LETTERS: Comet March 14

Police-car

- Credit: Archant

THE letters published in the Comet on Thursday, March 14.

POLICE DRIVERS

SIR - I read with interest the letter from Mr Steve MacSweeney (Comet March 7) in which he displays deep criticism for police drivers. As a serving police officer and response driver I felt compelled to inform Mr MacSweeney of some of the facts regarding police drivers and indeed to defend myself and my colleagues.

Like Mr MacSweeney, any decent person feels the emotions when an innocent person is killed or injured at any time, including following an incident involving the police. None more so than the officers involved in the unfortunate incident. Every police officer will give different reasons for joining the police, but all would state that one of the reasons was to help members of the public. To be involved in an incident when an innocent member of the public is killed or injured has a huge and lasting effect on the officers involved. I imagine most officers know of at least one colleague who has been in this unenviable situation and the effect on the officer is profound.

Mr MacSweeney is also of the believe that there is “little or no control over police officers”. I can assure him that the complete opposite is true, not only regarding driving. Our every decision, move and action is closely monitored and scrutinised by our supervisors, and increasingly, the public. Regarding driving, all response vehicles in my police force are fitted with the equivalent of black box flight recorders. From the moment the vehicle is started everything is recorded, including speed, throttle use, braking, steering, handbrake use etc., it even records when indicators and lights are used - including emergency blues and twos - it registers when doors, boot and bonnet are opened and it records the G-forces involved whilst driving and in the event of a collision. All this information is stored and is downloaded regularly during random checks by supervisors. The driver can be asked to explain and justify his actions at any time. Also, if involved in an accident, no matter how minor, the police driver will be breathalysed and normally suspended from driving until a full investigation has taken place, regardless of who is to blame.

Again, in my force, every vehicle pursuit has to be authorised by the control room and the emphasis is always on terminating the pursuit rather than engaging in one. In all cases the manner of driving, the road conditions are constantly considered, the safety of the public is always the main concern and most vehicle pursuits are terminated if started at all. However, does Mr MacSweeney believe that the driver of a stolen vehicle would be driving like a model road user if there were no police behind? I’ve lost count of the amount of accidents I’ve attended involving a stolen car where the criminal has run off leaving an innocent person injured or worse. It appears Mr MacSweeney would prefer it if police ignored any stolen vehicle driving past and allowed the criminals to happily drive around uninterrupted. If Mr MacSweeney’s car was stolen and I saw it during my patrol I wonder if he’d like me to attempt to retrieve it for him or to wave it past?

Mr MacSweeney also takes issue with police drivers regarding speed and stop signs etc. True, we do have exemptions, speed limits, treating traffic lights as a give way are two examples. But I ask Mr MacSweeney, if he was unfortunate enough to need police assistance urgently would he want the driver to travel at 30mph, stopping at traffic lights, giving way to other road users and pedestrians? I think not... he’d want the police with him in 30 seconds driving as fast as the police vehicle would allow. I take his point regarding tearing through Hitchin Town Centre for a stolen handbag, but again, if he was a victim of crime would he want me to pursue the criminal and attempt to apprehend the suspect and retrieve his property or would he want me to stand and watch the criminal escape?

Most Read

Mr MacSweeney, we are not the bad guys.

Name and address supplied

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SIR - In 7th March’s Comet I read with incredulity Steve MacSweeney’s letter about police driving being limited to the laws of the road, i.e. driving 30mph in a built up area, stopping at red lights, not overtaking. He is rightly concerned about “collateral damage” and I am sure we all agree that any innocent hurt or killed when police are performing their duty is a tragedy and should be investigated to take the lessons learned and reduce the risks to others. However, I can imagine the uproar if a murderer was allowed to escape because the police could not drive above the speed limit to maintain pursuit. Perhaps the answer is to allow fast pursuit if the crime is serious enough? So murderers and kidnappers watch out. But should we chase after rapists, or violent offenders, joy riders, drink drivers? Where do we draw the line?

Mr MacSweeney cites Florida as a US state with greater regulation on police driving, good for them but what about the other US states? Is Mr MacSweeney a proponent of a system that is perhaps popular in only one fiftieth of a foreign country? Are we happy to have inevitably higher crime rates? Are we going to be understanding and say “oh well, never mind” when the police say that our burglar, rapist, vandal got away because they drove faster? Are we going to say that a drunk driver killing and damaging is better than a sober, trained police driver trying to protect the public?

A total of 25 died due to police chases last year (Daily Mail), how many died after accidents with ambulances or fire engines? Should all the emergency services be speed limited? I suggest one answer is to improve training, use improved technology, consider greater surveillance around towns so that offenders can be tracked and intercepted rather than pursued.

Lastly, if we gave greater support to the police in their difficult job, perhaps we would move to a more benevolent and less dangerous society with less criminals that needed chasing.

Russell Hutton

Clifton

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SIR - I am a traffic police officer with Hertfordshire for 30 years and am retired but still with force in another capacity.

I would like to respond to the item by Mr Steve MacSweeney. His comments “Police chasing a beaten up Astra with Rowdy Teenagers, or a Handbag theft”, are a couple of real soft options, but all the same may get the public’s blood rushing when they see it printed. Had he said that the police drivers were chasing a chap who had just used a shotgun on a poor helpless shopkeeper or a person with a knife had just mutilated a young person, or there had been a serious domestic violence incident then the whole picture changes. Nice to live in a perfect world, but sorry Mr MacSweeney we don’t. Life sometimes kicks you in the teeth and with the best will in the world things do go wrong, and it’s very regrettable. Police officers use their driving skills to the best of their ability and to the standards in which they have been trained. They are not gung ho like a load of cowboys. They are a body of professional people who always put the public before themselves. Every day Police officers leave their families not really knowing what is round the corner and what they are going to face. Sometimes officers also don’t return to their families. Don’t pull them down; you may need them one day.

By the way, I am an honorary state trooper for six southern states in America inclusive of Florida; I think you need to brush up on your state law.

BARRYMORE Bradford

Lots of Traffic Knowledge

Stevenage

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SIR - Oh my goodness, I have never been so compelled to respond as when I read Steve MacSweeney’s letter about police driving.

Whilst my heart goes out to the innocent victims such as those you make reference to, I take issue with so many things you have said: For a start, it is a pursuit not a chase and these are not undertaken in an unconsidered manner and are carefully managed during the ‘event’. I am saddened that you refer to people who do not act lawfully or responsibly and in the case as this such instance as ‘rogue drivers’ - these are not rogue, they are criminals/people who have decided to act unlawfully. You list some statistics but do not put them into context - how many thousands of pursuits take place against the numbers of accidents? You are incorrect when you say if a police car is involved in an accident the police officers are not subjected to a breathalyser test in the same way you or I would be - it is a fact that they are. Yes, speed limits are there for a reason and police officers are there to ensure that they are adhered to, and it is ridiculous to think that those breaking the law should not be pursued by officers. And of course there is control over police drivers - otherwise we wouldn’t see investigations into incidents. I agree that the law does need to change - there needs to be more severe penalties for crimes and those who commit them to deter those from acting illegally and make it easier for police to do their job.

What about the pursuits that happen when officers try and stop a car, they speed off and are pursued, are brought to a dramatic but safe end and officers open up the boot to find it holds firearms and other equipment to commit (violent) crime? This happened to my husband (a serving officer). It is an extremely difficult job carried out in often extremely difficult circumstances.

Name and address supplied

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BITTER SURGEON

SIR - I am writing with regard to the article published on page seven of the Comet on March 7, entitled ‘Surgeon speaks out over suspension’.

Having recently sparked a vociferous debate a month ago with his vitriolic, homophobic denouncing of equal marriage rights, Mr Palmer has treated Comet readers to yet another self-righteous whinge. So East and North Herts NHS Trust has ‘cost the taxpayer megabucks’ because he chose to take them to the high court, and presumably part of this ‘cost to the taxpayer’ included paying his salary when he was ‘put on gardening leave for six years’. But no, no, he says ‘it’s finished as far as I’m concerned, I don’t want to be vindictive’. Right. Keep spreading the joy. What a shame that Mr Palmer seems to have nothing left in his garden but bitter lemons.

Name and address supplied

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SHOULD WE PRESERVE OUR GREEN BELT LAND?

SIR - The Hitchin Society supports many of the views expressed in last week’s edition of the Comet on the plans for possible new housing in the district. We certainly accept that more housing is needed and that difficult decisions will have to be made. But to be asked ‘is this developer’s proposal better than that developer’s proposal?’ is no way to reach a strategic solution.

The proposals are presented as strategic options for the district, but on NHDC’s own admission, the sites in the consultation document are simply those proposed by landowners or housebuilders with a vested interest in seeing their land developed. There is no question of any overall judgement being made about where it would be best to put the houses. No account has been taken of nearness to existing shops, schools or to transport connections such as rail stations.

Surely, any meaningful consultation would have asked fundamental questions including: Where would be the best places for development? Should we have building in the Green Belt around each town and village? Would it be better for our largest towns to merge into a single urban area, leaving much of the countryside unspoilt? Should we be thinking about new settlements? Perhaps even a new village between Baldock and Royston which could be served by Ashwell station? None of these questions appears to have been addressed. Instead we are being consulted on opportunistic offerings by interested parties. This is no way to arrive at a consensus on where much needed new housing should be built.

We are however certain of one thing – the huge area to the west and south of Hitchin is quite unsuitable for large scale development and we urge all who care for Hitchin to write to the council objecting to that site.

Keith Montague

The Hitchin Society

Westfield Close

Hitchin

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SIR - We think your readers should be alerted to the implications of the proposals for building on Hitchin’s Green Belt which are the subject of consultation by NHDC until March 28.

There are some sites within Hitchin proposed for housing which may not be particularly contentious, but most of the sites are in the Green Belt on Hitchin’s fringes. One in particular, termed a ‘strategic’ site because it could provide up to 7,400 houses, stretches from Oughtonhead Common around the west and south sides of the town right up to the Stevenage Road and potentially beyond to the railway line. It covers over 1,000 acres around Hitchin and in the parishes of St Ippolyts and Preston. It includes the ‘carrot’ of a bypass to be built, linking the Offley Road and Stevenage Road.

One of the purposes of the Green Belt is to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns. Hitchin is unusual in the retention of an extensive medieval street pattern in its town centre and the close relationship of that core to the countryside. Development of this site would sever the centre from its rural setting and increase the physical size of the town and its population by 50 per cent.

Another purpose of the Green Belt is to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment. The council’s own landscape sensitivity study for this area makes clear the significance and sensitivity of this attractive area of countryside as an open undulating valley with its small villages and isolated farms lying between the historic town and the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty and the Langley Scarp. The area also provides an extremely important setting for informal recreation for a town with limited open space within its built up area.

A third purpose of the Green Belt is to prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another. Part of the site area is also crucial in providing separation between Hitchin and Stevenage and much of it is also vital in retaining separation between Hitchin and the villages of Charlton, Gosmore, St Ippolyts, Titmore Green and Little Wymondley. Indeed, this applies equally to another proposed site, West of Stevenage, which the Campaign Against Stevenage Expansion (CASE) opposed for over a decade.

However one looks at it, the scale and location of such a development is clearly unsustainable; the town’s infrastructure simply could not support such a huge increase. We believe a case can be made that Hitchin is reaching its environmental capacity. The pressure on services, facilities and the transport network would entail significant changes to the physical fabric of the town which would have a much greater negative impact than any benefits that might be claimed from the associated construction of a bypass.

We urge your readers to respond before March 28, objecting to any development of the areas south west of Hitchin and West of Stevenage. We suggest letters be sent rather than using the council’s questionnaire which we feel is unhelpful and inappropriate. Further information about these issues will be on our website: www.hitchinforum.org.uk this week.

Mike Clarke

Chairman

Hitchin Forum

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TIME TO TIDY

SIR - Good to see from last week’s Comet letters that someone appreciates Walsworth Common, apart that is from the individuals who decline to clear up after their dogs and the perennial problem of litter louts but not just Walsworth Common.

Some of my time at the last ‘Friends’ cleanup’ was spent in waders waist deep in the pond extracting bottles and cans. A couple of weeks later and more have taken their place.

Sadly Walsworth, a hamlet with its own community identity, has degraded into the litter capital of North Herts. Witness the rubbish between the properties and the brook (and in the brook) and Chaucer Way. The rubbish and litter at the end of and along the perimeter hedge of the college sports field. Or the litter thrown into Purwell Meadows behind the bus stop in Cambridge Road when there are two litter bins in the immediate vicinity.

Not only is litter disfiguring to our environment but every bottle or can thrown away equates to waste of energy and resources.

Some litter could be reduced if our local shopkeepers gave a bit of thought before offering plastic bags on every opportunity.

Ah well, see you at the next Walsworth Common cleanup.

G.W.Howe

Address supplied

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LASER DANGER

SIR - I would like to highlight to your readers the potentially dangerous practice of shining laser pens at train drivers. Over the past eight weeks we have had three reported incidents on our network.

Some people may think it is a bit of fun but this is a criminal offence, even for juveniles, because of the significant safety implications.

A laser pen has the potential to damage eyesight or blind someone. If that person is driving a train then this is dangerous for everyone on board. At best it will cause delays because the driver has to be relieved from duty. At worst it could cause a serious incident. May I appeal to your readers to be alert for this kind of activity, to report anything suspicious to the police or a member of staff, and to educate family members accordingly?

Jackie Townsend

Operations Director

First Capital Connect

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FLOOD HEIGHTS

SIR - On the subject of ‘Silly Signs’ (letters March 7) could I ask why a ‘flood warning’ sign has been standing near the top of Whitehill Road, Hitchin for some weeks - flooding at the top of this hill would indeed be remarkable.

Betty Goble

Address supplied

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A1(M)

SIR - Once again our benighted transport department have bungled.

Having placed cones across the slip road down the A1(M) south carriageway they have succeeded in stacking up traffic from a bypassed Baldock, often from the George IV to the new bypass roundabout. It can now take half an hour to reach Hitchin in the morning.

If that is not bad enough they have failed to put cones across the ‘death trap’ spur from the north bound carriageway on the other side. You need a neck like a turkey to swivel round to see what is coming, so many trust to luck and the good nature of traffic coming off the lights on the roundabout. Many now use the lights on the slip road and cut across the spur to make it even more of a hazard.

And yes I was involved in a ‘shunt’ there last week – that dismaying tinkling of glass as the guy behind put his headlights into my rear reflector. All because I had to brake sharply as a white van (why is it always them?) raced away in front of me from the aforesaid lights on the slip road. No one hurt – or even much damage just a bit of cussing at the stupidity of whoever had designed this ‘masterpiece’ in the first place.

So please, please let common sense prevail and move these cones fifty yards where they may do some real good.

Here’s expecting nothing to happen.

Brian Burke

High Street

Baldock

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RAIL HELP

SIR - May I through the letters page offer my sincere thanks to the Network Rail Staff, who on Wednesday evening March 6, helped me so much just after my dog was struck and killed by a train close to the junction of the railway line and the new line under construction.

In particular the train driver that stopped his train and got out to talk to me and see me safely to the bottom of the embankment and out of harms way. Also the Network Rail mamber of staff who came out shortly after,went onto the tracks and retrieved my dog,he brought him down so that I was spared seeing my dog like that.

I admired his professionalism at what was a shocking and traumatic time, his name was Peter, but can’t recall his surname.

Once again many thanks to those who helped me that evening.

Name and address supplied

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A RUBBISH ACT

SIR - An urgent message to the owner of Visa Debit Card No ending **** **** **** 9732 starting on 09/1* and ending on 08/1* with recent purchases at Frankie & Bennys, Stevenage 21.33hrs 01/12/12 £53.47 including a £4.87 gratuity and Harpenden House Hotel 20.33hrs 22/12/12 £17.35, no gratuity, Letchworth subway 20.33hrs 26/01/13 £4.30 and Morrisons Houghton Regis 14.15hrs £2.79 a sandwich and a Cadbury Bar.

Sound familiar? Then get your weary backside up to the Greenway off Hillbrow, Letchworth, well you know where it is and retrieve the rubbish you dumped there last week. Yes it was left in carrier bags neatly piled up, which have now all been ripped open by foxes and strewn everywhere.

You are ripe for identity theft as I have the full card details so any enquiry via the police or local authority will soon reveal your identity and a nice hefty fine to follow.

Do the right thing and go take your rubbish home.

Name and address supplied

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EDUCATION

SIR - I feel compelled to write this email in my utter outrage at a statement made by Frances Button, Cabinet Member for Education and Skills stating “We want the best possible education for children in Hertfordshire and the county has excellent schools”.

I am at present faced with the prospect of finding a secondary school for my son who has special educational needs and although has been in mainstream school, until now, feel that he would be suited in a specialist placement for children with mild/moderate learning difficulties. Frances Button where is this excellent school in Stevenage for my son. I am not a lone voice I have spoken to numerous parents in the same dilemma as far back as 5yrs ago to now and there will be more in the future.

What about ‘The Valley School’ I hear you say, I am somewhat dismayed that Hertfordshire County Council believe this to be an appropriate and nurturing environment for any child let alone our special children. The head is passionate about his school but Frances Button he has his hands tied behind his back. Who in their right mind at the Local Authority would rate this an excellent school?

Please Frances Button/Herts County Council knock down this school, sell the land to developers and build a specialist mild/moderate school in the grounds of a mainstream school like you have for the Lonsdale children. Our children deserve more than what’s on offer in Stevenage and need to be included in our society.

Karen Cowan

Address supplied

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PLANNING COST

SIR - I heard the item on neighbourhood plans this morning on ‘Today’ on Radio 4. It didn’t really point out that they cost the district/town councils a minimum of £20,000 for ‘specialist consultants’ to run them. It did, admittedly point out that, in any case, they can be ignored by county councils if they conflict with planning requirements/strategic plans etc. So, we spend a lot of money on something that is ignored and/or becomes obsolete in a couple of years.

In 2009, Stotfold completed a town plan, at very minimal cost, which was circulated to all households and had a 41 per cent response. It has taken ages for us to get the local county council/unitary authority to acknowledge that this represents very strong opinion from residents and we now keep getting told that, as it’s not a neighbourhood plan, they don’t have to listen anyway.

Neighbourhood plans sound like an expensive box-ticking exercise to me - a waste of our money and time - supposedly giving residents more say in decisions, but not really doing anything useful. The only people who seem to benefit are a) the ‘consultants’ who get paid and b) the county councils who can then have more ammunition for ignoring residents.

Pamela Manfield

Astwick Road

Stotfold

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LITTER COST

SIR - The Highways Agency has been chastised over the state of our roads as a result of litter being strewn over the verges. No mention of the mindless individuals who launch this rubbish from their cars.This has to be addressed. How about notices to the effect of a promise not to litter THEIR county if they don’t litter ours?

Or maybe the fast food outlets that supply most of the packaging that ends up on our streets being involved in an education programme pointing out to their customers that litter is both antisocial and illegal. Or roadside notices warning of prosecution for littering in the same way drivers are warned of speed cameras. I can’t recall reading in our local paper that a prosecution has been brought about for the discharge of litter from a car. Maybe one or two prosecutions would bring this shameful problem to people’s attention.

I appreciate that this is difficult to police and that our services are being stretched, but something has to be done to stem this relentless tide of rubbish.

Anthony Waight

Wedmore Road

Hitchin

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