Most of you know what happened on April 16th; some of you were there. I haven’t mentioned it on the blog before now for legal and other reasons, but after this week’s events I feel happy to do so.
I wrote what follows a few hours after the incident. I’ve edited it only lightly.
I’ve read many times that in an emergency you sober up fast. True.
I’m writing this with a curious sense of calm that I know is suppressing a huge, violent, unstoppable rage. I’m feeling simultaneously very upset and, I know wrongly, somehow guilty for what happened. It’s not my fault, I know that. It was all too fast, a vague sense of trouble, a shout; but not enough, not enough. The replay is in slow-motion: plenty of time to warn everyone. You can’t help the if-onlys. But it’s done; you can’t stop it now.
I was walking with friends from my birthday meal at La Margherita to the Bird for more drinks. We were on the tree-lined path on Jesus Green between the lock and Victoria Avenue; about half-way along, unlit thanks to broken lamps. Two rows of us: me, John, Lee, Jimmy, Ali in the first; Mike, Matt and Lawrence behind us. It was 10.45.
I saw the cyclist coming towards us. Not uncommon: it’s a path used by pedestrians and bikes, and you keep out of each other’s way. But this one was barrelling down the centre of the path towards us at full speed; no lights that I remember. You expect common courtesy; you expect some degree of common sense; you expect the faster mover to avoid the slower, as that’s the way it’s done.
He just kept pedalling. About a second or two before he reached us I realised he had no intention of slowing or avoiding us; he was acting as if we weren’t there. I shouted to my friends: get off the path, out of the way. Row one did. But row two hadn’t seen him. Too late, too late.
I turned in time to see the bike hit Lawrence.
He lay on the path; I went over, saw blood coming from his mouth. He was not fully conscious. Ambulance, now, I shouted. Lee dialled 999.
It was a teenager on the bike; late teens I’d say. He remonstrated with us: we should have got out of his way. There were other teens there now; I don’t know where they came from, but some seemed to be associated with the cyclist. I shouted something about how the cyclist should have avoided us; “You want to shut your mouth mate,” one of the teens replied – or something like that.
A different me would have decked him and kept him there, or tackled the cyclist. I replay the scene now and I know I turned away: it was not the time to argue, to fight, to make matters worse. There was a deal of shouting, from us and from them.
And they were gone. And Lawrence was on the path, bleeding from his head. And Lee was on the phone trying to explain to a non-Cambridge resident exactly where we were so that the ambulance could find us.
We didn’t know which route they’d use. John went to Chesterton Road, Jimmy to Victoria Avenue. We were told there’d be a fast response team then an ambulance. We were told to keep Lawrence on his back; Mike, Matt and Ali took charge of that. I took guard duty as other bikes came along – not so fast, not so dumb but some equally unlit. And some gave me grief for telling them to slow their unlit bikes down on an unlit piece of path with a semi-conscious, bleeding man lying on it.
Blue lights on Victoria Avenue. An ambulance: pretty timely, but stopped on the roadside. Lee had followed Jimmy but we couldn’t tell whether they were with the ambulance crew. Ali headed that way too to check.
Now farce. The gates onto Jesus Green were padlocked and the crew didn’t have a key. Nor did they have any tools to break the lock. They’d have to get the police out.
It was 11.15 – half an hour after the incident – before two paramedics walked across the green to attend to the casualty.
Ali, Lee and Jimmy were extremely angry. Why didn’t the crew have access to the green? Why didn’t they appear particularly eager to attend what could be serious head trauma?
And it was only after examining Lawrence that they made the call to get the ambulance on to the green. Delay, delay, delay.
At last some action. Fire engine to open the lock (seriously); ambulance; police. I gave the police as much information as I could. But the path was unlit; I couldn’t identify the cyclist or even the type of bike he rode. Matt went in the ambulance with Lawrence; Mike followed in a taxi.
It became clear that Lawrence was in a bad way, worse than we thought at the time. On Monday the police took a statement from me, the first story appeared in the Cambridge News and I appeared on Anglia News. I got in touch with local activist Richard Taylor asking about the ambulance delay; he then wrote a blog post. The Cambridge News covered the same angle, and on Thursday Look East got in touch: my second TV appearance of the week, with Ali.
Lawrence was kept in an induced coma at Addenbrookes for a couple of weeks to help his recovery, and then spent more weeks in hospital recuperating.
Meanwhile the police very quickly and efficiently found some suspects, and eventually arrested and charged two teenagers; it was not the first trouble they’d caused that night. They pleaded guilty and were sentenced a few days ago. You can make your own judgement about the appropriateness of the sentences. Their names have been withheld as the boy on the bike was under sixteen at the time.
He could have hit me; he could have hit any of us. It could have been fatal. These thoughts have rattled round my head for several months now. Does the boy truly show remorse? What would I say to him if I met him? I don’t know. The rage is still there, somewhere.
The other emotion I feel about that night is pride: I am insanely proud of my friends for how they reacted, most of them having only met Lawrence that evening.
Happily Lawrence is now much better, and home with Matt – and fundamentally that’s all that matters.