Thursday, May 03, 2007

Column, May 1, 2007

I FEEL very sorry for Mark Gibney.
He died an horrific death when his motorbike crashed into a car and no-one deserves a fate like that, whatever contribution they made to it.
I feel even more for his family, who have been left to grieve for him. The awful thing is that death is so common on our roads that the true loss of a person is never told, they become yet another statistic to most people, whereas their loved ones are left to mourn their loss.
But in the clamour to criticise Richard Brunstrom after he showed an invited audience pictures including those of Mr Gibney’s body, one group of victims seem to have been forgotten.
When Mr Gibney hit a car so fast he was decapitated by the impact, his headless torso was left embedded in the wreckage of the car, trapping a young family inside for 90 minutes.
Of all the people I have sympathy for in this awful event, it is them. They weren’t going too fast and yet they have to live with the memory of what happened to them that day. It is not something that will be easy to forget.
I understand completely the decision by Mr Gibney’s father to try to shield the family from the true nature of his son’s injuries. But in my opinion too much shielding goes on, and we, the press play our part in that too.
We have a family audience and we know that were we to tell the full story of what happens in these accidents the phone would be ringing off the hook with complaints.
So we talk about ‘serious head injuries’ and ‘multiple injuries’, ‘spinal injuries’ and so on, repeating the intentionally bland information given to us by emergency services who are also trying to protect the victims and their families from the gruesome truth.
And they are the other people I feel sorry for – the police officers, ambulance crews and firefighters who get called to deal with these accidents. Sure they’ve got training and counselling available and experience must numb them to the dreadful scenes they witness, but I’m not sure I would ever forget some of the things they have to witness.
Mr Brunstrom decided to show these pictures, not as some sort of shock tactic for the general public, but to inform journalists and others of the truth behind the Arrive Alive campaign. To show them the real nature of the events the campaign is trying to prevent.
Predictably, certain sections of the London-based tabloid press decided to ignore entirely the point he was making and go off on their usual ‘Traffic Taliban’ rants wheeling out Paul Smith of Safespeed to yak on about what an outrage this was.
Remember this – Paul Smith and his cohorts have never had to go around to someone’s house to knock on their door to tell them their son is dead.
The event by North Wales Police marked the United Nations Global Road Safety Week, in which it was revealed that road accidents are now the main cause of death worldwide of people aged between 10 and 24.
Deaths on the road in the UK claim 3,200 lives a year. That figure is dropping, but not fast enough.
That’s the equivalent of eight fully-laden jumbo jets dropping out of the sky every year. If that were to happen, do you think we would continue flying? Do you think there wouldn’t be public inquiries and calls for ministerial resignations for running an aviation system so dangerous?
And yet that is what happens on our roads, day-in, day-out. And that’s just the figure for deaths, on top of that you have just under 30,000 seriously injured. That is real carnage, rail crashes that grab headlines like the recent Virgin train crash pale into insignificance compared to what happens on the roads.
And yet when police officers like Mr Brunstrom and his Arrive Alive team confront us with the truth of what happens we hold our hands up in horror.
If one biker backs of the throttle just a fraction this weekend as a result of learning what really happened to Mark Gibney, and it is the biker who arrives home instead of a police officer bearing his family the worst of news, then for all the indignation, bluster and calls for his sacking, what Richard Brunstrom did will have been worthwhile.

OF course Prince Harry should go to Iraq. You don’t join the army unless you accept the risk of active service and he knew exactly what he was doing when he signed up.
His granddad and his uncle both served their country in times of war and there is absolutely no good reason why he shouldn’t.
Of course, were he to be killed it would be a tragedy, but no more so than for the families of the 112 service personnel who have died fighting there since the conflict began.
Much is being made by Royal correspondents getting an attack of the vapours about the fact he’s third in line to the throne, but surely the whole point is that there’s a line – in other words, should the worst happen, someone else moves up a notch.
The various lunatic militias tearing Iraq apart have made their threats, but I would just point out that he does sit in a tank and that he and his comrades in arms will be allowed to shoot back.
If members of the Royal family are not to be allowed to serve on active duty then they should not be allowed to join the armed forces. If they aren’t allowed to go where the action is then they become rather pointless figureheads, a role I would have thought the monarchy were keen to avoid.

THE merchants of doom opposed to holiday homes in North Wales often refer darkly to the fate suffered by the Lake District, where so many homes are taken by holidaymakers.
I’ve recently returned from a holiday on the shores of Lake Coniston and far from it being some resort bereft of locals, it was in fact bustling even in April, and there were plenty of lakelanders there making a packet from tourists like me.
This summer I’ll be holidaying on Llyn, in, say it quietly, a holiday home, and I’ll report back on the comparison between the two places.

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