How some Pomgolians deal with the Talivan in good old Pomgolia
UK saboteurs target speed cameras
BLACK KNIGHTS: A secretive group is dedicated to ripping down, blowing up and even shooting apart the tools that are supposed to help keep roads safe
Monday, Sep 08, 2003,Page 7
They are the black knights of the road; balaclava-wearing highway hitmen out to burn, bomb, decapitate and dismember. But drivers need not fear, for it is speed cameras that this growing band of rebels are after.
Up and down the UK, the tools used to keep roads safe are being ripped down, blown up and even shot apart as part of a campaign orchestrated by a gang of Web-surfing outlaws. They threaten to become the most popular gang of criminals since Robin Hood and his Merry Men stalked the countryside.
More than 700 cameras across the nation have already been taken out and insiders warn that operations are about to be stepped up.
Communicating through internet chat rooms, the activists move under cover of darkness, targeting devices they claim have taken a particularly heavy toll on drivers' licences and wallets.
From the south coast of England to the Highlands of Scotland no camera is safe. Known as Gatsometers, or Gatsos, they are being destroyed at a rate that has alarmed police forces. Particularly destructive cells are known to be operating in north London, Essex and Wales -- where they rage against machines deployed by the renowned anti-speeding police chief Richard Brunstrom.
Last week Brunstrom, who is also head of the technology committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers, raised the possibility of introducing impairment meters to test the reaction times of elderly motorists, but the violent backlash against his camera crusade is growing.
With each unit costing ?24,000 (US$38,000) to replace, a huge bill is being run up. But the rebels are unrepentant, claiming the cost is more than met by speeding drivers' fines. Speed cameras, they argue, are not about keeping roads safe, but about raising revenue. Often the charred remains of their victims are adorned with stickers or graffiti that declare cameras to be stealth tax inspectors.
Recent months have seen new operations in Norfolk and central Scotland. A representative of the shadowy Motorists Against Detection (MAD) has claimed responsibility and said hundreds of members were ready to risk thousands of pounds in fines and up to six months in jail.
The secretive figure who would give his name only as Captain Gatso warned that the campaign was being stepped up.
"We are moving into a new phase which will see increased operations across the country. This is a struggle against an unjust form of taxation. The cameras have nothing to do with road safety and everything to do with raising revenue," he said.
"Our operatives are responsible people. Many are professionals with families who lead normal lives. Yet they feel aggrieved and will not just sit back and accept this. Direct action is our only form of defense. These cameras are there to make money."
Welsh IT con******t John Lockett runs a Web site used by speed camera saboteurs. He denied encouraging attacks and said direct action was "perhaps going a bit far," but he echoed Captain Gatso's anger.
"You shouldn't be caught for speeding if you have got to overtake a bus, let through an ambulance or swerve to avoid a kid. I think it's wrong. To place a trap behind a tree, on a very fast corner or down a hill is unfair."
Web sites such as Lockett's allow users to alert each other to new cameras and attacks that have eliminated existing ones. They promote radar speed trap detectors and warn of the menace of what they call the Talivan -- mobile police speed detection units.
Even the camera widely touted as Britain's most successful has been unable to escape their wrath. On the southbound carriageway of the M11 at Woodford, Essex, tyre tacks were found leading away from the toppled device which had been nabbing 2,000 motorists a day. Police believe a lorry driver deliberately reversed into it.
An Essex police officer said: "Perhaps if the person who did this could see some of the effects of speeding that we see, they would think differently about what they have done."
Northamptonshire police offered a ?2,000 (US$3,165) reward for help in finding people who used a bomb to take out a Gatso on the A605 at Thrapston. The blast sent shards of metal flying more than 15m.
A counter-attack against the saboteurs is being launched by Susan Beck of the All Safety Camera Partnership, a publicly funded body that works with the police to decide where Gatsos should be placed.
"Cameras reduce death and injuries on the road. These units are designed to slow drivers down at casualty hotspots," she said.
The Department for Transport last year dramatically increased speed camera installations after research showed wider surveillance reduced the number of deaths and serious injuries in pilot areas by 47 percent.