Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Newcastle Council avoids 'fine mess' in Parking Ticket stitch up

My head is still being scratched over this one.

The case in question related to a disputed Excess Charge Notice issued by Newcastle City Council to a vehicle in Newcastle United's St. James' Park football ground.
I had parked the vehicle (October 2004) when we attended a regional assembly debate at the Stadium.
We were advised by the event organisers to enter off Strawberry Lane (not possible now as the traffic flow has changed) and pull into the football club car park. I parked the vehicle after going through the red and white barrier (my remark that it was the only red and white thing I saw all night in the Mag's home territory brought a rebuke from the bench) and attended the function.
When we returned to the vehicle an Excess Charge Notice had been stuck on the windscreen.
To keep the story short, representations were made to the Council and these were dismissed. As the alleged offence had been committed under the 1984 Road Traffic Regulation Act I actually insisted that the Council issue a summons against me to have the matter resolved in a court of law.
They did and it finally reached a conclusion yesterday after being adjourned twice. The first time was because there wasn't enough time to hear it.
The second time was to allow the Council's solicitor to prepare a skeleton argument against the legal point that I had raised that their car park signs did not conform to the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002.
In court it was stated that the signs were 7ft off the ground 'so people didn't bang their heads.'
The fact that you couldn't read what was written on them seemed not to concern the bench.
The Court Clerk advised the bench on the flaws in the skeleton argument and stated that the signs must be of a 'similar' nature to those on street. The ones Newcastle Council used in all their car parks differed greatly from those prescribed in the legislation.
A further argument was that at the head of the five bays where I parked there was a 5ft x 3ft sign which stated 'Newcastle United Football Club.' We had therefore assumed after being told by a club official to park there that this was the club car park. There were no 'pay and display signs' beside these five bays.
Photographs were supplied.
The bench deliberated for 45 minutes.
The Court Clerk reappeared and did not make eye contact with the Council solicitor whose opinion she had questioned and challenged. Her paperwork was placed rather forcefully back on her desk.
Perhaps what follows may have had a bearing on her demeanour.

The bench of three magistrates re-entered the court.
" Mr. Herron. We find you guilty of failing to pay the Excess Charge. We find that Newcastle City Council have conformed to the requirements of the Of Street Parking Places Order 2001 and that the signage in the St. James' Car Park is also valid.
However, because you were advised to park where you did by a Stadium official we give you an absolute discharge on failing to pay the excess charge due to mitigating circumstances."

Newcastle's Solicitor applied for costs of £385.
The bench awarded costs against me of £45...£15 less than the excess charge notice that I didn't have to pay.

The Bench pointed out that I had 28 days to pay.

The Court Clerk pointed out that I had 21 days to decide whether I wished to appeal the decision to the Crown Court.

I have splinters in my fingers from scratching my head as to how I could be guilty of failing to pay an excess charge which I had been given an absolute discharge for.
I must point out that the signs the Bench had to take into consideration are the same all over the Newcastle City Council area. If it had been decided that the signs were not prescribed (they clearly are not) or not authorised (they clearly are not) then every excess charge notice could be challenged on the same grounds that I raised in court. Perhaps a couple of£m at stake on that decision...or would it be best to come up with what they came up with?


6 comments:

Tim said...

I don't suppose any of the magistrates could have had a relationship of some sort with the council?

Anoneumouse said...

I take it you are appealing against this decision.

johnathonshilling said...

Neil,

I have followed your blogs for a while. I fully believe that everyone, especially public authorities should adhere to the rule of law.

However, it really gets my goat when people try to get off on technicalities. Bottom line you didn't pay the ticket and you admit there were signs.

People like you make it difficult for people with genuine reasons to have their tickets cancelled.

Speeders are the same, signs were incorrect etc, knowing full well they were in the wrong.

wonkotsane said...

Maybe you should appeal on the grounds that they issued you with a promise of a fine before taking you to court, therefore rendering the notice illegal and void?

I would appeal just to prove a point. If you're guilty of a crime how can you be given a complete discharge for it?

Presumably the Off Street Parking Places Order 2001 is made under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 which, correct me if I'm wrong, makes reference to the "road signs bible" which you used in your star appearance on Tonight with Trevor Macdonald?

Anonymous said...

Johnathonshilling said that he fully believes that councils should fully be within the law, then proceeds to mock someone for 'getting off' on a technicality.

A technacality, as he puts it, means that the council wasn't within the law. Therefore i'm sure he'll agree that Neil was once again right.

Roger Hayes said...

The magistrates obviously knew that you were right but they also knew that it was going to cost the council a great deal of dough if they found in your favour... I would say it was their twisted logic to think they should find you guilty for the greater good (of the council) and hope you would be grateful - this is a classic case of corruption.

They decided to let you off in the hope that you would go quitely.

APPEAL... lets see how corrupt the system really is?

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