Our responsible citizen, Luke Gutteridge, was walking somewhere in Broxbourne council’s jurisdiction one day when he accidentally dropped a 10p sized piece of orange peel without noticing. A council enforcement officer spotted him and pointed out he’d dropped it. Mr Gutteridge immediately apologised and picked it up. That’s where this story would have stopped, but it didn’t.
The enforcement officer issued a £75 fine for littering. Mr Gutteridge refused to accept the fine (understandably) and challenged it through the Magistrate’s Court. He was successful: the Council lost because the Magistrates considered that whilst he may have dropped a piece of litter, he hadn’t abandoned it.
The question is how much the authority’s farcical behaviour cost the taxpayer in this time of strict austerity. I put in a Freedom of Information Request to find out precisely that.
The Council initially told me that there were no costs because it was all done by their in-house legal team. I requested an internal review, because I know that all legal teams quantify their costs to claim off the other side if they win the case. The Council then told me that it had cost them £1,700 in lawyers time and £100 for the enforcement officer to attend Court.
I thought I’d bottomed the costs, but an article in the local paper, the Hertfordshire Mercury, has revealed that even that figure is incorrect. “It has now emerged the case cost taxpayers £2,057.” The Mercury quotes the Council’s response to my FOI request, leaving the reader with the very legitimate question as to why the Council gave me a lower figure.
Even this is lower than the actual cost, mind you, because as Mr Gutteridge won his case, the Council will be liable for his legal costs too.
One hopes that when the Auditor comes to examine the Council’s accounts, that the Council are somewhat more straightforward and honest than they appear to have been when complying with their legal obligation to provide accurate information in response to my FOI request.