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
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
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
In section 98 of the Environmental Protection
Act 1990 (definitions), after subsection (5) insert—
(a) the discarded
ends of cigarettes, cigars and like products,
(b) discarded chewing-gum
and the discarded remains of other products designed for
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)
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
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
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
“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.”