BBC News
Launch consoleBBC News in video and audio
Last Updated: Thursday, 3 January 2008, 12:34 GMT
Cycling fury at beheading 'joke'
Matthew Parris
Matthew Parris was a Derbyshire Conservative MP for seven years
Hundreds of people have complained to the press watchdog about a newspaper column which they claimed encouraged the beheading of cyclists.

The Press Complaints Commission has had 200 objections to comments by The Times columnist and former MP Matthew Parris.

Rhyl Cycling Club in Denbighshire, which lost four members in a crash two years ago, accused him of being vicious and ignorant.

Mr Parris has now apologised for an article he said was meant to be funny.

In his column on 27 December, he wrote: "A festive custom we could do worse than foster would be stringing piano wire across country lanes to decapitate cyclists".

Accident scene
Parris and The Times editor must be held to account - if necessary, through due process of law
Roy Spilsbury, CTC Cymru

Under the headline "What's smug and deserves to be decapitated?" he wrote of cyclists' "brutish disregard for all other road users".

He also said that "the lynching of a cyclist by a mob of mothers with pushchairs would be a joy to witness".

A Press Complaints Commission (PCC) spokesman said: "We have probably had about 200 complaints about it and we are currently in the process of considering whether there are any issues under the code."

He said that, based on last year's figures, 200 protests would place the article among the commission's three most complained-about stories.

The column prompted outrage at Rhyl Cycling Club, which lost four members when a car skidded out of control in icy conditions near Abergele on 8 January, 2006.

Pictured clockwise: Thomas Harland, Wayne Wilkes, Maurice Broadbent, Dave Horrocks
The four cyclists were killed almost two years ago

Thomas Harland, 14, Maurice Broadbent, 61, Dave Horrocks, 55, and Wayne Wilkes, 42, died while on a practice ride.

Club president Bill Twigg said: "From a club that lost four cyclists, anything that brings more conflict between cyclists and motorists is a bad thing.

"If it wasn't for the first sentence, I could have dismissed the article as bad journalism."

Mr Twigg accused Mr Parris of "vicious pig ignorance".

Roy Spilsbury, vice chair of CTC Cymru - the Welsh arm of the Cyclists' Touring Club - said he was "closely associated" with the deaths of the four Rhyl cyclists, and had written to the PCC to complain.

In his complaint, he wrote: "Less than two years ago four members of Rhyl Cycling Club, ages ranging over three generations, were killed on a public highway.

Matthew Parris's apology in The Times
Matthew Parris has now used his Times column to apologise

"Messages of sympathy arrived from the four corners of the world - and the world's press reported the personal tragedies involved with appropriate sensitivity.

"That Parris believes that such people should be beheaded beggars belief."

He added: "Parris and The Times editor must be held to account. If necessary, through due process of law."

The article prompted dozen of complaints from Times readers, and the newspaper has printed a response by triathlete Alison Steed, who said she knew of fishing line being stretched across roads at head height.

She wrote: "What may seem a joke could end up killing someone - and for what, because you don't like cyclists, or cycling?"

A spokeswoman for The Times said Mr Parris was out of the country.

But in his latest column, Mr Parris, who was a Conservative MP from 1979 - 86, wrote: "I offended many with my Christmas attack on cyclists.

"It was meant humorously but so many cyclists have taken it seriously that I plainly misjudged. I am sorry."

Damning verdict over cycle deaths
27 Jun 07 |  North East Wales
Talking helps cycle survivor cope
27 Jun 07 |  North East Wales
Cycle death families 'let down'
27 Jun 07 |  North East Wales
Cycle driver 'wished he was dead'
21 Jun 07 |  North East Wales
Cycle tragedy gritting 'mistake'
20 Jun 07 |  North East Wales
Cycle death father tells of anger
14 Jun 07 |  North East Wales

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific