Motorcyclists and the police
Stop & search | The rule of law | Police powers | Illegal | Arrest | Charged | Bikers
▲ Jack Warner as Dixon of Dock Green. PR-wise, the British police never had it so good. PC George Dixon starred in every episode of this British TV series from 1955 - 1976. He was fair, decent, honest, trustworthy, shrewd and very "human". However, this was fiction, and the reality of modern policing is very different...
Pages in this feature
Motorcyclists and the police
Stopped by the police
Arrested by the police
Sections in this feature
The police are not our friends
Giving the police a false name and address
Can I refuse to stop on demand?
Can the police seize my bike?
So what is the UK maximum speeding fine?
The rule of law
Recordable and non-recordable offences
What about bail?
Do I have the right to see a solicitor?
Stop and search
What happens to my DNA sample?
Remember that the "legal information" given in this feature is neither professional nor expert. Additionally, much of what follows is mere opinion.
However, we've done the best we reasonably can to ensure that everything we've published is accurate, relevant and up-to-date. Nevertheless, we strongly suggest that you use this feature only as a starting point for whatever enquiries you need to make, and then look elsewhere for confirmation.
Experts are apt to make errors.
THE POLICE ARE NOT OUR FRIENDS. That might strike some folk as one hell of a cynical opening statement for this feature. But we think the facts bear out our assertion, and we stand by it.
The police are NOT our friends. Not as motorcyclists nor as ordinary citizens. And if you continue reading you'll discover our argument.
Supposedly, the first role of the cops is to protect the general public. That's what the various government PR people tell us, and that's the line usually trotted out by the Association of Chief Police Officers et al.
To serve the public.
...and in the sub-text, there's also a mandate to maintain law and order. But the fact is, the first job of the police is to protect the state—and that means the government. So when push comes to shove, as if often does, the cops will bend first to the will of the authorities and do exactly as instructed. And they'll do it with pride, misplaced or otherwise.
But don't take our word for it. Ask the miners. Ask any number of political demonstration groups. Ask any retired cops. Ask any number of people currently languishing in British prisons desperately hoping for a re-trial, an appeal, or some other opportunity of showing how the state has totally failed them. And sadly that's often due to the misconduct, the incompetence and occasionally the vindictiveness of the police.
The state ALWAYS comes first. The public ALWAYS comes second. And woe betide anyone who tries to challenge that fact on the street.
▲ Charles Penrose recorded this song as Charles Jolly back in 1922. But we have no idea what the police have ever had to laugh about. It strikes us as a lousy job, but someone's got to do it. Dealing with the underside of the general public. Getting attacked and spat at. Not particularly great wages. Poor working hours. Falling support. Etc. Etc. But for all the music hall mirth and comedy skits about cheery cops, smart bikers would do well to remember that the friendly copper stereotype also has an underside that bears watching.
Cynicism strikes again...
But we'd take that cynicism a step further. We also suggest that the cops don't even like the public, not as a social group or as a collective body. Instead, the police like only the notional public; i.e. the public as an ideal presence or entity. In other words, the police like only the conception of working for and protecting the law abiding citizen as the law is applied and regulated at any given moment.
So, when the streets are peaceful and Joe Public is going about his business as governed by social norms and lawful requirements, the police are content to smile and nod and play the nice cop routine.
But the moment they have cause or excuse to question the activities or behaviour of anyone, things change. Smiles turn to suspicious grimaces. Good natured-ness turns to mistrust and scepticism. And Joe Public rapidly morphs into Joe Suspect.
Then you've got problems.
So at Sump we're anti-police?
Not at all. We're convinced that it's better to have cops than not have cops, and we recognise that many, if not most cops do a pretty wonderful job—until they turn the spotlight on an individual or suspect group. Sometimes that shift of perspective is very subtle. And sometimes it's in-yer-face. But it's always present; the switch between passive tolerance and active control, and we ignore that fact at our peril.
To reiterate, most of us have had direct experience of great policing. However, some of us have also had direct experience of some truly lousy policing.
In the mainstream media we've witnessed innumerable examples of where that lousiness has systematically targeted the wrong person (often resulting in years of persecution and/or imprisonment), We've seen how the British police have killed—nay, executed in one or two cases—the wrong person on British streets. We've seen how suspects (often the "usual suspects") have been stitched up at all levels. We've all seen how "obvious" opportunities have been missed leading directly to convicted perpetrators committing repeat offences, also often resulting in death.
What follows on these pages is a collection of notes, stories, articles, and warnings about how to handle the police as and when they start to handle us. Naturally, we're going to upset a lot of people. That's unavoidable. Regardless of how we frame these pages and couch our language, some folk will no doubt maintain their more orthodox views on British policing and misunderstand and/or disagree with our views. But we'll say it again anyway; we're NOT anti-police, per se. But we have good cause to be every bit as suspicious of the cops as they frequently are of us.
In fact, we have more reason to be suspicious because the cops have the power and the control. In the final analysis, we're all just little people.
Keep that in mind. Then check the links elsewhere on this page detailing what to do when the cops rightly or wrongly target you.
Some people deserve what they get
Well that might be true according to the gods of absolute morality and religious fundamentalists. Some people are trash—albeit possibly with a lifetime of mitigation. But it's not the place of the cops to make that distinction. Under the law, everyone should get fair treatment. And we collectively abandon that principle at our peril.
The thing is, we're also faced with an awkward fact of life. Plenty of people are drawn to the police force not because they want to dedicate their lives to serving the public, notional or otherwise. Some people simply want control over others, and like many of us they have a pretty powerful, albeit latent hunting instinct.
And when these characters pop up in the police force, we've got a dangerous situation. Such people actively or passively look for opportunities to exercise their latent desires.
We have no idea what percentage of the police force at any given time harbour and/or indulge these instincts. But we're smart enough to know that you can't take any police officer for granted.
And beyond that unknown percentage of cops who actually want to bash a few heads and stamp on whoever doesn't fit their notion of an ideal member of the community, there are plenty of other cops who are just plain stupid.
But we have to say again. Some police officers are decent people doing the best job they can, often with depleting resources and a woeful command structure. However, their first role is to serve the state and suppress any behaviours or attitudes that they feel might upset the status quo.
Keep that in mind.
The rule of law
It's the foundation stone of the British justice system, and it's widely misunderstood by most people.
Put simply, the rule of law means that you can legally do whatever the hell you want to do in this country (the UK) as long as it's not explicitly against the law.
If you've been born and raised in the United Kingdom, that's something you pretty much take for granted; so much so that it sounds daft when you say it.
Do what you like, as long as it's not illegal.
Well, plenty of countries still don't have the rule of law. Or, at best, only loosely follow this fundamental principle.
What might surprise some folk is the fact that the UK, depending on who you ask, isn't the country generally thought to most stridently and rigorously apply this rule.
Instead, countries such as Finland, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, The Netherlands and Canada are said to be ahead of us.
So okay, there might not be all that much between the top rankers. Or very much between the worst. And the index is in a state of flux. Nevertheless, the UK is pretty well poised worldwide to boast adherence to the rule law despite the fact that we're not at the top of the league.
Fundamentally, the rule of law as referenced in the UK, dates back to Magna Carta (image top of this column). It means that the state/king cannot arbitrarily decide what you can and cannot do. The state can't simply say; I don't like what you're up to over there, so pack it in.
Not in theory, anyway.
First, the state/government has to pass legislation making an activity illegal, and that legislation has to pass through the House of Commons and the House of Lords. And with any luck, there will be sufficient sound minds and good hearts ready to slap down would-be laws and powers that it feels are unfair, corrupt, or unworkable.
But let's not count on it.
Meanwhile, the statutes and regulations of the state are enforced internally by the police, and they have a well-recognised habit of picking away at the rule of law when it suits their needs, bigotries and predispositions.
In practical terms, if the police stop you at the roadside, whatever they tell or ask you to do must be backed by common law (formed by decades of legal process in the courts) or statute (written laws created by Parliament).
But the reality is often a lot different to the underlying principles.
Stop & Search
These controversial powers have understandably driven a wedge between the police and numerous racial/social communities in the UK.
Some would argue that there shouldn't in any case be different communities in the British Isles, and that there ought to be one inclusive community.
Regardless, we are where we are, and Stop & Search is, according to the cops, a vital tool in their policing arsenal.
Put simply, if the rozzers have reasonable suspicion to suspect that you're armed, or carrying drugs or some other illegal substance or object, they can stop you on sight in the street and turn out your pockets.
Refuse and you can be arrested and taken to the nick where you'll probably be searched, then photographed, fingerprinted and DNAed.
And remember, the police must have a "good reason" to turn out your pockets, which still gives the cops plenty of latitude.
He was looking intently and suspiciously at a line of parked motorcycles.
He appeared to be hiding something behind his back as we approached.
He was carrying a large and offensive looking lock and chain.
He was wearing a T-shirt with a prominent cannabis leaf printed on it and was smoking.
The reasons for stopping you might not stand up to too much scrutiny. But out there on the street, you have to deal with it as it's coming at you.
These powers fall under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
Adherents of Stop & Search (which broadly speaking includes pretty much every police officer in the UK) will tell us that this has done much to keep the streets safer and take all kinds of miscreants and other ne'er-do-wells out of public circulation.
Others, meanwhile, will tell you that Stop & Search has done little or nothing to prevent or reduce crime. Instead, goes the argument, it's a highly divisive policy and strategy inasmuch as it unfairly targets minority racial groups.
Either way, the cops can stop and search you at any time if they "reasonably" suspect you of some crime. And naturally it applies as much to bikers as anyone else.
Additionally, under certain circumstances and in certain locations/instances, the cops can stop anyone without reasonable suspicion of a specific offence.
This might happen when a protest demonstration is planned or underway, or when a carnival or suchlike is taking place.
Broadly speaking, when calling on these powers there ought to also be a suspicion that violence and serious public disorder might happen/erupt. But the Stop & Search powers are open to much interpretation, and chief constables have differing views on exactly how those powers should be applied.
As a biker, you can't do much about it except comply with the law and do what the cops tell you to do when stopped, and avoid talking to them (see elsewhere our section about talking to the cops).
However, as the average age of a British biker has risen to somewhere around 55, the police find less and less reason to stop us.
Small mercy, and one of the few benefits of piling on the years.