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Road Safety in Kent – incompetence, deceit, cover-up

The scale of the failings of the DfT, Councils and road “safety” partnerships in the UK is starting to astonish even someone who has been investigating this dangerous scam for more than 10 years.

What I have recently experienced with Kent is probably as bad as Dorset / Poole, and that takes some doing. I’m starting to think I will find this wherever I look more closely at these “safety” camera partnerships.

Kent has like many areas been advertising the benefits of speed cameras by making headlines out of KSI reductions at speed camera sites, in their case, 72%. Almost anyone could be forgiven, on seeing such reductions, for being very impressed by how cameras appear to reduce injuries and deaths and saying that they would like more, and that includes those involved in decision making about speed cameras and other solutions, and those who answer speed camera surveys. Such publicity is therefore highly likely to affect the kinds of road safety solutions we end up with, and that in turn will affect the number of people killed and seriously injured. Any mistakes or misrepresentation will therefore cost lives.

But this suggested “benefit” can be blown out of the water by considering this basic, simple fact: the reductions are not due to the camera, they are due to many other factors, and also exaggerated by regression to mean because the camera is likely to have been placed where there has been a freak increase in accidents. Speeding is only one of usually several factors in only 7.6% of KSI accidents, and another point not overstated is that cameras have an almost insignificant coverage of about 1% of road space. So the maximum possible overall reduction of all accidents even if cameras eliminated speeding entirely at their sites (which they don’t) is in the order of 0.076%, about a thousandth of that which many readers will think when they have seen these headlines.

And that’s before you even start to consider the negative effects. Speed cameras have contributed to a number of deaths and serious injuries http://www.dorsetspeed.org.uk/news/neg.aspx . And it’s also before you start to consider what we might be doing (even with far less money) if we were not falsely depending on speed cameras, such as tackling the astonishing 65% of KSI accidents that have simple driver error as a factor.

Anyone, particularly with influence over publicity / policy, who wilfully ignores simple facts like this indicating that cameras are certain to have a net negative effect on road safety, and carries on simply stating “cameras save lives” regardless, is demonstrating without any doubt whatsoever dishonesty, incompetence and serious misconduct, as explained above, resulting in higher counts of death and serious injury, therefore breaching their duty of care and breaking the law.

Recently at the top of the KMSCP website, there was a bold and impressive headline “Since the introduction of safety cameras in Kent & Medway, the number of people killed and seriously injured at camera sites has been reduced by 72%” Without the word “been” this would have been seriously misleading but not actually a lie, “been” implied that the reduction was due to KMSCP and its cameras.

Why on earth would a council / “safety” camera partnership want to mislead the public, councillors, and decision makers? Was it just a mistake? No, no one could be that stupid (although sometimes I’m not completely sure about this). It can only be DELIBERATE DECEPTION, and as I will later demonstrate, this serious and deliberate deception was FIERCLY DEFENDED by senior members of KMSCP and Kent Council – even though they were completely unable to provide any substance whatsoever to this defence.

And why the deliberate deception? As I will also show, the most likely reason seems to be to maintain and protect jobs, egos and empires, maybe even salaries, and with total disregard for public safety. Many of the partnerships who did not resort to such behaviour, with reduced government funding of speed cameras, had to close, (and contrary to what they predicted, there was no corresponding increase in road casualties).  This does (like most articles investigating corruption in the speed camera industry) all fit together perfectly.

Here is a brief summary of the communications with Kent about this:

I found an article suggesting death and serious injury reductions by 2 Kent cameras of 86%, http://www.thisiskent.co.uk/Speed-cameras-saved-lives/story-16998065-detail/story.html, and at the end of the article “The partnership's communications officer, Katherine Barrett, said: ‘They save lives and prevent potentially life-changing injuries.’"

Here we see a perfect example of the absurd and massively misleading promotion of speed cameras, which hopefully, after the explanations above, will ring alarm bells with anyone.

I contacted Ms Barrett and made it totally clear that misleading readers about camera benefit like this was dishonest and dangerous. She made it totally clear they weren’t interested in doing anything about it. I explained again the dishonesty in what they were doing and the dangerous consequences. Ms Barrett did not put the situation right so the complaint escalated to Ms Penny, who ignored the issue. I then escalated the complaint to Mr Burr, although it was answered initially by Mr Tim Read (Head of Transportation at Kent County Council and Chair of the Kent and Medway Casualty Reduction Group). Mr Read also completely ignored the issue, although he did at least make some attempt to show some evidence from Prof Allsop of camera benefit - apparently incapable of recognising the many serious errors and logical flaws in that Report like so many others.

I responded to Mr Read, reiterating the original points and also proving the points listed from Prof Allsop to have no substance. The complaint escalated to Mr John Burr.

In the meantime, as KMSCP were refusing to do anything about the misleading information on their website, I had raised a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority about the bold claim at the top mentioned above.

At this point, but only after some “encouragement” from the ASA, KMSCP agreed to withdraw the misleading statement at the top of its website. But despite the fact that it must have now been aware that is was unacceptable to make such statements, it retained a news item “DEATHS AND SERIOUS INJURIES DOWN BY 72% AT FIXED CAMERA SITES”, as this was not within the remit of the ASA. Here we see a real indication of the determination to keep what it must now have known was dangerous misinformation live.

The response that then came from Mr Burr ONCE AGAIN completely dodged the issues of publishing misinformation and the dangers that would result from reliance on the WRONG road safety solutions. He also indicated belief that cameras could reduce injuries and deaths by up to 65% - 71%.

I replied: “As I have already pointed out and you have ignored, how is that remotely, wildly even possible when speeding is only a factor in 7.6% of KSI accidents and cameras only cover 1% of road space? THE MAXIMUM POSSIBLE OVERALL REDUCTION IF CAMERAS ELIMINATED SPEEDING TOTALLY WHICH THEY DON’T IS 0.076%”

His reply MADE NO ATTEMPT WHATSOEVER to deal with this totally impossible conflict, only vaguely saying that cameras save lives and he could not agree with me, but he could not say exactly what it was that he could not agree with or why!!

My reply explained that his deliberate avoidance of the facts, evidence and logic and refusal to answer simple questions was indicating that he had no belief in his position.

His response AGAIN ignored the questions and again just indicated that he believed cameras had reduced KSIs but without offering any evidence or logic to support this.

Trying to make some progress with this with Mr Burr was like trying to nail jelly to a wall. I explained that the failings were so serious, and he was trying so hard to ignore them, that the only solution would be to release an article. This was my last message:

Dear Mr Burr,

One other thought as I start to bring the pieces together for the article.

The corrupting influences in this are blinding. About 25,000 go on courses a year in Kent at £85 each – that’s more than £2 million. And as it costs so little to provide the course, the majority of this is clear profit.

The reason that Eric [Bridgstock], Idris [Francis] and I are able to so freely consider the facts, evidence, and to recognise and publish the true effectiveness of speed cameras and other approaches is that (apart from being accomplished real world engineers with safety responsibility) we don’t receive a penny from anyone. This is why you see so much detail, evidence, explanation, and common sense from us.

How on earth can a “partnership” receiving £2 million from speed cameras possibly be expected to present an impartial case for their effectiveness at road safety? This is why we see the kind of fiercely protected nonsense we have seen on the KMSCP website and total refusal from you or other KMSCP staff to present any kind of evidence or even answer simple questions. As we have experienced so many times before, officials when faced with the reality simply put their head in the sand. Is it possible that you are so surrounded by those whose jobs and empires depend on the money from cameras that you really are confused by this rather than part of the corruption? Perhaps. This is why you MUST START CONSIDERING AND ANSWERING THE FACTS, QUESTIONS AND EVIDENCE. 

It is totally clear that Kent is hosting an out of control monster concerned only with its own future, surviving only by its pretence of interest in road safety about which it won’t comment if questioned. How on earth is this good for road safety?

Mr Burr, can you see that you simply have no credibility whatsoever while you keep saying “we are saving lives with speed cameras” but you refuse to answer questions or present any independent evidence?

I’m giving you every possible opportunity to recognise your mistakes and put them right.

No further response came from Mr Burr, but a slightly strange message came later from Mr Austerberry, stating that the council would not respond further on this.

Here we see a classic case of incompetence, dishonesty, and cover up, all the way from the KMSCP spokesperson to the Director of Highways and Transportation Mr John Burr, and above, to the Corporate Director, Mike Austerberry, a pattern of behaviour which is coming completely familiar as more and more of these ghastly organisations are investigated.

Let’s look at Mr Burr’s Job description. It includes “Ensure that relevant and best professional advice, guidance and information is available in an intelligible and timely fashion to the Cabinet, Scrutiny, all elected Members, as well as to other stakeholders.”

Best professional advice like “speed cameras reduce KSI accidents by up to 70%?”

But it gets worse. Let’s have a look at Mike Austerberry’s job description. It includes “Sustain and improve the overall reputation of the Council and act in the best interests of Kent through effective representation locally, regionally and/or nationally.”

Is the reputation of the council enhanced by demonstrating incompetence, deceit and cover-up?

Worse still, the “Corporate Director of Business Strategy and support”, David Cockburn, has been made fully aware of this situation, and has ignored it entirely.

So these 3 people (not to mention the rest of them) have demonstrated a spectacular failure of competence and integrity that would be totally unacceptable at any level in any profession. But there is absolutely no place for this at all in anything relating to safety, life and death.

Worse still again, as I was looking at these job descriptions on the Kent Council website, I could not avoid noticing that the salaries of these 3 senior councillors amounts to an eye-watering £447,000, 2 of them earning more than the Prime Minister!!

So in summary, it seems that what we have here is at least 3 senior councillors on sky-high salaries vigorously trying to protect activities bringing in at least £2 million and flatly refusing to discuss the actual benefit of these activities, any of the facts and evidence or even to answer questions that I’m quite sure my children could have at the age of 8. No one could suggest that this is a good basis for competent, honest and effective road safety work, indeed, it is very difficult not to suspect far more selfish motivations.

Only when we have honest and accurate information and open communication with “safety partnerships” and councils, the financial arrangements separated from the enforcement decision making, credible and clear road safety policies and less greed, will the public start to regain trust and confidence in the authorities, and we will see the true reductions in casualties that are achievable.