If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Monday, 7 November 2011

RoSPA response

I posted recently about the horrific M5 crash, in which I criticised RoSPA for a bit of apparent shroud-waving in the aftermath of the events. It seems that RoSPA have been trawling the blogosphere for criticism of their stance (now why would they do that?) and are doing a bit of damage-limitation. Today, I received an email from Jo Bullock, their Head of Press and Campaigns, which gives the background to the interview I saw. It is certainly an eye-opener, and I am happy to publish it here in full. It seems as if the agenda was the BBC's, not RoSPA's (no surprises there), and that the interview that I saw was a highly-edited extract of a much bigger corpus of material. Here's what she wrote:
Hi Going Fast, Getting Nowhere

Further to some of the points made on your blog, I wanted to fill you in on the background to media coverage related to the horrific accident on Friday.

The pre-recorded clip shown by the BBC was only a very small part of what I discussed with BBC journalists throughout the day on Saturday and also with other journalists across the weekend.

At RoSPA, we did not proactively share our views on the 80mph limit, or, indeed, any aspect of the awful tragedy on the M5 - we only responded to direct enquiries from the media, and we, like other road safety/motoring organisations had many enquiries. The 80mph speed limit proposal, and also the issue of potential distraction, were the two most common lines of questioning from both broadcast and print journalists, and this is continuing today. I’m sure you will have seen comments from other organisations on these issues too.

Before recording the BBC TV piece in question and also during some of the recorded answers I gave to questions, I spoke at some length with the journalists about how I was in no way happy or able to link the M5 tragedy directly to the proposal to increase the motorway speed limit to 80mph. I actually told the journalist who recorded the piece that RoSPA would in no way seek to gain “political mileage” in such a way, not just because of the massive insensitivity of doing that but because it was also far too early in the investigation to even begin to speculate about the contributory factors to the crash.

The BBC, however, was doing a backgrounder piece on general motorway safety to accompany its breaking news coverage about the accident and this was the package they wanted RoSPA to be part of, not the breaking news to talk about the actual accident. As well as talking about motorways being the safest roads in the UK, supported by the national road casualty figures they shared, the journalist felt it important to mention the current big issue that people were talking about with regards to motorway safety - the proposal to raise the limit to 80mph. That’s why she asked me directly about this issue. In my answer, I was very clear to stress that RoSPA’s view on the proposal was one that we had held before the accident and that it was in no way prompted by the crash. Also, in no way did I urge the Government to reconsider its 80mph proposal “in light of the accident” - as has been suggested in a couple of places. I’m not sure if other organisations have done that or not, but that line has certainly not come from RoSPA.

It’s important that people talk about whether the motorway limit should be increased, and blogs are a great place to do this (I’m sure there’ll be a lot more discussion when the Government issues its consultation), but I am sorry if on this occasion people thought RoSPA was seeking to gain something in the aftermath of a horrific crash.

Best wishes


Jo Bullock
Head of press and campaigns
Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents

Tel: 0121 248 2134
Out-of-hours media enquiries: 07785 540349
Fax: 0121 248 2001

For what it's worth, I have always had the highest respect for RoSPA. Their system of advanced motorcycle testing, leading to the coveted RoSPA Gold, is way ahead of anything else in the UK as far as road riding goes, and I was very disappointed to see their approach in the BBC interview. Having read Jo's explanation, I have had my faith somewhat restored. I have emphasised certain bits above to illustrate what I mean. The formatting of her email (removed in version above) suggests that the message was pre-written and then individualised and sent to a lot of people. I suspect they got a lot of flak that they weren't expecting over this.

BBC promoting an anti-car, anti-speed agenda? Who'd-a thunk it?


  1. Stunning naivety IMHO.

    The Interview given by Edmund King on Channel 4 news came over much better, but I guess that he has more experience in handling the media from his RAC Foundation days.

    I too have every respect for the ROSPA advanced motorcycle training as I do with the IAM too.

  2. Given up with the BBC news , If you want better and more varied coverage go to Sky News or indeed Al Jazeera..

  3. This episode just shows the power of Blogs in general, and GFGN in particular.

    All praise to RoSPA for their personalised response to you; and, to GFGN for giving them the oxygen of publicity.

  4. Presumably if the BBC greatly misrepresented the views expressed by ROSPA then some suitable complaints to the PCC and BBC trust are in order, followed by a letter from m'learned friends?

    Any winnings payable to the families of those killed and injured.

  5. Nikos - naive, agreed, but the repsponse goes a long way to explaining the issues.

    Anon - I read the BBC news a lot (after all, I have paid for it) but the great thing about the wb is the way you can get your news from a variety of sources and balance out the inevitable bias. Al Jazeera is, as you say, surprisingly good.

    Joe - too kind, thank you! If you go and have a look at Longrider, you will see that Jo's response was not individual to me, but a generic response. Probably the only way to do it, to be fair.

    John - I await developments with interest, but I am afraid that Nikos has it right: RoSPA were naive, and will know better next time, but it's not a case for the courts. It's journalism with an agenda, what we pay the BBC to do.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Indeed it has been circulated - I've just read virtually the same piece over at Longriders blog.

  8. And Matt Wardman at Anna Raccoon ...

    Seems as if they have spread the damage limitation wide, which suggests the perceived damage was widespread too.


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