In March 2003, the then Home Secretary David Blunkett published a White Paper, Respect and Responsibility [PDF], in which he warned of the "anti-social behaviour of a few [that] damages the lives of many" and "blights people’s lives, destroys families and ruins communities". His message was a stark one: "we will work," he said "alongside those who are not prepared to tolerate people harassing and intimidating their neighbours or mistreating our public spaces".
The result was the Antisocial Behaviour Act 2003, which addresses a variety of issues like crack houses, throwing fireworks, the introduction of dispersal zones and action against abusive behaviour likely to cause harassment or distress. It also introduced, under section 43, penalty notices for graffiti and fly-posting.
Today, I discovered that I have been issued with three of these Section 43 fixed penalty notices for allegedly fly posting leaflets about the Save Wanstead Flats campaign. These 'offences' took place last Friday, at 12.25pm, 1.22pm and 1.24pm respectively, and involved the attachment of leaflets to, erm, trees in Wanstead. Each offence carries an £80 fine.
Subsection 3 of the particular part of the 2003 Act that Redbridge council has used to issue the notices is very specific: it says
So why have I been targeted? I was in my office in Forest Gate at the times concerned and I have ample proof of this - and I'm also disabled because of the traffic accident I wrote about again yesterday, which would currently make it impossible for me to fly-post anywhere, never mind a a mile away.
"an authorised officer may not give a notice to a person under subsection (1) in relation to the display of an advertisement unless he has reason to believe that that person personally [my emphasis] affixed or placed the advertisement to, against or upon the land or object on which the advertisement is or was displayed."
The reality is that Redbridge 's Street Enforcement Team obviously have no evidence I have personally affixed a leaflet to anything. They simply wanted someone to target. Because my employer has agreed to allow the Save Wanstead Flats campaign to use Durning Hall community centre as a contact address and because I have commented publicly on the campaign to prevent the police from using the Flats as its Olympic base, they chose me. The fact that the campaign has no leaders and is organised collectively by a steering group of local residents - and that any one of hundreds of people could have stuck a leaflet onto a tree - clearly never entered their jobs-worthy heads.
Frankly this is not only a abuse of legislation designed to prevent anti-social behaviour (although that's a matter of debate in itself). It is also, in my view, a deliberate attempt to make sure that, in the name of supposedly stopping the mistreatment of our public spaces, those who take part in a popular local campaign are criminalised for activities beyond their control. No wonder there's often a reluctance for people to come forward on local issues.
I have the option to appeal, apparently, but I have no intention of doing so: I'll see you in court. I'm actually rather curious to see what bullshit 'evidence' the council has against me. However, in the interests of fairness and because it will cost Redbridge council taxpayers a small fortune when they lose, I'd invite the council's Street Enforcement Team to consider avoiding the embarrassment of a magistrates court hearing by writing to formally withdraw the notices.
Otherwise, you'll be hearing from my (exceptionally tough and experienced) civil liberties lawyers.