The sad tale of Bruce and the driver awareness course

It's tragicomic. There he was: Bruce Burgess, a "lie detector expert", truth-teller to the stars (he has unearthed fibs for the Jeremy Kyle and Jerry Springer shows), a man who ostentatiously winks in his website promotional picture, winging his way down a road in Portsmouth well above the 30mph speed limit. He is snapped by a speed camera. And instead of owning up, he lies to the police and says he wasn't driving.

No, Bruce! Don't lie. Not for the sake of 80 quid and a slap on the wrist. Especially if your very identity depends on your telling the truth. Burgess ended up pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice and was given a suspended 24-week prison sentence, community service, a fine, and three points on his licence. He was also ordered to pay £1,250 in costs.

It all seems a bit much. But justice will be justice, especially when its course has been perverted. The reports of the case all quoted Mick Gear,
“an officer with the Hampshire Constabulary safety camera partnership", who seemed rather struck by the hopeless poignancy of it all. "This started off as a speeding offence and has turned out to be a criminal matter . . . this could have been dealt with very easily, and it is just not worth the risk. So my advice is - put your hands up at the first opportunity."

Let's take a moment to think about his name. Mick Gear! Never has a policeman been so appropriately christened for his job. But what if Bruce had put his hands up? How would Mick and Hampshire Constabulary have dealt with him? "Please enter the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Safer Roads Partnership/Driver Awareness Training."

It sounds dry. But wait. The HAIOWSRPDAT (which looks like the noise emitted during a complex and violent martial arts manoeuvre) claims to address "what caused the individual to exceed the posted speed limit", "what their reasons were for doing so and what are the impact and consequences of this behaviour". The trainers, for a mere £74, will "dispel false beliefs" and "explore attitudes towards speed".

I had no idea that driver awareness could plumb such psychological depths. I'm not even sure that I realised I had an attitude towards speed, apart from, I suppose, sometimes wanting to go a bit faster and sometimes wanting to go a bit slower. But the "reasons", the "consequences", the "false beliefs". I think they're trying to give us therapy.

And obviously they're having the desired effect. "Thank you for what has proved to be a positive, meaningful and enjoyable experience," says
one breathless commenter. Meaningful? Really? Driver awareness training? Oh, it makes me feel a bit sad.

But not as sad as I feel about Bruce. I can see him sitting in his prison cell, quietly winking to himself, ruing the day he - a man who earned his living from squirrelling out the truth - told the smallest of lies. And to think that he could have gone and had his soul searched at HAIOWSRPDAT.

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 14 December 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The Muslim Jesus