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Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 13th December 2016

ONE thing I guarantee: If you are out and about on the roads you will spot at least one mobile phone offender every day, sometimes several.

Drivers using their mobiles at the wheel are causing more accidents than official records show. In a recent study, three-quarters of collision investigators said they were unable to report the full proportion of accidents linked to mobile phone use within the last year.

Budget constraints and legal considerations mean mobile phones are seized and analysed by police only if there has been a fatal or life-changing injury sustained. It is estimated that more than 500 people a year are killed or seriously injured in the UK because drivers were on their phones, calling or texting.

Talk this week of a tough new crackdown, and raising the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving from 14 years to life, sounds very much like a political gimmick to me. You’ve got to catch ‘em first. And when, for goodness sake, did you ever hear of a court imposing a 14-year sentence?

Sentencing is a sick joke anyway, whether it’s for dangerous driving or any other offence. Our prisons are full to bursting point and courts are told to levy sentences that are as short as possible. Even 14 years in reality means seven, and the offender would probably be out well before that if they kept their nose clean.

Justice minister Sam Gyimah knows in his heart of hearts that it’s a charade. There are simply not enough traffic officers out there to spot serial offenders. This is no more than a consultation that will last until the end of February, after which the Government will decide how to proceed.

Big talk, soft on action. Only when more resources are put into driving these mobile menaces off our roads will it mean something. Even then, police officers have reported cases being thrown out of court where they had actually witnessed a motorist using a device.

Dr. Paul Pilkington, a public health expert at the University of the West of England, believes under-reporting is a “massive problem”. There are significant gaps not only in terms of enforcement, but in monitoring the role of phones in crashes.

People’s attachment to their phones is verging on an addiction. Only when drivers know they are going to lose their phones, sustain big road bans and risk spending time behind bars will the message be driven home. And even then, some of these idiots still won’t get it.

It promises to be another lawyers’ benefit. They will already be working out potential plea bargains, and studying the existing law for loopholes. What’s needed is a fundamental review of the punishment applied to all motoring offences and a serious look at how laws are enforced day to day.

Readers of a certain age will remember those Big Chief I-Spy books where you got points for spotting everything from wild birds to railway engines. How about a new edition for mobile phone spotters? I reckon you would not have to go far to rack up a massive score from the careless and the callous who risk people’s lives every day with their selfish, brainless behaviour behind the wheel.

PRICKLY POLICING

A POLICE force down South has come up with the barmiest anti-crime initiative of all time. Plant prickly shrubs and tree around your home to keep the burglars at bay, Essex police are advising homeowners.

I’m sure it has not got that bad in Cumbria, but when you pick up a daily paper and read headlines like the one on the letters page of the Daily Mail on Monday, you do tend to take a sharp intake of breath.

It doesn’t look good, and the fact it’s a complaint about Cumbria Constabulary’s response to a shopkeeper’s report of a theft is something our police and crime commissioner could do with addressing.

The letter writer said that cops rang back to say they would not be investigating as they were operating under a new directive, but if the thief became a habitual shoplifter they would look into the matter. I’m sure policing is more difficult and complex these days than it was when Dixon, of Dock Green, was saying “evening all” and the world seemed a kinder and better place before “progress” had led to closing police stations, removing officers from the beat and shutting down the local courts.

Public support and confidence are vital policing tools. Here was one Spar retailer who felt so strongly he took to the newspaper to vent his concern. It may just be an isolated case. But it’s just not a good idea for this sort of thing to get around. Not if the public feel short-changed, and thieves start thinking they can get away with it.

Blue spruce, giant rhubarb, even common Christmas holly. All good deterrents, if our Cumbrian shopkeeper needs some extra advice on protecting his property. Mind, how long will it be before a burglar sues a householder for compensation after scratching his bottom on the foliage?

TALKING TURKEY

THE letters pages of the papers are invariably good value. The wit and wisdom of readers rarely fails to amuse. Take the letter in the i earlier this week from a correspondent who had been following the story of the Keswick vegan who has persuaded 120,000 people to sign a petition protesting about the use of tallow, an animal product, in the new fivers.

Talk about Christmas crackers, it begins to sound like a publicity stunt. I could probably get 100,000 people to back a petition of my own demanding human rights for Subbuteo players. And mine would be more sensible.

“I wonder how many of the new fivers I will need to baste my turkey on Christmas Day?” queried the i letter writer. Apparently the petitioner wants to get the matter debated in Parliament, like there’s nothing going on the world that might just be a bit more serious. Still, with Putin in the Channel, Trump in the White House and Brexit splitting the nation, none of these issues hold a candle to calls for a debate over plastic fivers.

A JOYFUL IRRUPTION

IT was almost Hitchcock. Birds began flocking to two tall trees outside my window. First about 50, then another dozen. Then a few stragglers who were allowed to catch up before they all set off again in a crested cloud. I counted 82 waxwings.

Apparently, nature lovers are hoping for a big waxwing winter. These striking punky birds, with their smart headdresses, come all the way from Scandinavia to eat our berries.

According to The Times’ nature notebook columnist, Melissa Harrison, they arrive every autumn in the north east of Scotland and along the east coast of England. In a harsh Scandinavian winter, with its lack of food, we are treated to an “irruption” of big flocks plundering bushes for snacks.

Hopes are high for a widespread waxwing winter this year, according to the British Trust for Ornithology’s migration blog. I’m no dedicated twitcher, but seeing them in a Keswick garden gave me a thrill.

The visit of the birds came almost a year to the day after the floods. Give me a waxwing irruption over a Storm Desmond any day.

BANKING ON HUNTER

HUNTER Davies started something when he wrote bemoaning the closure of a bank branch he’s been using three times a week for many years.

His lament in the “Money” section of the Sunday Times highlighted the fact that the number of bank branches has been falling for years. This year alone the big five closed 485 branches.

Nothing you can do about it if your bank is closing? Well, there is something. Switch to a bank that’s staying put in your town. If everyone switches it might convince them there’s good business to be had — and it would be one in the eye for the banks that are shutting their doors.

One MP has brokered a deal with a bank to stay open provided it gets a lot of new accounts. Small businesses and customers who dislike on-line banking are flocking to switch. And a building society attracted 1,000 new accounts and is looking to open in other communities left without a bank.

Residents and businesses in small towns are pulling out the stops to keep threatened branches open. Hunter Davies claims he’s no expert when it comes to cash, but this time he’s bang on the money.


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