Tough on Litter but Not Much Else | Ben Thompson

An extraordinary story came to my attention recently which, upon first glance, had me thinking it was from a parody news site. But no, it seems that Britain in 2020 is churning out stuff that would make the writers at ‘The Onion’ snort in disbelief.

This story concerns Grace Firth, a 32-year-old student, who was recently fined at Stockport magistrates’ court. What was her crime?

She’d dropped a Greggs bag in 2009.

Yes, she was being chased up over ten years later over a littering offence. For dropping a paper bag from the bakery chain Greggs in Bridgewater Place (A street in Manchester), Firth was charged £175 and ordered to pay £180 costs and a £15 victim subcharge.

Fortunately for her, even her judge seemed to understand the absurdity of the whole situation and reduced her fine to £40, with the £15 victim subcharge still applicable. He praised her for her honesty in showing up to court.

On the face of it, this story is merely silly. It is admittedly bizarre to imagine yourself ending up in court for littering – something that millions of people do every day, whether we like it or not. But it is even more bewildering to end up in such a situation a decade late.

Firth claims that she was unaware of the original prosecution because letters had been sent to her mother’s address, where she did not live.

It beggars belief that this was still being followed up on a decade later. The ‘offence’ occurred when Gordon Brown was still Prime Minister. If that’s not a indication of how much time has passed, nothing is.

The fact that this should go down in Stockport is particularly frustrating for me. I live in Stockport, and I like it as much as most people like their home-towns – accepting it’s flawed, but loving it all the same.

Admittedly, my town isn’t as hard-hit by crime as some other towns throughout the country. According to Plumplot, Stockport’s crime rate is 63% of the national crime rate, with just over 11,000 crimes reported in 2019 – 28.4% were deemed violent crimes.

But regardless of whether Stockport’s crime rate exceeds the national average or not, cases like that of Firth’s shouldn’t be happening. All we ever hear about is the struggles of the legal system to crack down on knife crime, terrorism and drug gangs. Are we seriously expecting them to add ‘historical debts’ (As Firth’s was deemed) to their to-do list?

A Government-commissioned review recently found that illegal drug use costs Britain £19 billion a year, through the violence, crime and ill health caused. Perhaps the most horrifying revelation of this report is the number of children roped into supplying drugs – the report indicates that 27,000 youngsters are now identifying as ‘gang members’.

Perhaps one day, when we live in a country not rocked by knife crime or county-line drug smuggling, we can accept the law pursuing litterbugs with fines – and maybe not even then. Until that day, cases like Firth’s – and I doubt hers is an isolated one – will continue to indicate that government is wildly out of touch, and has its priorities massively muddled.

Photo by Ted Bovis on Flickr.

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