A council has wasted thousands of pounds in a failed prosecution of a man who accidentally dropped a piece of ORANGE PEEL the size of a 10p and still picked it up.
Luke Gutteridge, 29, was spotted by an overzealous enforcement officer who accused him of littering and handed him a #75 fine.
Luke, who had put the rest of the peel in the bin, swiftly picked up the small stray piece and apologised.
But the council worker refused to cancel the fine and told him he would be taken to court if he didn’t pay up.
Luke, who has never even had a parking ticket, was determined to prove his innocence and fought his case in court – and won.
Magistrates in Stevenage, Herts accepted his defence that littering is only an offence if there is proof the person intended to leave it.
The result has left Broxbourne Borough Council having to pay their own legal fees of an estimated £4,000.
Luke’s lawyer has requested that his own fees – a further £4,000 are paid by central funds – which is also public money.
He is waiting to hear how much will be covered but the total bill to the taxpayer of the bungled council prosecution is in the region of #8,000.
The nine month legal battle involved two court appearances.
Luke was given the fine in Hoddesdon, Herts., on September 3 last year by a worker from Kingdom who are contracted by Broxbourne Council to monitor littering.
Luke, of Potter’s Bar, Herts., said: “I couldn’t believe it. It was absolutely stupid.
“I hate litter louts and never thought that I would have been classed as one for accidentally dropping a little piece of peel of which I was totally unaware.
“I was told to effectively put up and shut up by the council and asked in court why I hadn’t simply paid the fine by the council’s solicitor.
“I chose not to take the easy way out, as I had not intentionally dropped the peel and decided to fight my corner and prove the council wrong.
“I hate littering and was prepared to clear my good name at any cost.
“I feel justice has now been done.”
Luke, a former salesman who is pursuing a career as a golfer, added: “It was a waste of the taxpayers money from the start.
“The council should pay the costs from its own pockets instead of expecting the rate and taxpayers to pay for its own mess.
“The council told me that they were confident that they would get the costs of the trial from me and advised the court that their costs would be around #4,000, and they were aware that mine would be of a similar amount.”
Dr Michael Ramsden, a human rights lawyer who took up Luke’s case, said: “It is quite simple, the council clearly 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.
“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.
“As far as the council were concerned if you accidentally dropped anything on the floor then you should pay the price, even if you were unaware and had no intention of leaving it there.
“They’ve wasted the taxpayers’ money.”
Magistrates accepted Dr Ramsden’s argument that littering was only an offence under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 if there was proof the person intended to leave it.
Orange peel is even given as an example in DEFRA guidelines on fixed penalty notices along with crisp packets as items where it is difficult to prove public interest for prosecution.
It advises “any authority should be mindful of how the public might perceive enforcement.”
The council remained defiant yesterday and a spokeswoman said they agreed to take the case to court because Luke and the officer had different versions of events.
A spokeswoman said: “The court decided it was not satisfied that the complete offence was committed and so dismissed the case.
“The court did not criticise the Council or the Enforcement Officer.
“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.
“The Council was not ordered to pay the costs of the defence because it was not at fault, and only officer time was spent by the Council.
“The vast majority of cases brought by the Council heard by the court are found proved.
“Broxbourne Council takes all offences of littering seriously and works hard to keep the Borough clean and pleasant for its residents and visitors.”