I've been treated like a criminal, says pensioner accused of cycling on Hampstead Heath

Ballet dancer says formal prosecution over byelaw is heavy-handed

Thursday, 11th May 2017 — By William McLennan

Barbara Massey cycling Heath

Barbara Massey says she will protest her innocence in court

A PENSIONER who is being taken to court for the second time accused of cycling on a footpath said she broke down in tears while being “treated like a criminal” by Hampstead Heath police.

Barbara Massey, who has been a regular swimmer at the Ladies’ Pond on a near-daily basis for the past 36 years, denies breaching strict no-cycling rules and insists she was using her bike “as a scooter” due to debilitating knee pain when she was stopped on March 2. The 68-year-old, who was already forced to pay £275 after admitting riding to the ponds last year, intends to protest her innocence at Highbury Magistrates’ Court later this month.

The actress and dancer, who helps out at Highgate Ballet School in South Grove, said she was angry at a legal system that “can allow such inherently unjust and disrespectful treatment of the elderly”. She said she felt mistreated by Heath Constabulary officers who challenged her.

“The young policemen were not taking into account that they are talking to somebody that is nearly 70,” she said. “I’m not asking them to bow down to me, but I wouldn’t have expected to be treated like this as an older person.” She said the experience had tainted her enjoyment of the Heath, adding: “My swim at the pond is my main joy and comfort in life. It is non-weight bearing and therefore doesn’t hurt my knee and I get to see the glory of the Heath’s nature every day, if only briefly. Cycling is my only means of transport that gets me places without pain. I am the safest of riders and have never even hit a flea, let alone a dog or a child.”

Ms Massey, who lives on a pension of £95 a week, had only just finished paying the first fine when she was accused of the latest infringement. She said she had been “coasting along with one foot on the ground” to avoid putting pressure on a cyst in her knee, when the screeching of her brakes drew the officers’ attention.

She added: “I said I was walking and hadn’t been riding but they wouldn’t hear of it. I began to cry and begged them to leave me alone, as I’d been told a few months before that if this comes to court again, I’d have to pay the full £395.”

She believes the scale of the fine – as compared to a £50 ticket that can be issued by the Met police for cycling on the pavement – and the decision to pursue a formal prosecution was heavy handed.

“I am completely dismayed at this system of fines and sanctions,” Ms Massey added. “Why not fine us on the spot? Why send us to court for a very minor infringement of a 120-year-old law relating to horses and buggies. Why [are they] spending money bringing highly respected, educated, decent, older women to courts over infringements of a law the breaking of which is no real crime?”

A spokesman for the Heath managers the City of London said: “A female cyclist was found by the Hampstead Heath Constabulary to be cycling on a pathway that is not designated shared use. As a result she will appear in court later this month. We have a duty to protect the users of Hampstead Heath and will prosecute those who breach our byelaws.”

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