Some of the comments on Twitter regarding the incident on the M42 over bridge have defied belief.
Comments have been directed at the individual brandishing him “selfish” and worse. They have also been directed at the police, criticising their handling of the matter.
Mostly this is because it has forced them to close the motorway – thereby inconveniencing many people. People have criticised the length of time it has taken to resolve (it is still ongoing at the time of writing) and some have encouraged the police to take part in some form of summary execution of the person involved. There is no other way of describing comments like “let him jump” or “push him.”
Fortunately, neither of these latter two suggestions are ones which the British police would even think of considering and I am proud to work for an organisation which puts the safety of everyone concerned first – even if it does take hours.
I think we can all reasonably expect Richard Littlejohn to postulate on the actions taken by the police so let me take this opportunity to try and counter it before it hits the papers.
We have no idea why this person has chosen to do this but they have. That is the reality and it has to be dealt with. It has to be dealt with safely.
The police have a positive obligation under Article 2 of the Human Rights Act to protect life. It’s that simple. The state MUST take action to protect life and that goes for the motorists on the road underneath as much as it does for the individual on a bridge.
The damage which could be done by any object falling from that height onto fast moving traffic does not bear thinking about. It would also increase the likelihood of more injured parties (or worse) and so allowing people to carry on thundering underneath places them at extreme risk and so – it isn’t an option.
Could the other lanes be left open? Probably not. The chances of rubbernecking are extremely high and there is no guarantee that the person will remain in one place so it is safer to close the whole road and divert.
Several people have suggested putting something underneath to break the fall and bring the situation to a more rapid conclusion. I have given this some thought and can think of a number of reasons why it is also an untenable solution.
I have discovered that Air Rescue Cushions do exist. I have found a number of websites for them and have learned that a number of fire services worldwide use them for when ladders cannot be used. It seems that the LA fire department also use them in some suicide intervention cases.
There are a few big ones but inflating them quietly would be a bit tricky. I will cover why this is important later. The other ones a quite narrow and are largely based on the premise that the person using them actually *wants* to land on them in order to escape a burning building. The landing area is pretty small and doesn’t really factor in a person who might not want to land on it.
Let us look at the situation. A standard motorway is 3 lanes plus a hard shoulder wide. Each lane is approximately 9 ft wide meaning that the width of a motorway from central reservation to hard shoulder barrier is roughly 36ft.
In order to successfully deploy an Air Rescue Cushion you would have to inflate it away from the immediate scene, rapidly get it into location and simultaneously block the person from being able to move away from it.
The only way you could do that effectively is by placing people on the “harm” side of the bridge barriers – presumably with harnesses and ropes to prevent a fall themselves. You would need to place these people at sufficient distance from the person so as not to be at immediate risk but close enough to “block” the person into the landing area of the Air Rescue Cushion below.
Diagram 1 shows a person on a bridge
This person is “ideally” placed – there is no guarantee that they will be stood here.
You then need to get the “blockers” in place. I figure it would require two on the “harm” side of the bridge and at least two on the bridge to intercept if the person decides to move and try for an alternative location.
Prior to this you would have needed to have deployed your Air Cushion to the scene, discreetly. Then you need to inflate it, which according to the manufacturer takes a few seconds. Then you need to get it under the bridge and then you need to get it into position.
It could be theoretically possible to get it under the bridge without being seen and inflate it stealthily but the deployment of the cushion to its best location would have to be done simultaneously as the blockers take position.
This is quite some manoeuvre and I fear that the sight of the “blockers” going over the top of the rails could somehow “force the issue.”
If the cushion wasn’t in place then it would be a disaster.
The reasons why I think this is unviable are therefore:
1. Speed of deployment
2. Stealth of deployment
3. Co-ordination of deployment
4. “Blockers” needed on either side of the person – being on the dangerous side of the railings
5. distance required between the blockers and the person
6. Ensuring that the cushion is wide enough and the blockers well placed to prevent the person missing.
As a final reason – the diagrams show that the person is “ideally” placed on the bridge. If they are over the central reservation then you can’t deploy anything underneath anyway.
It would be an inherently dangerous operation to try and pull off. It would require immense co-ordination and the risks are massive.
Of course – if successfully deployed then it could present the person with a fait accompli and negate the risk of harm by falling or jumping but it is far from being a safe option.
The sight of people getting into place would be obvious.
I just don’t see how it could work.
If the police get it wrong then they will be responsible. I take you back to their obligation to protect life under Article 2.
The police cannot ignore the person; they cannot allow them to jump without trying to prevent it; they cannot allow motorists to carry on underneath because of the safety risk to those motorists; they cannot force the issue (and believe me – an attempt to grab the person and pull them back over is forcing the issue.)
So – given all of this – there are very few options available other than to negotiate and talk to the person concerned. Even then the outcome is not guaranteed.
Police do not simply close motorways for the sake of it. A situation like this places many people in enormous danger – it is not just about the person on the bridge.
Is there a better way? A legal way? An ethical way in which this could have been handled?
I am pretty sure – if there was – then the commanders of this incident would have taken it.
There really isn’t and until someone comes up with one then talking and attempting to negotiate a safe resolution is all we’ve got. No matter how long it takes.