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

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.