officers have been put in that area, we know that offences don't happen. But we haven't got those resources. Because we have other emergencies to attend, officers can't permanently be put there.
Q: I think what the public will say is, when everyone knows speeding is happening, why didn't the police set up vans or other preventative measures?
Alicia: I've discussed with the council about vans, and they have been put in Monkswood Way. But the vans have to be in different points in different areas, so we can't dedicate vans to a single area.
Q: But ideally, if resources weren't as stretched, would you have had a van in place last Thursday?
Alicia: It's important to emphasise our resources were attending other incidents, 999 calls and attending the public at the time.
Q: Previously, Simon Tabert, the Neighbourhood Inspector, has said: "I understand why residents may feel intimated, but they [Cruise-Herts] are not hooligans." Do you still agree with this statement?
Alicia: The people that attend the meets are from a range of backgrounds. Some enthusiasts are genuinely there to admire the specialist cars. Not everyone who attends are driving carelessly on the roads.
Q: But do you think some the behaviour that was on display last week resembled that of hooligans?
Alicia: I wouldn't use the word hooligan. As our investigation continues, we will unravel any offences that might have taken place.
Q: Referencing Fairlands Valley Showground, Cruise-Herts' previous meeting point, Insp Tabert said: "It's not ideal, but if the meet was moved, it could become more visible, audible and dangerous. Why was the meet moved?
Alicia: We have engaged with the showground, with partners and residents in relation to moving the venue. Although these meets aren't illegal, the police haven't authorised it to go anywhere else.
Q: But even with residents and Insp Tabert's concerns, the meeting point was changed. What more could police have done to prevent dangerous/illegal behaviour?
Alicia: We can't arrest people just for attending a meet. But, if people are on the road, committing offences, we can deal with them proportionately.
Q: Historically, what has your relationship with Cruise-Herts been like?
Alicia: We didn't have any contact with the main organiser regarding last week's event. Going back, we have had infrequent contact with organisers and those of other events, but certainly, with this main organiser, there was no contact made in relation to that event.
Q: Lastly, do you think the police did everything in their power to prevent an incident like this from happening?
A: It's important to say, we didn't cause this incident. We will definitely look at what could have been done differently and what we are going to do for that area moving forward.