Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Case of PSNI officer who ate ice cream at the wheel? Bushmills whistleblower had it licked...

A fan of the loyal, straight-talking north coast town, Malachi O'Doherty says its citizen was right to report a policeman for dangerous driving

Bushmills main street, where a policeman was spotted by a diligent citizen eating ice cream while driving

I like Bushmills. The town, I mean. The whiskey is my default preference when in establishments with so little imagination that they don't stock single malt Scotches. My idea of a place of pilgrimage is even visible from near Bushmills, it is Islay.

But Bushmills the town is a marvel.

If anyone asks me to recommend the very best restaurants in Northern Ireland I will cite three in the town of Bushmills, and often their jaws will drop.

Bushmills? Are you sure?

This comes particularly from people who don't feel quite at home when surrounded by Union and Ulster flags. And there are a lot of us.

I get the impression that no one in Bushmills really grasps that an avid celebration of loyalist culture deters custom. Maybe they don't care.

Recently in one of those amazing restaurants I asked if there was likely to be a band parade through the town on the night of my booking. The waiter seemed a little disconcerted by the question.

I explained that once before we had dined in his lovely restaurant and then spent two hours trapped in the town by the tooters on their flutes and the drum beaters, dozens of bands, bashing out their delight in being Protestant defenders of God knows what.

Bushmills, it seems, just wants to be Bushmills.

The rest of the country might be submitting to Discover Ireland branding and pitching itself as open and inclusive, as keen to get the Catholic pound and euro as any other. Bushmills is a kind of "take us as you find us" sort of town. I like that.

I wouldn't say 'redneck'; redneck and cuisine don't mix. And Bushmills is the cuisine capital of the north coast anyway. I'm just telling you that in case you have been avoiding the place, too.

The town is in the news this week because an officer of the law stopped there to buy an ice cream and was seen eating it at the wheel as he drove off.

A diligent member of the public spotted the police car and the driver licking a cone at the wheel. Being the sort of person who thinks the law of the land should be properly observed, even on a sunny day, he reported him.

"You'll never guess what I just saw, a police officer driving while eating ice cream." Now, this might strike us as a symptom of the small town mind, overly preoccupied with the trivial. You'd think that when even the police are chilling out, the vigilance of the citizen could be relaxed a little, too.

And, here's another thing about Bushmills. Because it has never been mistaken for a republican paramilitary hangout, it has never been out of bounds to those who have to watch their security, like prison officers, the police and unionist politicians.

I used to do a little training work with the RUC and I won't tell you where we used to have some of our seminars with dinner, but it wasn't far from Bushmills.

So a Bushmills that wants to be left to itself and not to change, to be taken as it is found, is a Bushmills that depends to some extent on peelers buying ice cream there, because at first sight of those flags a lot of other people are going to drive on to Portrush or Ballycastle and spend their money there instead.

So a member of the public reporting a police officer for eating ice cream while driving through the town might be thought to have been a bit negligent of the town's business interests.

Then again, maybe he called it right, and maybe the PPS is wrong to dismiss the case as "a waste of time".

We are all being told repeatedly to keep our minds on our driving, not to use mobile phones and to be wary of satnavs that divert attention. Google "eating behind the wheel" and you find cases from all over the world of people being busted by the police for eating burgers or chocolate or smoking while driving.

Though, in California, police helped an ice cream promotion by stopping drivers and giving them free cornets!

That's not the kind of thing that would happen in Bushmills.

University of Leeds research found that eating and drinking behind the wheel is comparable in terms of distraction to using a mobile phone.

And if our Bushmills vigilant citizen had caught the cop chatting on his phone while driving and reported him for that, there wouldn't be a cheep of protest from DUP Policing Board member Jonathan Craig or anyone else. He says that the police have more important work to be getting on with. That is exactly what people say when they are caught speeding or driving without due care and attention. "Haven't you got more important things to be doing, officer?"

Well, yes, there are terrorists to be caught and burglars and tax dodgers and sex offenders and shoplifters.

But no one, even during the worst of the Troubles, argued that the basic policing work of monitoring drivers and checking that they are keeping the law and driving with due care and attention should be set aside to focus on more important things. We'd soon find out how important good driving is if they did, for the death toll on the roads would soar.

And ice cream can be particularly tricky. It melts and it dribbles. It runs over your knuckles. Then you have to switch the cone from one hand to the other and lick your sticky fingers. It's a lot for a young peeler to have to think about.

Perhaps the PPS has not thought this through and has missed an opportunity to reassure us that the police take their own driving standards as seriously as they take ours.

That is the message we would have got if this case had proceeded.

And we didn't get it.

So, all in all, I'm siding with Bushmills again. I'd have busted him.

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