70 years ago this week, Winston Churchill made his famous speech immortalising the words ‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.’ He did so to rally every man and woman in these Isles to support the war effort:
“because we have been nurtured in freedom and individual responsibility and are the products, not of totalitarian uniformity, but of tolerance and variety.”
Sheila Martin was a fragile babe in arms when her Mother heard those words. Too young to understand the menace behind the Messerschmitts and Heinkels screaming overhead and disturbing her slumber. She was the intended beneficiary of Churchill’s words, one of the generation of children that depended on the bravery of British men such as her Father, away in France fighting for the freedom, tolerance and variety that was Britain’s hallmark.
Today, Sheila is once more fragile; she is 70 years old and was widowed 30 years ago. She tells me she has survived five heart attacks; she suffers from asthma, angina and high blood pressure. She only smokes the occasional cigarette these days, partly for health reasons, partly because her minimal state pension doesn’t stretch to any more.
70 years after Churchill’s speech was made, she has retired from a lifetime of hard work.
She was part of that unsung army of hard working, clean living, decent individuals, who cheerfully got up every morning and trudged off to put in a decent days work for a paltry wage as a ‘Mrs Mop’, raised her family, nurtured her marriage, made ends meet, saved little, but asked little in return, save the freedom, and tolerance that her older relatives had fought to provide. She is not a politically aware lady, nor insolent, nor ambitious for financial rewards.
In common with other ‘Smokers’ who may not like the new laws prohibiting them from smoking where others may be offended by the practice, she respected the law of the land, and complied. She is no campaigner against such laws.
Thus it was that she found herself standing at a bus stop, waiting for the bus which would take her home, and taking the opportunity to smoke a cigarette in the open air – there was no bus shelter. She could no longer smoke a cigarette on the top deck of the bus. She had not been able to smoke a cigarette with the cup of tea she shared with her daughter in town. Now she must stand in the road to enjoy the ‘freedom, tolerance and variety’ of the British Isles.
She only smoked half the cigarette; as the time drew close for the bus to arrive, she ‘nibbed’ the cigarette, letting the lit end fall to the ground, and thriftily stowing the other half of the cigarette in her handbag for a later occasion. It was her last cigarette until pension day.
Two of Sandwell’s famed ‘enforcement wardens’ approached her – a man and a woman. They told her that they were issuing a ‘Fixed Penalty Fine’ of £75 under Section 87 (1) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 as amended by Section 18 of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005. This mouthful of gobblygook was lost on Sheila; she had no idea what she had done wrong and put the piece of paper in her pocket.
Once home, friends and neighbours clustered round to read this piece of officialdom. Sheila still had the ‘end’ of the cigarette, with its precious inch or so of un-smoked tobacco in her handbag, so how could she be accused of littering the street – it had to be the cigarette ash they were talking about?
I have spoken to Sandwell Council, they tell me that they do not issue fixed penalty notices for cigarette ‘ash’ – I am sure they don’t. I am equally sure that Mrs Martin is telling the truth when she tells me that the half cigarette with its ‘butt’ was still safely in her handbag when she returned home. So we are left with the quandary of whether the ‘lit’ end of a cigarette, which will become cigarette ‘ash’ within seconds, constitutes parliament’s intention when they defined litter as including:
In section 98 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (definitions), after subsection (5) insert—
(a) the discarded ends of cigarettes, cigars and like products, and
(b) discarded chewing-gum and the discarded remains of other products designed for chewing.”
If a court holds that it does, then every smoker is liable for a £75 fine every time they smoke a cigarette in the street. I do not believe that to be parliament’s intention.
On Friday, the threatening ‘Final Demand’ from Sandwell Council, warning her that she now faces a £2,500 fine plus costs (and possible imprisonment if she does not pay that) expired. The next opportunity for Mrs Martin to contest this matter will come in ‘some months time’ – the council cannot tell me when her case will arrive at the top of their back log of cases to appear in the Magistrates court.
Sheila Martin is frightened, intimidated, and feels helpless in the face of this prosecution. She is in delicate health, aggravated by stress, and I have asked the council to reconsider their decision to press ahead with what may well be an interesting test case defining a cigarette end, but which will be at the expense of a frail and elderly person. They have referred me to their ‘revised Enforcement Policy’ – which makes for terrifying reading, a fine example of the totalitarian government Sheila’s Father fought so bravely to prevent. (available HERE)
Nick Hogan, who I was instrumental in rescuing from prison after similar council action, has joined with me, the Libertarian Party and the Sunday Mercury, to ensure that Sheila suffers as little as possible from the council’s intransience.
We have already arranged for some very high powered legal representation for her, to put her mind at rest, and I have promised her that she will go to prison ‘over my dead body’ – she is obviously unable to pay this fine, or incremental increases of it, and I have personally guaranteed her that somehow I will make sure that she doesn’t have to pay it herself, nor go to prison.
There is no need for money at present, all the legal beagles so far involved are kindly donating their time and expertise free of charge – although if there are any other lawyers out there who would like to join the team, this is one broth that will not be spoiled by too many cooks. My e-mail address is on the contact section of this blog.
70 years ago we were prepared to ‘fight them on the beaches’ – how appropriate that today we prepare to f’ight them on the Sandwell……’
CAMPAIGNERS have vowed to raise funds to help an elderly widow who has been threatened with a £2,500 fine for dropping cigarette ash on the pavement.
Sheila Martin, 70, was smoking at a bus stop when a Sandwell Council warden pounced and handed her the £75 fixed penalty for littering.
The frail granny, from Oldbury, has refused to pay – and now faces a £2,500 penalty or even prison.
But on-line campaigners who freed a pub landlord from jail for a similar offence earlier this year have now come forward to lend their support.
Nick Hogan, former landlord of The Swan and Barristers in Bolton, was jailed for six months for failing to pay fines and costs totalling £10,136 after being guilty of allowing customers to light up.
But he walked free after an internet campaign raised £10,000 to secure his early release in just 10 days.
Web blogger Anna Raccoon was instrumental in securing his freedom and has now vowed to help Mrs Martin.
She said: “As a result of articles I wrote, the generosity of my readers and with the co-operation of other bloggers, we managed to raise the money in 10 days and get Nick released from jail.
“Now we are prepared to turn our efforts to helping Sheila Martin. If she does not pay the fine, she could be sent to jail just as Nick Hogan was.
“That is oppressive persecution and we should not stand by and watch an elderly widow treated like this.
“My readers are happy to support Sheila in any way we can, to enable her to fight this penalty.”
Last night Mrs Martin said: “I am so touched by all the support people have been giving me all week.
“I thought I was all alone and now I realise I am not. It has made me feel so much better.”
Simon Clarke, Director of Pro-smoking Group FOREST, also offered his support. He said: “What is happening to her is just another example of the bully state.
“Smokers are easy targets and while we do not condone littering, this case is just a complete overreaction by Sandwell Council.
“We will not allow this frail old lady to be bullied and we will do everything we can to help her.”