English council loses nine-month legal battle with man over dropped orange peel

English council loses nine-month legal battle with man over dropped orange peel
By Victoria Ward
6 July 2015

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Luke Gutteridge was taken to court after he accidentally dropped a piece of orange peel the size of a 10p coin Photo: SWNS

When Luke Gutteridge accidentally dropped a tiny piece of orange peel as he threw it in the bin, he swiftly picked it up again and would have been forgiven for expecting to think nothing more about it.

Little did he realise that the offending behaviour would result in a nine-month legal battle costing the tax payer an estimated £8,000 ($10,300). Mr Gutteridge, 29, was spotted dropping the peel by an overzealous enforcement officer who wasted no time in admonishing him. He immediately apologised and picked up the stray piece of peel, putting it in the bin. But it was too late. He was accused of littering and handed a £75 ($97) fine.

Mr Gutteridge’s protestations were in vain. The council worker refused to cancel the fine, warning that if he did not pay up he would be taken to court. Furious at the perceived injustice, the former salesman vowed to clear his name. He fought the case, and won.

Magistrates in Stevenage, Herts accepted his defence that littering was an offence only if there was proof that it was intentional. Having lost the case, Broxbourne Borough Council must pay its own legal fees of an estimated £4,000 ($5,150). Mr Gutteridge, from Potter's Bar, Herts, has requested that his own £4,000 ($5,150) fees are also paid by central funds, which is public money.

He said of the incident, which took place in Hoddesdon, Herts, last September: "I couldn't believe it. It was a waste of taxpayers’ money from the start. I hate littering and was prepared to clear my good name at any cost. I feel justice has now been done. The council should pay the costs from its own pockets instead of expecting taxpayers to pay for its mess.”

Dr Michael Ramsden, a human rights lawyer who took up the case, said the council had simply got the law wrong. "One of the tests to see if someone has the intention of dropping the litter is to let them know they have dropped it,” he said. "There was clearly no intention of leaving it as Luke picked it up. The council did not feel bound by any guidance or even case law.”

A council spokeswoman said: "The Council reviews all cases at all stages up to court but in this case the facts put forward by the defendant and those recorded by the Enforcement Officer differed and therefore it was decided by the court. Broxbourne Council takes all offences of littering seriously and works hard to keep the Borough clean and pleasant for its residents and visitors."

Source: Telegraph UK