The 52-year history of the classic Archer Grand Prix cycle road race, held in the Chilterns, has come to an end as the 53rd edition, scheduled for 20 April, has been refused the support of Thames Valley Police by Superintendent Graham Bell, commander of the Operations Section.
As no changes were proposed to the event details from the past few years, and relatively minor improvements in its running had been discussed and approved at three previous meetings with the Traffic section of Thames Valley Police, the refusal is considered by the organising Archer Road Club to be solely due to the proposal for the West Yorkshire Police to provide a team of nine specialist escort motorcyclists, including a command structure plus command vehicle, to ensure ultimate safety.
They would have worked in conjunction with 10 non-police National Escort Group motorcycle marshals, trained to standards set with police advice and provided by the organisation as for much of the history of the race, which led the way to the formation of the NEG with this safety measure.
Thames Valley Police at present do not have any suitable motor cycles and the suggestion to invite the West Yorkshire Police to assist came from Thames Valley Police itself, albeit not from Supt. Bell or his next-in-command who are both new to the event. This police coverage would have involved minimal Thames Valley Police manpower, if any, and the organisers would have paid for all manpower from both forces.
In theory the race can be run without police support, but because of its high profile and being part of the Premier Series of top UK races, this would effectively invite prosecution or stoppage on the road for the slightest perceived technical misdemeanour.
Archer club member Stuart Benstead, who has been a leading member of the organising team for all of its 52 years, said: “This decision was unexpected as only two days previously a joint meeting had been held with both police forces. The main item on the agenda was the financial charges to the organisers to cover the number of police assessed to be necessary following a reconnoitre of the route the previous day by the commander of the West Yorkshire group.
Stuart Benstead commented: “They lead the multi-force escort group for the Tour of Britain on behalf of the Association of Chief Constables and welcomed this opportunity as a training exercise for this year’s Tour of Britain and other major events, even in the long term for the London Olympics.
“It is fair to state that the proposal to use West Yorkshire police in the Thames Valley area is not the reason for refusal quoted by Supt. Bell. He states it is the many-year-old policy of Thames Valley Police not to provide support for events on public roads. This stretches far beyond cycle racing to include events such as marathons, charity walks and runs. To date, however, common sense has been applied and despite this policy they HAVE provided paid-for support for the Archer GP for most, and perhaps all, of its 52 years, including the ones when the policy was in place.
“If it was an absolutely rigid policy, then last year the Tour of Britain would not have been allowed to start one of its stages in Reading, when West Yorks led the escort group. In law there is no difference between the Tour of Britain and the Archer GP, other than scale of publicity and sponsorship. And there have been Traffic Orders for rolling road closures in Bucks for running races, which could only have been effective if provided with police support.
“We recognise that this decision by the Operations section, controversial as it is, makes it impossible to run the event but we owe a duty to the many sports and community events such as parades, to question it with the Chief Constable in the first place and perhaps higher after that.”