Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Neil Herron strikes another blow against injustice

Press Release:Immediate
The People's No Campaign
5th December 2005
"Campaigner's Speed Case Victory forces Northumbria Police to Change Evidence Procedures
...a case that has massive national implications"
1.Failure by the courts to establish whether Police had followed correct procedures in attempting to contact the alleged offender
2.Failure by the courts to ask any questions with regard to the evidence submitted by the Police...in this instance simply two letters were sent out by first class post
3.Failure by the Police to establish any evidence as to the existence of the alleged offender.
4.An absolute injustice , which is being replicated in tens of thousands of other cases across the country
5.A victory, which can now lead to the re-opening of tens of thousands of other cases.
6. An admission by Northumbria Police that they are to change their procedures.
The case
In attempting to tax his vehicle in July 2005 Neil Herron discovered that the V5 Registration Document had not been returned from the DVLA Swansea after it had been sent off some months earlier after notifying them of a change of address. It was also apparent that his driving licence had not been returned either.
He immediately contacted DVLA who could not find them in the system, and they pointed out that a number of items do go missing but the blame may also lie with the Royal Mail who lose some 14million items of post a year.
There is no requirement by DVLA to send items by recorded delivery.
Neil Herron was advised to go the LVLO (Local Vehicle Licensing Office) at Gosforth to tax his vehicle and apply for a replacement licence.
Although aggrieved at the inconvenience of a 30 mile round trip coupled with the fact that a replacement licence would cost £19 Herron complied.
The replacement licence duly came back at the beginning of August and the events that follow have forced Northumbria Police, after a full internal review, to completely change their procedures in relation to the pursuit of alleged speed camera offenders.
This change of policy was confirmed by David Heslop, Head of Criminal Justice at Northumbria Police, in a lengthy meeting at their Ponteland HQ on 1st December 2005, where, as a result of matters raised in this case, Northumbria Police were going to implement new practices, which would undoubtedly have national implications for all other camera schemes and Police Forces. It is expected that this new 'good practice' procedure will be adopted by all other force areas.
This will mean an end to the outrageous injustice of people being convicted of a criminal offence in their absence and being fined and given penalty points, and will also force the Police to go back to proper investigative procedures in order to establish the identity of the driver of a vehicle committing an alleged offence.
More serious implications will involve all of those previously convicted in their absence of 'Failure to Provide Information.' Many will be able to follow Herron's procedure and request that the case be re-opened under Section 142 of the Magistrates Court Act 1980.
The implications relate to the finacial penalties and any hardships or consequences suffered as a result of the imposition of penalty points on licences. Costs and damages may run into tens of millions of pounds nationwide.
There will also be the cost to the force concerned with regard to the DVLA correcting the licence (believed to be £250 - £300 per licence) and removing the penalty points.
The People's No Campaign will assist with information and advice on this matter and has a legal team waiting to handle any cases.
Simply e-mail mail@thepeoplesnocampaign.co.uk or call 0845 147 2006
or write to:
The People's No Campaign
12 Frederick Street
Herron's licence was returned with three penalty points and a £120 fine. He had no knowledge of any offence nor had anyone attempted to advise him that he had been taken to court.
The licence had the convicting court code as being 2349 and the offence code MS90. The date of the conviction was 31.05.05 and 'date of offence' was 18.10.04.
Immediate enquiries revealed that Herron had been convicted in his absence at Bedlington Magistates Court for 'Failing to Provide Information' with regard to an alleged speeding offence committed some 10 months previously.
It appeared that the court had found him guilty in his absence and the only evidence that Northumbria Police had provided to the Court was the fact that a Notice of Intended Prosecution / Request for Information addressed to the Registered Keeper of the vehicle, the purpose of which is to identify the driver of the vehicle at the time of the alleged offence, had not been returned. A follow up letter received no reply and a summons was issued.
The case proceeded on that basis.
There were no further checks by Northumbria Police to establish whether Herron was actually still residing at the address, whether he was deceased, ill in hospital, abroad, whether mail was being removed or withheld or whether a dog was eating the post.
However, it appears as though once a conviction is obtained all resources are thrown at contacting the person convicted in order to get the money. This was confirmed by Sunderland Magistrates Court who had been passed over details regarding collection of the fine, and they stated that electoral registers, phone companies and credit reference agencies were all used to find the person.
Communications began with the Court and Northumbria Police and a complaint was raised.
Herron then invoked Section 142 of the Magistrates Court Act 1980:
142. Power of magistrates' court to re-open cases to rectify mistakes etc.

    (1) A magistrates' court may vary or rescind a sentence or other order imposed or made by it when dealing with an offender if it appears to the court to be in the interests of justice to do so; and it is hereby declared that this power extends to replacing a sentence or order which for any reason appears to be invalid by another which the court has power to impose or make.

    (2) Where a person is convicted by a magistrates' court and it subsequently appears to the court that it would be in the interests of justice that the case should be heard again by different justices, the court may so direct.

The case was re-opened and scheduled to be heard at Bedlington Magistrates Court.
The pre-trial review was heard on 21st September 2005 and the CPS lawyer never lifted his head and the Court Clerk appeared very nervous. Herron requested that the case go ahead in full and that a witness order be made to call the Chief Constable. The court clerk even went through the charade of ringing up for a court date, and this was given and confirmed.
Herron however, received confirmation in the post a few days later that the case was being dropped.
The letter from Northumbria Police stated:
Dear Sir,
I refer to the above summons against you.
Enquiries have been made with the Officer in Charge of this case and in the circumstances I have requested the Clerk to the Justices to withdraw the summons, as you did not receive any documentation.
I hope this information is of assitance to you.
Yours faithfully,
S Munro
ASU Administrator
What came out of the meeting with David Heslop however, was that Northumbria Police had already offered no evidence and had asked for the case to be dropped. The court therefore had gone through a charade.
A Freedom of Information request to Northumbria Police revealed that there had been 8754 other cases tried at Bedlington Magistrates Court for 'Failure to Provide Information.' A request to the court as to the statistical breakdown of convictions and acquittals has drawn a blank response.
A very serious question mark now hangs over those very Magistrates who will have convicted thousands of people in their absence based on nothing more than 'no response' evidence presented by the Police.
The admission by the Northumbria Police Force that this has not been good practice and falls well short of their moral requirements allows all of those defendants to ask for their cases to be re-opened and potentially have their convictions quashed and the penalty points removed from their licence.
Once this is replicated nationally the cost to the Camera Partnerships will run into tens of millions.
Neil Herron states, " What happened in my instance was a massive injustice that should never have been allowed to happen. For a criminal case to proceed with the defendant 'in absentia' is an affront to the whole judicial process. Northumbria Police have at least had the humility to accept their endemic procedural mistakes and have undergone a full review and are going to implement new practices. They expect this will be raised at the next ACPO meeting and the practice be adopted nationally. They also accept that their behaviour in this instance has fallen well short of acceptable practice.
However, what is just as serious is the fact that the Magistrates at Bedlington have simply being rubber-stamping cases and convicting people in their absence without ever asking the Police what efforts were made, other than using two first class stamps, to contact or establish the status of the alleged.offender.
I accept that because of my profile as a campaigner my complaint was perhaps treated more seriously than anyone else who may have suffered a similar injustice, but our campaign will now assist anyone else that has suffered a similar fate.
Perhaps by forcing the Police nationally to now look at the whole system of remote policing using speed cameras, which has driving a massive wedge between them and the public, we may hopefully now get back to them treating the public at large with the proper respect that they deserve, and I am sure that this will then be reciprocated by the vast majority of the law abiding British public who hold the view that speed cameras have very little to do with road safety and everything to do with raising cash."
Neil Herron
Campaign Director
The People's No Campaign
12 Frederick Street
Tel. 0191 ..........
Notes for Editors:
1. Neil Herron is Campaign Director for The People's No Campaign which has grown out of the Metric Martyrs and the North East No Campaign (defeated Prescott in last year's elected assembly referendum). The group also created the No Campaign against the European Constitution.
Neil Herron along with Steven Thoburn were European Campaigners of the Year in 2001 with the Metric Martyrs Campaign beating Wim Duisenberg and his launch of the Euro Notes and Coins.
2. The People's No Campaign is expanding to take on board all issues of unaccountable and unacceptable governance.
3. Contact details for David Heslop, Head of Criminal Justice for Northumbria Police...01661 (Force HQ)
4. Endorsed Licence and Northumbria Police Communications can be viewed here.


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