ORGANISERS of a charity bike ride due to be held in Bonchester Bridge tomorrow have cancelled it at the last minute after receiving what has been described as a “threatening” letter from the police.
The decision to stop the sponsored cycle, intended to raise money for the village’s William Laidlaw Hall, was relunctanctly taken by the committee this week after being advised that it was police policy not to support such events in the interest of road safety - and if anything went wrong the organisers would have to take liability.
This is despite the bike run being held successfully on the same quiet roads last year, with warning signs in place, and the committee only choosing to inform the police to be polite.
Furious chairman of the William Laidlaw Hall, Clifford Griffiths, told the Hawick News: “The committee were, like me, outraged by the police letter. I was flabbergasted when I opened it. It is quite gauling because we held the event last year with no objections, and I only contacted the police as a matter of courtesy. They were not asked to assist in the event.
Penned by roads Inspector Colin Shillito, the letter highlights that it is now Lothian and Borders Police policy to discourage such sporting and sponsored events on public roads owing to an increase in their number, and the volume of traffic.
It reads: “I must urge you to carefully consider whether or not to go ahead with your proposed event. I must point out that the police have no power to prohibit the staging of your event, but should an accident occur, the advice to you regarding my concern for public safety will be made known to any subsequent enquiry or legal proceedings.”
And it ends: “Should you go ahead with the event, I hope you have a successful day and that the weather is kind to you.”
But Mr Griffiths said they felt that that was no longer an option, stating: “The committee felt the wording was quite threatening and that we had no alternative but to cancel, because although it is not a high risk activity, if anything did go wrong, that letter could have been thrown back at us.”
Mr Griffiths says their decision will not only cause great disappointment to the community, but has resulted in financial loss.
Having been contacted by Mr Griffiths, local MSP John Lamont has also questioned the tone of the letter, commenting: “I understand the police have to make organisers aware of their responsibilities, but it seems that the way they dealt with this event was heavy handed. Their letter to the organisers, received less than two weeks before the planned event, came across as threatening and has resulted in them feeling they have no option but to cancel.”
And alluding to wider implications for similar events, added: “One of the good things about our area is that there are such a variety of local community events like this organised by local volunteers.
“If volunteers are threatened into not holding events, as seems to have happened in this case, then I am worried people will be less likely to make the effort to run events such as this to raise money for charity.”
Inspector Paula Clark commented: “The committee has taken the decision to cancel this event believing that it has not been allowed to take place. Whenever such events are being held on our roads, there is always an element of risk in relation to public safety. These risks need to be carefully considered and measures taken to either eliminate them completely or reduce them. Following guidance from the Association Chief Police Officers Scotland (ACPOS) in 2000, a standard letter has been developed and is sent out to any organiser planning such an event, in order to promote public safety.”