Road rage? Necklace a speed camera!

Published Feb 18, 2004


London - Angry English motorists are taking out their frustrations on speed cameras, even recording their destruction of the hated "gatsometres" for subsequent broadcast on the Internet.

The crowded roads of England regularly reduce traffic to a crawl, particularly in the south of the country. Little wonder that motorists react in fury, when on the few occasions they find themselves on an open road, cameras are monitoring their every infringement of the speed limit.

Vandals have burnt, pushed over, sawn down and even shot at most of the speed cameras that line the A37 through the rolling hills of Somerset in south-western England.

Recently one was blown up at a crossroads near the village of Emborough. Astonished police officers arriving at the scene cordoned off the area and called in the bomb squad.

More typically the cameras are necklaced with an old car tyre filled with petrol placed around them and set alight.

Motorists complain the authorities are using the cameras simply as a tax-gathering device, even though they are supposed to be erected only at accident hotspots. And the Emborough camera appears to bear this out.

"No one thinks the camera is necessary. There hasn't been an accident there for 25 years," Bill Filer, 67, landlord of the town's 17th century Old Down Inn, said.

Some parts of the dual carriageway have speed limits of 80km/h, and many motorists believe this is too low on a dead-straight road - parts of the A37 lie along a Roman road.

They believe the cameras have been carefully placed with a view to maximising returns from fines, not to minimising road accidents. And they are taking revenge.

More than 400 speed cameras have been destroyed over the past two years, and attacks are on the rise, police say. The vandals are well organised and operate in groups, co-ordinating their activities over the Internet.

A London group called Motorists Against Detection (Mad) focuses its activities on the London ring roads, hitting 30 cameras on the North Circular in August 2002 alone.

"We are not criminals, just drivers going about our daily business," says their manifesto, written by "Captain Gatso", claiming ordinary motorists are being criminalised.

Police are not amused. Gatsometres cost around £50 000 (about R600 000). But setting up closed circuit television to keep a check on them is pointless. The vandals simply necklace the CCTV cameras as well.

One police area - Durham - regards cameras as counterproductive in the campaign for greater road safety and does not employ them, but they have proliferated throughout the rest of England.

Those running the website showing gleeful pictures of wrecked cameras insist they are innocent, merely taking the pictures themselves after the event or receiving the pictures sent to them anonymously - presumably by the vandals themselves.

James Bancroft, 26, a gatsometre victim who runs one of the largest websites, has a picture of a camera still burning that was clearly taken by the perpetrator. - Sapa-dpa

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