Road rage battles over Covid bike lanes are dividing Britain

Covid bike lane road rage wars: Empty routes are snarling traffic and dividing Britain… nowhere more so than in west London’s Chiswick where the spat involves a vandalised flower bed and Jeremy Vine

  • Criminal — or criminals — struck at night: deadheading tulips of Karen Liebreich
  • It was BBC celebrity — broadcaster Jeremy Vine — who first revealed the deed  
  • Within minutes, a JustGiving page had been set up to raise £100 for Ms Liebreich

The crime was all the more shocking for having been committed in such a genteel location. 

It was carried out suddenly last week in a single garden on a leafy avenue in Chiswick, the affluent West London suburb.

A favoured locale of BBC executives and television stars — home to actors David Tennant and Colin Firth, Left-wing activist Vanessa Redgrave, TV presenters Ant and Dec and supermodel Cara Delevingne — houses here easily cost £3 million and even a small flat can set you back £1 million.

The criminal — or criminals — struck at night: deadheading the beautiful tulips of a devoted pro-cycling campaigner.

The Mail has established the victim is Karen Liebreich, a designer, horticulturalist and former BBC producer. And it was another BBC celebrity — broadcaster Jeremy Vine — who first revealed the terrible deed to the world.

Broadcaster Jeremy Vine tweeted last week to his 760,000 followers about the abuse pro-cycling campaigner Karen Liebreich had received 

An animated video posted online shows a heat-seeking missile being launched at the Outsider Tart Bakery and cafe on Chiswick High Road whose owner has been a vocal opponent of the new measures

‘A woman in my area,’ Vine tweeted last week to his 760,000 followers, ‘has been relentless in arguing the case for safe cycling. 

‘She has had much abuse from the local anti-cycling group which is raising £50,000 to get our new cycle lane torn out.’

He added: ‘Yesterday she woke to find all the flowers in her front garden had been decapitated.’

The tweet was accompanied by a picture of the ruined flowers. 

In his hasty tweet about the curious incident of the tulips in the night-time, Vine — unwittingly or not — unleashed a wave of fury.

Within minutes, a JustGiving page had been set up to raise £100 so Ms Liebreich could replace the flowers. 

By the end of this week, it had raised donations of more than £2,600. The Mail understands this money will now be donated to a charity helping victims of road accidents.

Chiswick has become a kind of ground zero for the national war between the pro-cycling lobby and motorists: a war that has dramatically escalated over the past year.

As the Mail has reported, Left-wing, eco-minded councils across Britain have exploited the pandemic to push through dramatic anti-car measures in streets and town centres. 

They have done so under emergency transport powers launched last May: a £250 million initiative to encourage people to travel on bicycles and minimise public transport during the pandemic.

The new rules allow councils to grab money to install cycle lanes and other measures without the usual scrutiny. 

Nationally, more than 200 so-called ‘low-traffic neighbourhoods’ (LTNs) have been imposed without residents being consulted on whether they might be necessary — or even safe.

After the broadcaster shared a picture of the ruined flowers, a JustGiving page was set up to raise £100 so Ms Liebreich could replace the flowers

Chiswick High Road used to be three lanes wide but has gone down to two since a new, permanent bi-directional cycle lane was installed

In these LTNs, roads have been closed to motorists with permanent bollards and planters. Parking spaces have been ripped out, causing chaos for nearby businesses who rely on them for deliveries and for their customers.

Ambulances and fire engines have struggled to get through in some cases, and elderly and disabled people face increased difficulties in getting about outside, as their usual forms of transport have been unable to reach them.

No wonder communities across Britain have become so bitterly divided. Residents have taken to the streets — and even to the courts — in the hope of overturning the policies.

Amid accusations the schemes only cause more congestion and polluting tailbacks on main roads, a number of the zones have been abandoned — in a significant waste of public money — including in Brighton, Lancashire, Tyne and Wear, Derby, Kent, London and Reading.

Met chief: Lanes are slowing down police 

Dame Cressida Dick has said low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) delay police response times.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner said yesterday the schemes make it ‘harder’ for officers to ‘get through the streets’. One officer said LTNs would stop him ‘chasing four people with machetes’.

Speaking on LBC’s Nick Ferrari radio show yesterday, she said: ‘I absolutely accept that it is really getting quite difficult for them in some places and our response times will suffer. And that’s frustrating for them.

‘On the other hand it may be other people’s deaths are reduced . . . trying to make our cities safer for cyclists, pedestrians and less pollution.’

London Mayor Sadiq Khan wants to press ahead with traffic reduction plans, but a High Court ruling in January found his guidance to town halls was ‘unlawful’ and ‘irrational’.


So the goings-on in Chiswick (where the borough council, Hounslow, is Labour-run) are more than a parochial neighbourhood dispute. Instead, they typify this bitter war between the cycling lobby — and its eco-minded friends in local government — and ordinary drivers.

And leading the charge on behalf of the cyclists is Jeremy Vine, BBC Radio 2 and Eggheads TV quiz show presenter — on a salary (funded by the licence fee) of some £320,000 per year.

Vine has said: ‘We don’t want to make helmets compulsory or insurance compulsory [for cyclists] . . . We don’t want anything standing in the way of cycling.’

Occasionally spotted riding a penny-farthing on Chiswick’s streets, Vine often commutes by (conventional) bicycle to Broadcasting House carrying cameras whose footage he regularly posts online, attacking alleged bad drivers. 

In 2017, a female motorist was jailed for verbally abusing Vine while he was cycling, after evidence from his helmet camera was placed before a court.

Vine later expressed regret that she was sent to prison, saying: ‘I would have been happy with an apology.’

In Chiswick, tempers have reached boiling point. The main thoroughfare, Chiswick High Road, used to be three lanes wide. 

It has gone down to two since a new, permanent bi-directional cycle lane has been installed as part of London mayor Sadiq Khan’s controversial ‘cycle superhighway’. This means all traffic has to halt behind any stopped bus.

Confusingly, buses now stop on the inside traffic lane, so bus passengers have to cross the cycle lane to reach the pavement. 

This is difficult for disabled or elderly people, and taxi drop-off and pick-ups are next to impossible. Meanwhile, parking spaces on key shopping streets have also been ripped out.

Hounslow council has also imposed an LTN in south Chiswick, permanently closing off some residential streets to traffic.

David Lesniak knows better than most how unhinged some pro-cycling campaigners have become.

Dame Cressida Dick said low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) make it ‘harder’ for officers to ‘get through the streets’

The owner of the Outsider Tart Bakery and cafe on Chiswick High Road has been a vocal opponent of the new measures. (Ironically, he has a background in urban planning.) 

A crude animated video posted online by one such campaigner shows a heat-seeking missile being launched, flying into the sky above Chiswick and landing on Mr Lesniak’s bakery. The business is destroyed, disappearing into a hole in the ground.

‘This is not engagement in debate,’ Mr Lesniak told the Mail. ‘It is harassment and bullying. We need to hold these people to account.’

On Twitter, Jeremy Vine alleged that the tulip attack might have been the work of One Chiswick, a local group campaigning against the cycle lanes, which it sees as dangerous, congestion-causing and damaging to local businesses.

Vine wrote: ‘I don’t know if any member of the anti-cycling group @RealOneChiswick is involved in this, but it might be good if they offered to fund the replanting of this lady’s garden to indicate they regret the abuse they have levelled at her. They will know who she is.’

Yet we have established there may be rather more to the story than Mr Vine has claimed.

On the Twitter account run by Ms Liebreich under the name of her business, Abundance London, she has furiously blamed squirrels — not anti-cycling campaigners — for causing mayhem in her garden.

‘Before we get too sentimental about cute squirrels, they decapitate tulips just for fun . . . Bloody wildlife!’ she complained. ‘I hate squirrels,’ she said in 2019. ‘He [sic] ate all the tulip bulbs except two, and now he has wilfully destroyed both flowers for no reasons other than spite.’

And last year, she wrote: ‘Bloody squirrel! Here he is . . . enjoying one of the 100 tulips . . . we’ve just planted for him to enjoy.’

Could Mr Vine have been mistaken and been unfair in hastily blaming Chiswick’s cycle-lane opponents for the damage? It would certainly appear so.

Guy Barter, chief horticulturist at the Royal Horticultural Society, also believes testosterone-fuelled squirrels were to blame. 

‘Young male squirrels, when trying to find a mate, are quite happy to engage in acts of random violence, causing substantial damage,’ he told me. ‘They don’t eat the tulips, just leave the heads on the ground.’

Despite this substantial evidence, there seems to be no question of an apology or retraction from the broadcasting star.

The Mail emailed the BBC and Mr Vine’s agent, Alex Armstrong, with a list of detailed questions. Mr Armstrong told us the broadcaster was in studios and working back-to-back all day so would not be able to comment.

Nor would Ms Liebreich comment on Mr Vine’s allegations by email, and when we called on her home — the scene of the crime — we were told that she was not available.

Those campaigning against Chiswick’s cycle lanes are outraged that Mr Vine rushed — without, it seems, any proof — to blame them for the vandalism, when Ms Liebreich’s own evidence strongly pointed to the true culprits being rodents.

‘We felt we’d been framed,’ said Margie Frew of One Chiswick. ‘It was obvious squirrels did it. We’d never destroy someone’s plants. We’re peaceful campaigners.’

Her group has collected 10,000 signatures for a petition against the council’s anti-car measures —the population of Chiswick is less than 35,000 — and is aiming to seek a judicial review of the cycle lanes and LTNs in the High Court.

They believe Mr Vine has taken advantage of his position to strong-arm neighours into accepting his own views on cycle lanes — and unfairly blamed One Chiswick.

‘He’s misusing his celebrity,’ claims Ms Frew. ‘He’s misrepresenting us. He’s creating animosity towards us, naming individuals involved in the campaign and we’ve been defamed and harassed as a result. 

‘This must be a breach of the BBC’s code of ethics. He is simply bullying us — and is allowed to get away with it because the BBC looks at ‘talent’ differently from anyone else who might be working there.’

Ms Frew has complained to the BBC about Vine’s behaviour, which she insists breaches the strict guidelines on social media brought in last year by new Director-General Tim Davie.

Margie Frew thinks Vine’s tweet about the tulips ‘was all about his ego. He is an exhibitionist — that’s why he cycles on a penny-farthing — and I suspect he was just trying to wind up his 700,000 followers who are often militant cyclists.’

The BBC’s guidelines say that staff should not ‘express a personal opinion on matters of public policy, politics or ‘controversial subjects’ ‘, or be seen to support a particular campaign.

A spokeswoman said the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit was dealing with the complaint. She added: ‘Jeremy is aware of his duty under the BBC’s social media guidelines.’

Whatever the outcome, it’s unlikely that the battle of Chiswick will reach any sort of truce soon. The council is adamant that its green agenda will prevail, irrespective of the impact of the cycle lanes and the LTNs on local residents.

Muriel Langley lives in Home House, a 100-flat residential complex for elderly people close to Chiswick High Road. 

‘Since the cycle lanes were put in, I’ve found it almost impossible to walk across the road with my walker,’ she told the Mail. ‘I used to be able to walk across slowly and then stop in one of the refuges. But they’ve gone now — to make way for the bikes. It’s very dangerous.’

Another resident, Lorraine Nepstad, emphatically referred to the lanes as ‘the rape of Chiswick’.

Sally Price, who runs local interior design shop Insider Dealings, told us it now takes her 25 minutes to drive along Chiswick High Road, adding: ‘That is going to be off-putting to my customers.’

Hounslow councillor Hanif Khan told the Mail the LTN scheme is now under review, adding: ‘Once the review has considered all the feedback and evidence, we will decide which Streetspace [LTN] trials will be made permanent and which removed or amended.’

In Ealing, next to Chiswick, the council’s Labour leader Julian Bell was recently deposed after his catastrophic handling of the council’s LTNs, which outraged locals and led to widespread gridlock.

Perhaps Chiswick, too, will soon suffer some political casualties — and it won’t just be a handful of tulips losing their heads.

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