A crown court judge has questioned a county council’s zero tolerance policy over littering as a woman was cleared of dropping a cigarette butt in a car park.
Judge Rhys Rowlands allowed an appeal by the grandmother who denied she had been standing next to her vehicle in the car park at Prestatyn Retail Park or that she had dropped a cigarette butt.
Maria Tracey, 49, of Coedmor, Penyffordd, near Holywell, was issued with a £75 fixed penalty notice on May 19.
When she did not pay it, she ended up being fined £220 in her absence at Llandudno Magistrates Court together with £200 costs and a £30 surcharge.
But it was all quashed on appeal at Mold Crown Court and Miss Tracey, who represented herself, was told her costs would be paid from central funds.
The judge said the enforcement officer involved had more than once referred to the council‘s “zero policy” on littering.
Littering was a matter that affected everyone in society, but to be an offence it had to be deliberate and not an accidental act, he said.
The issue in the case before the court was that the woman said that not only did she not drop a cigarette butt, as alleged, but that she remained inside her car throughout eating a meal with her two daughters and her granddaughter, aged three months.
Bodycam evidence had been played to the court, but that did not show the alleged offence – it was of the officer approaching her car very quickly.
He was out of breath to the extent that the court found it very difficult to understand what he was saying, the judge explained.
In fairness to the officer, once he had regained his breath and the court could start to understand what he was saying, then he was perfectly polite with her when he obtained her details which led to the conviction before the court.
The officer, Lee Anthony Hester, told how he saw her stand at the side of her car and drop a cigarette.
She was reversing out of the bay when he approached, cautioned her and issued her with the fixed penalty notice.
Judge Rowlands said the issue was stark. One of the two individuals was telling lies. There could be no question of a mistake.
He said it was a criminal case which had to be proved to a high standard and the court, he said, was unanimous in the view that they preferred her evidence as opposed to his.
The judge, sitting with two magistrates, said it might just be unfortunate timing or it may be a matter of Denbighshire Council policy, but the bodycam footage did not show the alleged offence being committed.
“We are told it is a matter of policy. I don’t understand that. The bodycam is there to provide evidence of an offence,” he said.
The officer had not asked her to pick it up and he had not recovered the cigarette butt.
When the offending cigarette butt was pointed out on the footage, he said the court could not be sure it was a cigarette butt.
“It looks like a pebble to me,” he said.
In any event, it was not at the side of the vehicle where it was alleged she had dropped it.
He said that the court had real doubts of the veracity of the prosecution evidence before it.
The officer could give no details of her car apart from the fact that it was blue.
He said he saw her drop a cigarette from 15 metres away, but the footage showed he was out of breath after running some distance towards her.
He also noted the second officer – who dealt with one of her passengers – had not been called to give evidence.
Miss Tracey said she had felt “very intimidated” at the time to be approached by two people she believed were in authority.
They had purchased meal deals at Tesco, were simply sitting in the vehicle when they were approached. She said the Tesco CCTV system should have been checked to show that.
Mr Hester, employed by Kingdom Security and contracted to the council, said it was not council policy to record the offence.
The judge asked: “Why ever not? That is the most important thing.”
Mr Hester said the bodycam was there to record their dealings with the public in case of any aggression.
He conceded he had spoken very quickly to the woman on his arrival, but said that was because he was nervous not knowing what kind of reception he would get.
But the judge said: “If you were nervous how do you think she felt?”
Barrister Gemma Gordon, prosecuting, told Miss Tracey she had not said at the time that she had remained in the car throughout.
But the judge said she was in shock at the time.