Ms Raccoon is still swishing her tail angrily in the direction of Sandwell Council, and pawing the ground impatiently at the sheer length of time it is taking to transfer Sheila Martin’s ‘file’ from the warden’s department of Sandwell Council to the Legal Services Department in the same building – who are responsible for deciding whether they wish to persecute prosecute Mrs Martin for non-payment of their on-the-spot fine. Whilst the council care so passionately about the environment that they send employees round in pairs to try to charge frail and elderly widows £75 for dropping the lighted end of their last cigarette on the pavement, in order to put the rest of their cigarette safely away in their handbag – without setting light to it – it seems they care nought about the health of a woman who has had five heart attacks and suffers from high blood pressure and angina, and must now wait interminably as the file inches its way at snails pace across the polished marble hallways of the palatial council offices, en route to a highly paid legal beagle who will decide whether they really want to fight a test case over the head of such a vulnerable defendant.
Meanwhile I have been looking at neighbouring councils. The bizarrely named Erewash in particular. Erewash used to be known as the area of such atmospheric and nostalgia laden names as Ilkeston, and Derby, but these days they prefer the utilitarian ‘Erewash’.
They have wardens, just like Sandwell, in blue and black with high viz fluorescent jackets, pretendy police uniforms – they have even issued them with regulation police bikes so that they can pursue their victims more effectively. They patrol in pairs of course, one to persecute prosecute, and one to provide an instant ‘witness’ to the alleged wrongdoing.
Erewash haven’t always been obsessed with the environment, they once took 6 years to agree that a mountain of soiled nappies, hypodermic needles and rotting household waste dumped in Wentworth Street constituted either a health hazard or ‘litter’. They are none too quick to clean up the litter for which they are responsible, either.
Where smoking and the environment is concerned, however, they are zealous, over zealous (officially).
Erewash Borough Council has warned residents that it will continue its tough stance against smokers who fail to dispose of their cigarette litter properly.
Last week they took Barry Wakefield to the South Derbyshire Magistrates Court for failing to pay an on-the-spot fine for dropping a cigarette stub on the road. He must now pay a £235 fine for not paying the original fine.
We will never know which ‘end’ of the cigarette that Mr Wakefield discarded – was he another victim of the ‘throw the lighted end and keep the butt’ brigade? We will never know because Mr Wakefield not only ignored the on the spot fine, he ignored the threatening letters, and displayed equal disdain towards the demand that he turn up in court. We could say that the council won this one by default.
Councillor Chris Corbett, Leader of Erewash Borough Council, says:
“Some smokers seem to think that cigarette ends aren’t litter – well, they’re wrong and this Council takes a zero-tolerance approach to litter louts. We don’t want to fine people, but this case should serve as a warning to anyone who is seen dropping litter of any sort that they will face an on-the-spot fine and face prosecution if necessary.
Don’t be too sure Mr Corbett! You have a short memory. It all depends which end of the cigarette you discarded. Surely you recall Daniel Slaney? Daniel was having a cigarette on his way into work when two of your council wardens pounced and accused him of having thrown away his cigarette ‘end’. Mr Slaney turned up in court and demonstrated to Magistrate Geoffrey Dennis that he always carried an empty packet of cigarettes specifically for the purpose of disposing of the butt ‘thoughtfully’. It was only the lighted end which he had ‘pinched out’ and discarded.
Magistrate Geoffrey Dennis threw out the case. He said:
“This would seem to be an example of overzealous officialdom.”
We are waiting Sandwell…….