pic show Cllr Nigel Davis
The son of a reforming town councillor who curbed the powers of licensing officers claims the bureaucrats wreaked revenge on his ‘totally skint’ Dad with an outrageous £900 ticket – for smoking in public.
Tristan Davis told CCN how his Dad Nigel, who represents Newlyn and Mousehole, was trawled through the courts and charged almost a grand after a licensing officer reported him for smoking in his cab on a day-off.
Mr Davis has spearheaded moves to cut back licensing officers powers, and his family believe he was unjustly targeted.
In recent months the 55 year old councillor stopped licensing being able to arbitrarily suspend cab drivers licenses; he successfully argued it was wrecking local livelihoods.
As a direct result of this, the officers now have to ask a committee of democratically elected Cornwall councillors to let them take the draconian action.
About a month before the smoking fine fiasco, he found out that regular meetings between cabbies and council officers were in breach of regulations.
Nigel pushed for an elected Cornwall councillor to be present when the officers issued new orders; the officer agreed – but then it turned out that should have been the case all along.
Next he hit out at officers stopping people getting cab plates – claiming there weren’t any available – when it didn’t work like that at all.
Tristan explained: “My Dad wanted a cab plate and was turned down; but he found out they didn’t really have the authority to do that.
“In fact all of us have the legal right to apply for a plate – and we can take that request to a democratic committee; it’s called the ‘miscellaneous licensing committee’.
“Dad did this – and he got his plate. And I think that upset a lot of officers. Certainly a lot of other people have been able to make their livings driving cabs since.”
He went on: “A few weeks before he got his ‘smoking’ ticket he made another move.
“My Dad didn’t feel that licensing officers should fine people on the spot for first time offences. So, he asked the town council to restrict their powers again.
“The council agreed – and now if you’re spotted by a town council officer in Penzance with your dog fouling the pavement or dropping a cigarette butt or littering, they can’t just fine you.
“The policy now is a verbal warning, and the officer even has to help out in a way, by giving them the tools to clear the mess up.”
The 30 year old web designer told CCN: “My Dad’s campaigned long and hard to try and rein in the excessive powers of licensing enforcement officers.
“The way in which he’s been prosecuted by them for the smoking offence really makes us all think it’s a grudge match. None of it adds up.”
The saga of the £900 fine starts on the morning of Sunday July 14th last year.
Mr Davis was picking up his 18 year old daughter from Penzance bus station when a licensing officer appeared.
His family say what happened was that Nicola Kewn walked up to Mr Davis’s wheelchair-carrying Fiat Doblo and told him: “When I get back to the office tomorrow, I’m giving you a ticket!”
It’s agreed that three months later, on October 16th, the same officer turned up at the councillor’s home in Newlyn.
She served him with a fine, back-dated to July 15th, for ‘smoking in a public place’.
Mr Davis insisted he wasn’t even smoking.
He also claims he never received the initial fine; and in court, the council showed a recorded post chit – but marked returned undelivered.
Tristan explained: “Now, my Dad was contesting what had become a £50 fine.
“But he contested it on principle – he was adamant he hadn’t been smoking, and he wanted to uphold his reputation.
“Of course, by now, the CCTV had already been erased – so it couldn’t be proved one way or the other. None of the licensing department had requested the footage.
“Anyway, Dad picked up on the fact the ticket wasn’t properly prepared.
“So, Mrs Kewn took it all the way back to the council offices, drew up another one, and drove over again the next day.
“Dad says when he got the ticket the second time, he asked her: “How do I appeal’ – and she replied ‘You’re going to Magistrates’.
“If this is what happend – then in fact he had a further right of appeal, to Cornwall council – but because of what she said, he sat at home, waiting for the summons to drop.”
“So the council went to court. They had no CCTV footage, when they should have done. They had no witnesses. They had no mobile phone footage – which she could have taken.
“It was an officers word against my Dads. And he was convicted, we believe unjustly.”
Tristan said: “Maybe the council have the right to take him to court without any evidence – but I think there should be something to back it up.
“I think it’s a crime against the public. It means as long as you’re one of the 72 people who do this job for the council – you can accuse who you want.
“The council gave officers days off work, they paid for the court case – the whole thing was bizarre.
“Things have gone very wrong in this case.”
Nigel doesn’t have the thousands of pounds needed to contest his fine and costs award. His son says he he is ‘totally skint’ – and won’t get legal aid.
He told us he wanted a change in the law, local to Cornwall, governing the accountability of council enforcement officers, to make cases like his Dads less likely in future.
Tristan explained: “This is Cornwall and we’re a small community. So, for instance, Mrs Kewn’s husband is a local beat bobby. Her sister-in-law has tea at my Dads all the time.
“Everyone knows each other anyway so I think that we should all be able to know who the 72 people who work as enforcement officers are.
“That’s the way it works for community policemen – they’re all online – and it should be the same for council officers. Sadly, they seem to operate under a veil of secrecy.
“This is a problem because in my opinion what my Dad’s case shows is if you upset any of them, they just gun for you.”
“All the people that can prosecute you for dropping cigarette packets, spitting, fouling – I think we should know who they are.
“It may be a bit anti-social to litter the pavement – but it’s not on to criminalise people for behaviour like that.”
“They shouldn’t be able to just pick on us, without being much more transparent and accountable.”
Cornwall council’s prosecution of Cllr Ward cost him more than £900 – but also cost the taxpayer, his son pointed out.
Tristan said: “It’s all been a massive waste of our money. They charged my Dad for their expensive solicitor at £85 an hour.
“That’s bad enough. But you and I will pick up the bill in our council tax for the full time licensing officer going to court multiple times.
“On top of all this, interestingly, I saw a lady with a council badge on, presumably on duty, and who my Dad recognised as a licensing enforcement officer, at the trial.
“She was just sat in the gallery, both of his days in court. Was she on duty? Did we pay for her to sit there watching?
“Then there’s the three home visits to my Dads house – all during work time.
“She also made legal statement about the case over a period of ten hours – ten hours which cost my Dad £85 an hour and the taxpayer her wage for that time.
“I think it’s a scandal.”
In the council statement on the case – reproduced verbatim by the local papers and presented to the long-suffering public as ‘news’ – Licensing Chief Bob Mears said the case showed ‘how seriously’ they took the issue of smoking in a public place.