Cycling UK has complained to The Sunday Times over a column published in the latest edition of the newspaper in which Rod Liddle said it was “tempting” to stretch piano wire at neck height across roads used by cyclists – the article published on a weekend in which a bike rider in Wales was hospitalised after he rode into exactly that type of booby-trap on his mountain bike, leading the charity to point out that “Words have consequences.”
In the letter of complaint, the charity’s head of campaigns, Duncan Dollimore, said that the article was “inflammatory, in seriously poor taste, and implies that a seriously dangerous and criminal act is somehow an acceptable course of conduct.”
Liddle wrote in his column that it was “strictly speaking against the law to tie piano wire at neck height across the road. Oh, but it’s tempting.”
Dollimore wrote: “The reference to this being ‘strictly speaking; an offence minimises both the gravity of the offence and the severity of the potential consequences. This is not only a specific offence under section 162 of the Highways Act 1980, but potentially attempted grievous bodily harm with intent.”
He also made reference to an incident that road.cc highlighted on Sunday that is being investigated by police and in which a cyclist in West Yorkshire was injured due to wire was having been placed across a trail.
It is not the first time that the national cycling charity has lodged a complaint to the newspaper about Liddle, a former editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
In 2016, it complained about a column in which Liddle seemed to applaud former transport secretary Chris Grayling, who had doored a cyclist as he got out of his ministerial car outside Parliament.
The newspaper claimed that Liddle had written that column had been written with “heavy irony” – but the news today that a cyclist from Cardiff needed to attend A&E this weekend to have stitches inserted in a wound caused when he rode into a trap constructed through branches and wire casts a much more sinister light on the journalist’s comments.
Referring to that previous complaint in the light of Liddle’s latest column, Dollimore said: “It would be inappropriate to defend or justify Mr Liddle’s words with the easy excuse that they were not intended to be taken seriously, or that irony or sarcasm were being employed.
“Providing Mr Liddle with a platform to comment on people’s foibles comes with certain responsibilities which I would hope that the Sunday Times is willing to accept.
“One of those is to avoid inflammatory language which may encourage someone else, with all of their foibles, to commit a criminal offence.
“Not for the first time, Mr Liddle has referred to everyone who cycles as a collective group, who he defines by what they wear, their chosen mode of transport and his perception of their social class.
“His criticism and disdain is followed by an example of criminal behaviour which could harm anyone in that collective group, which he minimises and tacitly approves by stating that his wife has persuaded him that, strictly speaking, is against the law, but he is tempted to do it anyway.
In conclusion, he asked whether the newspaper’s editor was “comfortable supporting” the article.
In relation to the news of the injured cyclist in Cardiff, Dollimore underlined that “words have consequences.”
He told road.cc: “Many people reading the Wales Online article will wonder why anyone would want to stretch wire at head height across a path or trail.
“Perhaps the culprit thought it was a funny, amusing or a clever thing to do, which sounds utterly ridiculous until you stop and reflect that over the same weekend a columnist for a national broadsheet newspaper, the Sunday Times, wrote about his disdain for people who cycled and how tempting it was to tie piano wire across the road.
“Words have consequences, and the Sunday Times should be ashamed of what Rod Liddle wrote and it published on Sunday, because joking about a criminal act that endangers life can make that behaviour appear more acceptable to those more easily led.”
Liddle’s column echoes one written in The Times in 2007 by former MP Matthew Parris, who wrote: “A festive custom we could do worse than foster would be stringing piano wire across country lanes to decapitate cyclists.”
Published under the headline, ‘What’s smug and deserves to be decapitated?’, Parris insisted in response to complaints about the column that it “was meant humorously but so many cyclists have taken it seriously that I plainly misjudged. I am sorry.”
You can find the full text of Cycling UK’s letter here.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.