There's Much More to the 'Mad Mullah' Than Tabloid Perceptions

Article excerpt

Byline: By David Williams Western Mail

North Wales Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom is determined to make an impact on the world in which he lives, says former BBC Wales political editorDavid Williams

RIDING in the back of a police patrol car recently I suddenly become aware of just how mindful motorists were of what speed they were doing.

If I'd been in my own car I doubt whether those drivers we were passing on the A55 in North Wales would have been quite so conscious of whether they were breaking the law.

The man sitting in the passenger seat in front of me at the time was no stranger to this syndrome. His name: Richard Brunstrom - a name which sends shivers down the back of certain sections of the motoring community.

He is, of course, the Chief Constable of North Wales Police, but often he is called other things, most infamously he goes under the title of the Mad Mullah of the Traffic Taliban.

It is an epithet given to him by The Sun newspaper. At first he was hurt by its connotations, but he has learned to live with it and now uses it in a self-deprecatory way to introduce himself to certain audiences.

So there I was, a captive of a speeding fundamentalist witnessing all around us behaving impeccably. Well, most of them were. The exception to the rule was the driver of a white van who, inexplicably, overtook us doing 10 miles an hour more than the legal limit.

The consequences were inevitable. Blue lights flashed and the sirens wailed as we pursued the offender along the A55. The driver could hardly believe it when he was pulled over to be confronted by not only a police patrolman but also a baseball-capped Chief Constable and a BBC film crew.

It just wasn't the white-van man's day and it got worse. He didn't have his licence. It was already in police custody ready to be endorsed for a previous speeding offence.

Oh dear!

At this point I fully expected the man dubbed the Mad Mullah to go into meltdown but, remarkably, he was patient and kind towards the offender who hadn't realised that a commercial vehicle was restricted to 60mph on a dual carriageway.

A relieved van driver was released with a caution and sent on his way.

Now, it may be that all this was done with the camera in mind, but that would be unfair to Richard Brunstrom who, on that same day, had announced a change in policy which would see a softer edged approach from North Wales Police to speeding offences.

There was to be more education and less punishment. Those caught speeding would be offered the option of driving courses instead of receiving fines and penalty points.

The Chief believed that at last, after years of controversy surrounding speed cameras, he was winning the argument and he announced the change of policy at a press conference in North Wales.

Journalists invited to the launch were warned beforehand that the private presentation would include graphic and horrific images not intended for public consumption.

In a very silent room we did indeed see some very disturbing photographs, including one of a headless motorcyclist.

Normally, journalists would not see this kind of scene. Richard Brunstrom's presentation was intended to change that and, in doing so, emphasise the dangers of speeding.

But in showing the photographs the Chief Constable had inadvertently walked into an elephant trap of his own making.

After the private viewing and in an open session the Chief Constable was asked by a Press Association journalist whether the relatives of the dead had been consulted before the pictures were shown.

It appeared an innocuous question. It was anything but. The honest answer that the relatives had not been informed was, the next day, to explode in Richard Brunstrom's face.

Tabloid newspapers, never slow to attack the chief, had a field day. …