Brian Edwards Media

An Interesting Moral Dilemma: Should Graham Henry have Insisted on Being Given a Ticket?

There was a time, believe it or  not, when drink-driving was not considered the unforgivable sin that it is today. If you were arrested for having a blood alcohol level well over the legal limit, your name was unlikely to appear in the paper. Nor would friends shun you. On the contrary, most would express sympathy for your bad luck in getting caught. A drink-driving conviction was almost a badge of honour.

I have never been a heavy drinker and consider myself a responsible driver. My half-century motoring history includes three tickets for speeding. I scraped a few bumpers but have never been involved in a major accident. Where driving is concerned, I’m a goodie-goodie. But… [I have told this story before, but in a different context.]

 … a couple of decades ago, I was stopped and breath-tested at 2am after a lengthy session with friends and the proprietor of Valerio’s restaurant in Parnell. Valerio had produced a bottle of his finest Grappa around midnight and we were all as pissed as newts. I am ashamed to say that the thought of not driving home never occurred to me.

To cut a long story short, the traffic cop asked me if I’d been drinking. I admitted to the usual ‘couple of glasses of wine’. He told me to get out of the car, an exercise I performed with difficulty. I was unsteady on my feet. He told me to blow into the breathalyser. I knew I was a goner. 

‘That’s fine, sir. Have a good evening.’

I was astonished by this, thanked him effusively and got back into the car ready to drive home. I was about to drive off, when the officer returned and tapped on the window. Obviously he’d realised the reading was faulty. The game was up. I wound down the window.

‘I just wanted to apologise, Dr Edwards.’

‘Apologise? What for?’

‘I’m afraid, I failed to recognise you at first.’

The goodie-goodie in me then emerged.

‘What’s that got to do with anything?’

I felt Judy’s foot connect with my ankle.

I was reminded  of these events by the story that All Black coach, Graham Henry, was clocked driving 31K above the speed limit along Auckland’s Tamaki Drive, but not given a ticket. This during Labour Weekend when the police had said they would be out in force and anyone caught driving more than 4k over the limit would be fined. Henry is reported to have said he was overtaking, an explanation that clearly can’t stand. Unless the car he was overtaking was doing at least 70k in the 50K zone, when no responsible person would have attempted to overtake it anyway, overtaking cannot be a reasonable excuse for exceeding the speed limit by 31K.

It needs to be said that there has been no official confirmation of these events. The story may be untrue or the facts exaggerated. But having, from time to time, been reasonably famous, I’m very aware that celebrity has benefits beyond money and being recognised in the street. And, in a rugby obsessed nation with the All Blacks doing brilliantly, no-one enjoys greater celebrity or  has more mana than the coach of our national team.

It’s also pretty clear that if what is claimed to have happened did happen, it was not merely wrong but a matter of serious concern. Favouritism, based on celebrity, has no place in policing.

But it also raised an interesting moral dilemma. When I asked the Parnell cop, ‘What’s that got to do with anything?’ the moral person in me was really suggesting that it was unacceptable for the officer to treat me differently from anyone else because I was well known. Should I perhaps have said, ‘No, officer, I am pissed as a newt and it is your duty to charge me with DIC without delay and take away my keys. Please do so forthwith!’? Should Graham Henry have said, ‘No, no, officer. I know you’re trying to be kind, but it’s a fair cop.  Please issue the ticket.’?

Would that have been the right, the morally essential thing to do? What do you think?

Update:

Since I wrote this post, police have issued a statement that: “on that evening, a lone Police officer – who is not yet fully certified to issue legal offence notices using radar speed detection equipment” stopped 5 speeding motorists on Tamaki Drive and gave each of those drivers a verbal warning. The statement also says: “Media reports that a prominent New Zealander was let off a speeding fine because of who he is, are incorrect.”

This seems to me to raise a number of questions:

  • Was Graham Henry one of the five motorists stopped?
  • If he was, can we assume that, despite his lack of certification, the officer concerned could have been pretty confident that Mr Henry was driving much too fast, or he would not have stopped him?
  • Was Mr Henry actually doing 81K?
  • If a motorist is doing 81K in a 50K zone might that not be considered ‘dangerous driving’?
  • Does it make sense not to penalise in any way a motorist who has been clocked at 81K in a 50K area?
  • Did Mr Henry deny travelling at 81K?
  • Did he admit travelling at 81K
  • If he had admitted travelling at 81K would that have offered sufficient grounds to issue him a ticket?
  • Would a defence of ‘overtaking’ normally be accepted as a legitimate reason for passing another vehicle at a speed 31K in excess of the prevailing speed limit?
  • Why was a policeman “not yet fully certified to issue legal offence notices using radar speed detection equipment” using radar speed detection equipment at all?

I’d love to know the answers to these questions.

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18 Comments:

  1. the point is the police know a warning to a well-known person such as yourself is more likely to have an effect. They know and trust Graham Henry to not be a risk to the public in a general sense. I get stopped from time to time for no apparent reason – possibly because I wear a scarf on my head, possibly because I look like a crim (whatever that look may be) from time to time, and the only reason I’m given is “we are looking for a red Jeep, sir…” YEAH RIGHT.. so if they can stop me for no reason for being a nobody, they opposite can certainly be and is true. I’m sure Henry learned a lesson, and that the police officer who let him go understood that the lesson was learnt without a ticket. You don’t know that about your average citizen.

    • the point is the police know a warning to a well-known person such as yourself is more likely to have an effect.

      Sorry, I don’t find this argument very persuasive. Let off once, a well-known person may well expect to be let off again.

  2. MEDIA RELEASE 28 October, 2010

    Speeding reports clarified

    Media reports that a prominent New Zealander was let off a speeding fine because of who he is, are incorrect.

    Auckland City Police have made inquiries into Friday night’s road policing activities around Tamaki Drive where the infringement is alleged to have occurred.

    Auckland City District Commander, Superintendent George Fraser, says that on that evening, a lone Police officer – who is not yet fully certified to issue legal offence notices using radar speed detection equipment – stopped five motorists on Tamaki Drive between 6pm and 9.30pm.

    “All five motorists were warned about speeding and had their vehicles checked for current warrant and registration status.

    “None were issued with speeding tickets due to the fact that the Police Officer could not issue a legally valid infringement notice after having used speed detection equipment.”

    In all, the officer stopped nine motorists that evening who were exceeding the speed limit in various city locations over the course of his shift. Not all Police Officers are certified to operate radar speed detection equipment.

    Over the long weekend Police were tasked with being highly visible on the country’s roads so as deter high risk driving behaviour and to reduce road trauma.
    In the Auckland City Police District, 255 speeding tickets were issued over the weekend.

    Mr Fraser said the officer is being spoken to about Police policy around the use of speed detection equipment.

    ENDS

    Issued by Noreen Hegarty
    Auckland City Police Communications Manager

  3. Assuming the press release is correct what is the point of sending out a police officer with radar equipment not authorised to issue tickets?

    It makes as much sense as sending an ambulance driver who does not have a first aid qualification to an accident.

    I sometime wonder what brain dead dummies are running our police force. What bothers me is that MS Heggarty issues this asinine statement as though that is the end of the matter and we should all butt out. The next thing we willl hear is of a police officer waving a gun at someone but not firing it because he is not certified to do so. It is the police management team that needs certifying.

  4. True story: in the late 1980s/early 1990s I worked with a lady who happened to share the same (relatively unusual) surname as the then head of the Ministry of Transport. This lady noticed that every time she got pulled up for any traffic matter, as soon as the traffic officer opened her driver’s licence, he would turn pale, return the licence to her and tell her there was no problem, she could be on her way.

    Given her age and appearance (a well-dressed middle-aged woman), the assumption being made was that she was probably the big boss’s wife. Which she wasn’t. But the coincidence of her name, age and appearance meant that she went scot-free on all potential traffic violations for years, even when she was clearly in the wrong.

    Hopefully things are different these days.

  5. Would that have been the right, the morally essential thing to do? What do you think?

    Yes. Responsibility of role models and all that. If people who were role models stood up and took responsibility for things it’s visible they’ve done… probably even things it’s not so visible they’ve done, it’d make it harder for other people not to. When role models are caught avoiding responsibility, it gives other people an excuse. Consider the effect it might have had in public if, even under the circumstances, Graham Henry (or yourself) had waltzed into the nearest police station at the point of realising a serious wrongdoing and before TV3 broadcast it, admitted guilt and asked to be issued a ticket or a charge on that basis. I’m not entirely sure to be honest, just hypothesising.

    Not to suggest it happens often or it’s necessarily an easy thing to do, especially if it’s likely to be a serious charge and given potential consequences down the track. I’m not especially well known, but I’d still be paranoid about things like what a criminal conviction might do to my prospects of visiting various countries overseas. Really the police shouldn’t be putting people in the position of having to decide that kind of thing. It sounds as if this was a techincality where someone made a mistake, but if police are also discriminating based on aspects of the person involved without a court being involved, I’d agree there’s something quite wrong.

    It’s going to be hard for the officer, too. I doubt many officers want to be at the centre of a media circus because they issued an unpopular (or very popular) ticket. You’d hope there would be a system in place so that junior officers could immediately call upon a senior officer to get to the scene, make a decision and take responsibility if there were any doubt about that kind of thing in unusual circumstances.

  6. Without delving too deeply into what actually happened, it ought not surprise us much if what was reported were true. We all know that not only is there one law for the richandfamous and another for the rest of us lowly schmucks, but a the whole system of jurisprudence is equally duplicitous. If not altogether multiplicitous, withal…

    This is not to criticise Graham Henry, nor yet the police. We don’t know what went down, or why.

    As for accepting the let off. Well, Mr Edwards, I think I would, as I believe you persuaded yourself to do, take the warning quietly and with gratitude, and at least endeavour to be good in future… But, then, I don’t drive…

  7. When it comes to speed enforcement — what the police lack in common sense, they more than make up for in stupidity.

    They are as dumb as they come.

  8. I dont have a problem with Graham Henry receiving favourable treatment – if he did receive any at all. Cops should be allowed to exercise discretion – especially when it comes to traffic offenses. The revenue they gather from infringement notices and other misdemeanours is the real crime here and any time someone is able to evade making a payment for whatever reason is something to be celebrated.

  9. Why was the officer, who was not authorised to use a radar detector, using a radar detector?

    Perhaps training. I suppose you have to log a certain number of hours using the equipment in the field before you’re certified.

  10. @Greg, it’s discretion based on the person involved that’s the issue here. If the fact that Graham Henry was Graham Henry had contributed to him being let off, it’d have been unacceptable in my view.

  11. Hi Brian,

    I have witnessed first hand an experience similar to Mr Henry’s whilst a passenger in a car driven by a well-known NZ TV personality and former sportsman.
    During the course of our journey the celebrity in question was pulled over twice in half an hour by two different police officers: he had been exceeding the 100 kph open road limit by at least 40 kmph on each occassion.
    Upon recognition of the man, one of the police officers told him to “just keep an eye on your speed, mate”. The second officer told him he had been doing ‘nothing wrong’, and invited him to continue with his journey.
    That’s what Howard Broad means when he refers to the discretionary powers of the constabulary!

  12. Oh , dear! Police person was not authorised to issue tickets.

    Police person was there to reinforce public impression of police determination to to have deathless roads.

    Police person was not 006 (licensed to issue tickets).

    Enemy agent Henry escaped.

    Actually if Henry was doing the reported speed it should have been a 007 officer out there.

    Now, if that had happened there would have been weeks of stuff for the “chattering classes” to twitter on about.

    I feel a headline competition coming on….

  13. I was given a $30.00 speeding ticket 6 months ago.It was by an officer using a hand held radar unit.I am in no doubt he pulled over the wrong car.I had driven past the other way 5 mins prior to the ticket.I was warned by other motorists flashing their lights to all on the way back also.I carefully monitored my speed.I was allegdly doing 57 km per hour .Not a chance.I have no redress available as the equipment cannot identify the car.I argued and was offered pepper spray .Whilst standing outside my car on the side of a busy road he had it out and aimed at my face.He then offered to arrest me (I called him a liar )and called reinforcements to take me to
    jail.I stood my ground.30 mins later when they arrived he attempted to justify his position by saying I had attempted to smash his radar equipment(whilst it was locked in his car)The over officers suggested I could take it to court but it might cost more than the ticket.I paid up but should of defended it as he incorrectly recorded my address and name from my licence.If this is the quality of police speed monitoring
    I’m not surprised no one received tickets.

    • I was given a $30.00 speeding ticket 6 months ago.

      This is an appalling story. You really must make a formal complaint to the police about this officer. Find yourself a good ‘storefront’ lawyer to help you.

  14. I live in a small Town /City where where someone like this can make your life a misery.I do note that no hand held radar has been in use since and he is accompanied by another officer when stopping cars.I still feel unhappy/angry/insecure when I think back to it.Its something I just want to put behind me.