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« Pubs need smokers | Main | Blast from the past »

More evidence of the bully state

This time last year I was busy editing The Bully State: The End of Tolerance, Brian Monteith's entertaining but depressing picture of modern day Britain. Any hopes that the bully state would disappear under the new Government disappeared when I read that a woman, an elderly widow of 75, had been "threatened with £2,500 fine for dropping cigarette ash". Full story HERE.

According to the Daily Telegraph:

Sheila Martin, 70, was smoking at a bus stop when a warden pounced and handed her the £75 fixed penalty for littering. However she has refused to pay – and could now face a £2,500 penalty.

Mrs Martin, from Oldbury, West Mids, was hit with the original fine by the Sandwell Council warden while at the bus stop on May 25.

She said: "I still can't believe what happened. I was just sat at a bus stop quietly enjoying my cigarette and from nowhere a warden appeared and accused me of littering.

"I couldn't believe it, I was only smoking a cigarette. It is one of the few things I have left that I can afford to buy myself. I can't work out why the council would be so vindictive over such a petty matter. I'm so upset and angry."

I'm not suggesting that we should tolerate litter but even a £75 fine seems excessive in this instance. Cigarette ash is not, by any definition, litter. And even if the fine was for dropping a cigarette butt, surely a quiet word would have been sufficient? But no, wardens have to justify their existence and it wouldn't surprise me if they have targets to meet.

(A police officer wrote to the Motoring section of the Telegraph some time ago and explained that, in his area, you are less likely to get caught for speeding or other motoring offences in the latter part of the month because once police officers have met their monthly targets they tend to be less vigilant.)

Of course you could argue that what happens in Oldbury has nothing to do with central government, but I disagree. The previous government tacitly encouraged the bully state mentality that Brian writes about in his book and it is something that the new Government must get to grips with.

If we want officials to use a bit more common sense and compassion when dealing with relatively minor offences, the message has to come from the very top. If wheel clampers are to be banned from operating on private land (note the word "private"), I don't think it is unreasonable to expect the authorities to adopt a less heavy-handed approach in public areas too.

PS. I have just Googled The Bully State and it is currently available from Amazon for £85.61 (new) or £77.35 (used). See HERE. The recommended retail price is £6.99 and I should know - I've got a box of them (the last remaining copies) in my study at home!

Update: Anna Raccoon has more on the Sheila Martin story HERE.

Reader Comments (7)

"The council takes a dim view of littering because the people of Sandwell tell us they want clean streets."

I have this simple idea that will help keep the streets of Sandwell or indeed anyware clean, employ street cleaners insted of litter wardens.

Absolute disgusting treatment of an old woman. What are the odds there was no public ashtray available.

August 17, 2010 at 10:22 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

The bullying and mistreatment of the elderly is not confined to Oldbury.

A friend's father is in his eighties and currently in hospital. He has only been given days to live and has smoked all his life. He has been asking all his visitors to bring him a cigarette but the hospital refuses to allow him one nor is he allowed outside as he is too ill to be moved.

This is a disgrace and if he was my father I would lift him myself and take him out for a smoke but everyone is terrified of what the hospital authorities would do. Heroin addicts get methadone and prisoners can smoke but a poor old man with only a few days left is denied his only remaining pleasure.

I am sure he is not the only dying person being treated like this and these stories should also make the news.

August 17, 2010 at 11:04 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Peoples

Things like this make me so angry Michael.

Hospitals are not there to interpret the law as they see fit, they are there to make us well and to cure our ailments.

They are right in stopping him from smoking inside the hospital, as that (rightly or wrongly) is the law of the land. But to say he is not allowed outside, is 100% wrong. They cannot do this by law!

All your friend needs to do is take a wheelchair in, load their poor father into it, and take him wherever they want, and once he is outside the hospital's jurisdiction, he can smoke, drink and have sex as much as he wants (or can) and there isn't a damn thing the bossy little dictators at the hospital can do about it.

August 17, 2010 at 12:06 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Thurgood

Surely there should be some exemption for dying patients particularly as he is in a private room given to those with limited time to live. He is connected to all sorts of drips and monitors and my friend is afraid of touching anything as he could potentially be charged with assault or worse.

If I am ever in that same state I want taken home and given some cold beers, a bottle of brandy and a carton of Embassy. These drugs would keep me going longer than any stuff the hospital could prescribe and I would certainly have a greater will to live.

August 17, 2010 at 14:15 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Peoples

This story was reported on "Today" at 6.30 this morning and she was fined, not for discarding a butt, but for dropping ash! I hope that this lady holds out and, if the authorities persist in pursuing prosecution, I would be willing to chip in to pay the fine. If we can do it for Nick Hogan, we could raise a fifth of the sum in a couple of days.

August 17, 2010 at 18:22 | Unregistered CommenterJoyce

I've just read via Leg Iron that Anna Racoon plans a fund.

August 18, 2010 at 8:07 | Unregistered CommenterJoyce

If this is right, she was fined just for dropping cigarette ASH, then every person driving a vehicle should also be fined for littering as brake dust is deposited from the vehicle brakes all along the highways - where is the difference? Ash ends up as dust!

I absolutely agree with Adam, instead of Little Hitlers, terrorising old people, give them a broom and a cart and get them to do a proper days work for their pay!

Michael, my father suffered the same 'treatment' during his final days in hospital. He was in a side room but I could not chance breaking the rules and lighting up for him in there as there was 'piped' oxygen and and explosion could have been caused!

Had my mother not felt so intimidated by the staff I would have fought to somehow get Dad out for his last request. As it was I was left torn and even now, just over 8 years on, I cannot get over the fact that Dad was denied his last wish and I still feel guilty for not doing more.

It is not just the disgraceful mistreatment of dying patients it is what those left behind ultimately end up having to live with.

I have said before how my father had his death sentence sealed once dialysis was withdrawn, but a 'caring society' is not allowed to hasten the end by a few days to eliminate suffering, instead they dole out torture of untold indignities and then revel in denying the dying their last wish. If this is a civilised nation I want out and in no way do I want to be left to the merciless torture of the NHS!

August 22, 2010 at 18:53 | Unregistered CommenterLyn

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