The Sunday Times newspaper has apologised after a columnist said it was “tempting” to injure cyclists with wire traps.
Journalist Rod Liddle caught the attention of high-profile figures in the cycling world after making the comments in his column for the weekly paper.
His words prompted charity to Cycling UK to write a formal letter of complaint to The Times, while cycling commentator Ned Boulting also penned an open letter to the paper explaining the hostility cyclists face on the road.
Cycling UK has since received a response from The Sunday Times apologising for the offence caused and pointing out that it ran a letter of complaint from the charity inside its pages.
Liddle wrote in his comment piece, which focuses on the BBC but starts with a section on cyclists: “My wife has persuaded me that, strictly speaking, it is against the law to tie piano wire at neck height across the road. Oh, but it’s tempting.”
A statement from The Times said: “We're sorry it's caused offence, and we understand your concerns: this is why we published Cycling UK's forthright and highly critical letter - which was, in fact, substantially longer than the passage it complained about - on our pages.
“We didn't hide from your criticism: we gave it a platform. And we intend to take it on board when editing future editions.”
The Sunday Times said its coverage of cycling “has been and remains overwhelmingly positive,” highlighting an article by former Top Gear presenter James May on his love of the bike.
Liddle’s column came as a cyclist in Wales suffered facial injuries after a similar trap was placed on a woodland trail.
According to Wales Online, Neil Nunnerley was riding on a path in woodland in Radyr when he was wrenched from his bike by a wire that had been stretched across the trail.
He suffered injuries to his mouth, face and chest.
Laying trips like this is a crime under section 162 of the Highways Act 1980, Cycling UK said, but could be a more serious offence if the injuries sustained were worse.
Head of campaigns at the charity, Duncan Dollimore, said: “It’s therefore disappointing that the Sunday Times hasn’t acknowledged that this line has been crossed. The apology for any offence caused rings hollow, as it fails to address the potential consequences of Liddle’s words or provide assurance that any lessons have been learned.”
He added: “Print what you like, as long as the columnist was being satirical. That seems to be the ‘Liddle defence’ for implying that a seriously dangerous and criminal act is somehow acceptable.
"But satire is a weapon best used by the powerless to mock the powerful, and there’s a time when satire ends and comments about how tempting it is to assault someone sound like encouragement to do so.”
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Alex Ballinger is editor of BikeBiz magazine, the leading publication for the UK cycle industry, and is the former digital news editor for CyclingWeekly.com. After gaining experience in local newsrooms, national newspapers and in digital journalism, Alex found his calling in cycling, first as a reporter, then as news editor responsible for Cycling Weekly's online news output, and now as the editor of BikeBiz. Since pro cycling first captured his heart during the 2010 Tour de France (specifically the Contador-Schleck battle) Alex covered three Tours de France, multiple editions of the Tour of Britain, and the World Championships, while both writing and video presenting for Cycling Weekly. He also specialises in fitness writing, often throwing himself into the deep end to help readers improve their own power numbers. Away from the desk, Alex can be found racing time trials, riding BMX and mountain bikes, or exploring off-road on his gravel bike. He’s also an avid gamer, and can usually be found buried in an eclectic selection of books.
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