Wednesday 10 November 2010

Redbridge Enforcement Officers 'Out Of Control'

Here’s an interesting statistic to ponder. According to information made available online by Defra, one east London council absolutely loves issuing fixed penalty notices (FPNs) for alleged flyposting.

In 2008-09, the London borough of Redbridge issued more than any other local authority and its 206 FPNs accounted for 16% of all those around the country. The year before, it again topped the list and was even more enthusiastic about threatening legal action: it issued 25% of all the FPNs recorded by Defra.

What is really surprising, however, is that in the year to March 2009, a staggering 49% of Redbridge’s FPNs for alleged flyposting were subsequently cancelled.

As I reported at the time, in early September I was issued with three fixed penalty notices by Redbridge council for allegedly fly posting leaflets about the Save Wanstead Flats campaign. At the time these ‘offences’ supposedly took place, I was at work in Forest Gate and so I refused to accept liability for paying them, challenging the council to take me to court if necessary. After some prompting, a senior official in Redbridge’s Street Scene Enforcement team wrote on 18 October to left me know that “having reviewed the evidence and circumstances in this case”, he had graciously decided to waive the FPNs, adding that “as long as there is no repeat if the original offence, you will not hear from us again.”

Although pleased that I wasn’t facing a day in court, I was understandably livid at this last comment. Redbridge council clearly had no evidence it felt it could substantiate in front of a magistrate and any ‘original offence’ involving me had never occurred, so it could hardly be repeated. With help from Newham Monitoring Project, I therefore spoke to a solicitor, who wrote to demand an apology. Today, he received an extremely intemperate response expressing anger at the accusation that the council issues FPNs without evidence. It states:

“The posters concerned were advertising the ‘Save Wanstead Flats’ campaign and bore an address, which you have agreed is your client’s work address. I would contest that in any other proceedings, this would be viewed as legitimate evidence, for instance we deal with many cases of flytipping, if correspondence is found in a bag of fly-tipped rubbish, would this not be considered evidence of the origin of the rubbish? As your client is a ‘well known community activist in the Save Wanstead Flats campaign’, what would a ‘reasonable’ person think?”

What indeed? The problem with the comparison to a stray letter left in a dumped bag of rubbish is a simple one – my name does not appear anywhere on the campaign leaflet that was apparently pinned to a tree in Wanstead High Street back in September. It’s a clear admission that Redbridge thought it ‘reasonable’, with no other evidence, to simply find a name linked to the campaign, presumably through a quick Google search, and use this as the basis for a threat of a fine or court hearing. It’s also an admission that a senior member of the borough’s Street Scene Enforcement team doesn’t understand the Antisocial Behaviour Act 2003, which forbids the issuing of FPNs unless there is reason to believe that a person has ‘personally affixed or placed’ a poster illegally. That involves rather more than plucking someone’s name off the internet - such as catching them in the act of flyposting, for instance - and it’s hardly surprising that Redbridge council wasn’t prepared to risk scrutiny by a court of its officers’ flimsy conjecture.

But it is also far from surprising that so many of its FPNs are cancelled if this is the cavalier attitude towards evidence adopted by Redbridge’s Street Scene Enforcement officers, who appear to be completely out of control. Decisions about whether to send out letters demanding an £80 penalty, with the prospect of a £5000 fine for non-compliance, shouldn’t be taken lightly. But Redbridge council seems to throw them out as though they are confetti.

I have been offered an apology 'for any distress', but that's simply not good enough. Council officials can't exercise what are considerable powers with a complete disregard for the law or their accountability to the public. Meanwhile, someone in Redbridge council really needs to look at its FPN statistics and start asking questions about what on earth is going on in the Street Scene Enforcement team.


At the same time as instructing a solicitor, I made a Data Protection Act subject access request, demanding to see the information that Redbridge council's Street Scene Enforcement team holds on me. They have 40 days – until 29 November – to release this data. If they fail to keep to this deadline, which considering their casual approach to the law seems probable, then I’ll have no hesitation in seeking a court order to force them to do so. It looks like I'll be facing a hearing after all.

1 Comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm pleased to hear that LB Redbridge dropped their action (but not that they are still being ungracious). As I said before, there are many notices for local community events etc that are posted in their area and which, I know (I know the people) don't result in such threats being made against those connected with putting up posters about church concerts, etc. So why did they just pick on this event; I'd presume it was because of its political content.

And in Ilford town centre they have taken to banning the stalls (animal rights, Islamists and others) in the high street. I hope someone considers action against the council, perhaps under anything that may support a right to 'freedom of expression'.

I also wonder about the legality of it all. I did think that there was some dispensation given in a recent law to political or charitable issues in postering (?) or maybe just in giving out leaflets. Certainly some councils, e.g. Leeds, specifically state that they allow posters, etc for local community events and campaigns.

And heading on to Newham, I see recently that Westfield shopping centre in West London have stopped a demo about, I think, library cuts on the pavement outside a library at the edge of their development. They own the pavement, apparently.

I can well see Stratford, 3 years hence, where a whole wedge of land – and where the largest flows of pedestrians in Stratford will be - incl the International station, all the Olympic site, the new shopping centre, the current station and on to the original shopping centre that will all be a 'no go' area for any leafleting etc, as all that land will be private.

But then free expression in other parts of Stratford can be problematic as well, as your report on the attempt to stop the Pierce/Begg meeting shows and which also happened to me as reported in

Clive P

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