My son recently used the Metro for a trip into Newcastle. Not being a frequent user he disposed of his ticket before leaving the station and was unlucky enough to be given a £20 fine for not having a ticket. Despite being able to prove he purchased the ticket on his debit card and CCTV showed him buying it at the station, his appeal was turned down because the offence was a failure to produce the ticket, whether one was purchased or not. A harsh lesson indeed.
But it pales in comparison with the recent news that two grieving sisters were fined £200 by Grimsby council for extending their fathers funeral at the crematorium by just 48 seconds. Seems this wasn’t an isolated incident either; records reveal that over the past two years the council issued 20 similar fines with one for a family whose funeral overran by a mere 14 seconds. That’s right, 14 seconds! Things are tough enough for people at funerals and while there needs to reasonable time management at busy crematoriums, the idea that a fine for overstaying a few seconds can be justified simply beggars belief and is, frankly, an insult to common decency, never mind common-sense.
But this nonsense doesn’t stop with overzealous and callous council run crematoriums. There’s the story of a woman, in Bath, who fed a pigeon a piece of her sausage roll and was duly fined £150 for littering, despite the fact the pigeon had eaten the offending morsel. Or the case of the resident of Reigate in Surrey, who was fined a massive £2,566 after accidently putting a bag containing non-recyclable items into a recycling bin. Apparently, after spotting the error council workers rummaged through the bag and came across the offenders name and address and then sought to prosecute. How community spirited of them. However, given the often baffling rules on what is, or is not, acceptable for the various waste bins and receptacles it’s easy to see how people can get confused and make a mistake. I’ve done it myself, so one could argue the council are partly to blame.
Then there’s the ever growing number of fines for parking crime. I wager many readers have succumbed to the growing army of ‘Parking Pataweyo’ styled traffic enforcement officers so eager to pounce and fine for the slimmest of parking infringements, no matter the circumstances.
It seems these days the authorities are increasingly seeking to create a swathe of new civil by-laws, often with exorbitant and disproportionate fines in relation to the actual damage any infringement actually causes. Coupled with an ever increasing desire to prosecute anyone hapless enough to get caught. More depressing though, it appears to be the opposite when it comes to the authorities dealing with real crimes. The typical fines and punishments given to offenders for things such as illegal drug taking, vandalism, shop lifting, graffiti or assault is anywhere between £50 to £150 depending on the circumstances and any prior offending. So much for being “tough on crime and the causes of crime.”
At the beginning I mentioned a £20 fine on the Metro. There are people who daily commute on the Metro and never pay the fare. Their view is that it’s cheaper to pay the occasional fine than buy a ticket every day. Alas, this is how many career criminals view a life of crime now. They consider the risks of being caught are worth it, given the relative financial benefits their criminal actions can yield. So much for the adage that “crime does not pay.”
It’s not funny. Furthermore, as the authorities continue to stand by and allow law abiding, decent people to be hounded and heavily fined for petty refuse mistakes or being a few minutes over on their allotted parking while, at the same time, victims to a rise in crime and picking up the pieces and the cost of criminal activity, they risk a potential backlash.
Given crooks don’t fear being caught, only the consequences of being caught, it seems current sentencing guidelines don’t appear to be instilling much of a deterrent. Until the justice system issues sentences with a punitive and deterrent element, crime and the cost of crime will continue to rise.
So, as we prepare to elect our new Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Northumbria, on the 18th July, I feel it’s important the person selected has the knowledge, understanding and ability to manage and deliver the very complex and difficult issue of tackling crime and effective policing in the region.
The outgoing PCC, 69 year old, Dame Vera Baird, is someone who’s spent many years in the legal profession as a barrister and was the Government’s Solicitor General for England and Wales from 2007 to 2010 and so, arguably, had a good working knowledge and understanding of how the police and criminal justice system works. Alas, the same cannot be said of Labour’s candidate to replace her, 34 year old Kim McGuiness. Unlike Dame Vera, McGuiness seems to have no significant knowledge or experience of policing and criminal justice in her short career since leaving university and becoming a councillor for leisure and sport. With a role as important as the PCC, I would urge everyone in the region to put party politics aside and elect the person most qualified and experienced to undertake this challenging job.
This article was first published in the Newcastle Journal on the 4th July 2019