Fined for drying a bench in Glasgow

I have just received a letter from an elderly gentleman in Glasgow, who was fined earlier this year while in the process of drying a bench.

He has arthritis and wanted to sit down; he had one handkerchief but the bench was still wet, so he left the tissue for a minute to go to a cafe opposite to get some more tissues and finish the job. Yet no sooner had he stepped away from his bench, he was approached by a warden who slapped him with a fine for littering. He explained that he hadn’t left the tissue, he was only going for a minute to get more tissues, but his explanations cut no ice.

When he further appealed the fine in a letter to the council, he was told that ‘Glasgow has a zero tolerance policy regarding littering’. The council representative from ‘Community Safety Glasgow’ said that he had ‘reviewed the footage from the body cameras worn by the officers’ and was satisfied that ‘a littering offence was committed’.

The gentleman says that he is refusing to pay the fine, since it is ‘unjust’: ‘I’m prepared to fight this in court. I’m not a litter lout and I’m law abiding.’ He said that the case highlights ‘the extremely ridiculous hyperregulatory endemic now’. Indeed, it seems grossly out of proportion to wield the forces of state – body cameras, no less – against a 71-year-old drying a bench.

The gentleman reflected that life in 1950s Glasgow may have been harder and dirtier, ‘but it was also freer. Everybody was too busy working to bother with this sort of thing’.

The context for this case is indicated by Glasgow Council’s statement that “The number of tickets issued by Community enforcement officers has exceeded targets”. There has been a shift within UK criminal justice, from fining as a last resort, towards fining as an end in itself. Essentially ‘Community Enforcement Officers’ are out on patrol trying to issue as many fines as possible. They have targets, and the number of fines is seen as a measure of ‘performance’. This is why they will issue a fine wherever they conceivably can, even when the person concerned has a reasonable explanation for their actions.

Read on: See our report about on-spot litter fines, The Corruption of Punishment.

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