POLICE chiefs have been accused by an MSP of “threatening” organisers of a Bonchester Bridge charity bike ride.
The committee behind the fundraiser said they were forced to cancel the event after receiving a letter from Lothian and Borders Police which discouraged sporting and sponsored events on public roads.
This is despite the force publicising its assistant chief constable Bill Skelly taking part in a charity cycle from London to Edinburgh last month.
One of the organisers, Clifford Griffiths, said: “Our current insurers told us that they would not be happy to insure us because of the police letter, so it is difficult to see how we can go ahead next year unless the police change the wording of the letter.”
Mr Griffiths said a similar event was successfully held in Bonchester Bridge last year without any objection from police.
But just weeks before the ride – to raise cash for the William Laidlaw Hall – was to take place on Saturday, August 13, a letter was received by Mr Griffiths from Inspector Colin Shillito.
He said police were unable to assist the event “in any way”.
It continued: “In recent years there has been an enormous increase in the number of sporting and sponsored events being held on public roads and Lothian and Borders Police follow the policy of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, indeed that of chief constables throughout the United Kingdom, to discourage the staging of such events on such roads.
“In the circumstances, and in the interests of road safety, 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.”
Mr Griffiths said he was concerned at how little time there was between receipt of the letter and planned date of the event, and claimed Inspector Shillito had not consulted the committee regarding the number of cyclists or route.
He told us: “The head of touring at national campaigning group the Cyclists Touring Club, Andrew Hawes, says that he has not come across a letter similar to this from any other police force in the UK.
“We think that a letter of this nature constitutes a considerable threat to local community activity and the police’s high-handed approach should be challenged.
“The police claim that this is a standard letter designed to warn organisers of their responsibilities. If this is the case then the letter needs to be rewritten so that it says that rather than threatening organisers.”
John Lamont, MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, said he has contacted the police to see if a more “encouraging” approach can be taken.
He told us: “I understand that 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 the event.
“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 that people will be less likely to make the effort to run events such as this to raise money for charity.”
A spokesman for Lothian and Borders Police said: “Whenever such events are being held on our roads, the police have a responsibility to inform and highlight to organisers the element of risk in relation to public safety and the need for these risks to be carefully considered and, where necessary, measures taken to either eliminate them completely or reduce them.
“Following guidance from the Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland in 2000, a standard letter has been developed, which is then sent out to all organisers planning such an event, in order to promote public safety.
“The event organisers were contacted by police early last week in order to discuss any misunderstanding from the original letter, however, despite this, the committee took the decision to cancel this event.”