“Pooper Scooper Schemes Are Gonna Fine Me!”
- an ‘In My View’ article by NIGEL WARD, reporting on a further example of corporate intimidation on the part of Scarborough Borough Council Legal & Democratic Services – this time by SBC Solicitor Mark ROBINSON.
IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST
In recent times, debate on the subject of dog-fouling on pavements, rights of way and other public places has featured in the pages of our local rags – both in articles and in the Letters pages – on many occasions.
It would be fair to acknowledge that no right-thinking member of the public would regard the all-too-frequent incidence of dog-faeces being allowed to remain where it has been deposited as desirable or in any way acceptable. It is often argued that the overwhelming majority of dog-walkers need no encouragement to clean up, and that the delinquent few are tarnishing the good standing of the responsible majority.
But there is much more to the dog-faeces issue than hygiene and consideration for others.
The control of this undesirable behaviour offers an advantage to the local authorities beyond its mandated duty to the public (including of course, its Duty of Care). Like all prohibitions, it provides a source of revenue. It is said that everything has a value to someone; in this case, dog-faeces has a tangible value to SBC; specifically, a fine not exceeding Level 3 on the standard scale (i.e. £1,000) plus costs, generally in the order of £120. In a purely mercenary sense, c. £1,120 is the current market value of a dog-turd.
So for SBC, the incentive to pursue prosecutions, as opposed to administering a few polite words of caution, is considerable – and far more than the standing cost of a Dog Warden’s salary.
Repeat after Jim DILLON, “There’s profit to be made!”.
Question: Is it the case that this incentive is uppermost in a Dog Warden’s mind as he/she goes about his/her duties, in much the same way as it has been with Traffic Wardens since their introduction in 1960?
Only once have I been approached by a Scarborough Borough Council Dog Warden – four or five weeks ago. She congratulated me (and my wife) on having our dog on a lead. Seeing a waste-bag in my wife’s hand, she congratulated us on picking up. She did not identify herself as a Dog Warden until late in our conversation and she did not produce any ID. She did disclose that it was her specific instruction to target ‘locals’ (“who should know better”), but to limit her engagement with holiday-makers – except in the most flagrant cases – to a few words of caution, so as to avoid any negative impact on the tourism industry.
Naturally, I pointed out to her that this policy is clearly discriminatory, to which she responded, “You’re right – but I don’t make the rules. I just do as I’m told”.
The following case study is that of a Scarborough ‘local’ targeted by a Dog Warden on a commonly-used area open to the public in the Scarborough area. For the purposes of this case study, I shall refer to him as “Crispy”. The circumstances described were witnessed by Crispy’s female companion, whom I shall refer to as “Raffy”, and her toddler child, who I shall refer to as “Kiddie”. I am relating their story based on their own words, written and spoken, and I can confirm, having interviewed them separately, that at no time did I form the slightest impression of collusion or disingenuousness in any aspect of their respective descriptions of events.
On Thursday 17th April 2014, at a little after 8:00am, Crispy drove in his van to a car-park where he met up with Raffy and Kiddie, who had driven there in a separate vehicle.
While Raffy set up Kiddie’s push-chair, Crispy let his four dogs (one mature male, two mature females and a male pup) out of the back of his van and followed as they ran in the direction of the car-park overspill area of long grass.
Meanwhile, Raffy became aware of a man in civilian clothing peering furtively at her and Kiddie around the corner of a nearby building.
One of Crispy’s mature female dogs defecated and Crispy immediately bagged the faeces in one of his distinctive orange-with-white-paw-prints poo bags. He then took it over to the (almost full) litter bin, where he deposited it.
Returning to Raffy and Kiddie, Crispy did not notice the man lurking around the corner of the building, and the party of three set off across the long grass with the four dogs.
Presently, Raffy noticed that the same suspicious-looking man was following them, pushing a bicycle. She drew Crispy’s attention to the man, who appeared to be deliberately stalking them. Crispy was now more concerned, but he knew they were approaching a more public area, so he was not really anticipating any trouble.
Suddenly, Crispy became aware that the man had hurried to accost them. The man introduced himself as Russell CAMM, SBC Dog Warden. He was not wearing a uniform or any outward indication of his position. He fleetingly showed a card, asserting that it was his ‘warrant card’. The card did not show a photo of Russell CAMM.
CAMM accused Crispy of not picking up. Crispy told CAMM that he was mistaken; one of his mature females had indeed defecated, but Crispy had picked up and placed the bagged faeces in the litter-bin. He added that Russell CAMM was welcome to confirm that for himself, and drew a cluster of the distinctive orange-with-white-paw-prints bags from his pocket to furnish CAMM with an example. CAMM declined.
CAMM then stated that he had seen two other dogs defecate. Crispy pointed out that at that range (70m) it would be impossible for CAMM to distinguish whether the two females had squatted in the long grass to urinate or to defecate, but, as owner, Crispy was certain that they had urinated. One had adopted a defecation position but had been suffering constipation for a few days and on this occasion failed to ‘deliver’. The young male was not yet ‘cocking a leg’ and he, too, had squatted to urinate. Crispy offered to accompany CAMM to the litter-bin to identify his distinctive bag. Again CAMM declined.
Instead, CAMM demanded Crispy’s details. Crispy declined; no offence had been committed. CAMM quickly became domineering and aggressive, demanding Crispy’s details and threatening, “You will give me your details or I will fine you a thousand pounds”.
Crispy was very unhappy about CAMM’s belligerent attitude. His female companion Raffy was clearly frightened and distressed and this was compounded by the cries of the child Kiddie, who was petrified.
Crispy urged Raffy to move away with the child and, informing CAMM that he would be making a Formal Complaint about his conducted, he then joined Raffy and Kiddie and left the scene in the direction of some other members of the public. Safety in numbers.
Returning to their vehicles a little while later, Crispy paused to photograph his distinctive orange-with-white-paw-prints poo bag, for the record.
Putting the dogs in the van, Crispy drove immediately to the Dog Warden Office, where he was told that it was not possible to lodge a Formal Complaint. He was directed to SBC Customer First. (The reader may wish to pause for a moment to consider the name of that department – Customer First).
At Customer First, Crispy was offered a Complaints Form and told that he could lodge his Formal Complaint electronically with the Dog Warden Office, which he did on 1st May 2014.
A few weeks later, a series of text-messages come in to Crispy’s mobile. They were from his former landlord – at an address that CAMM had apparently acquired from a letter in left in Crispy’s van. Crispy has retained these text-messages, which make clear that CAMM had visited Crispy’s former landlord and disclosed Crispy’s name and personal details as shown on the letter (CAMM, remember, had no means of knowing that Crispy was the intended recipient of the letter).
This is a clear breach of Crispy’s rights under the Data Protection Act 1998.
Clearly, Crispy’s ex-landlord had received information from Russell CAMM – information that CAMM held in his capacity as an agent of SBC and could only disclose by breaking the law.
It will be interesting to see whether Mark ROBINSON’s zealous prosecution of Crispy – for something that he did not do – will be matched by his prosecution of Russsell CAMM – for something that he patently did do.
The Information Commissioner tells us:
Crispy made several further attempts to email his Formal Complaint to the Dog Warden Office. They bounced back. The email address provided on the CAMM’s 17th April 2014 letter was incorrect – printed as firstname.lastname@example.org, when the correct email address is actually email@example.com – i.e. with a ‘dot’ between ‘dog’ and ‘warden’.
Unbeknownst to Crispy, a letter from SBC had arrived at his mother’s address on 19th April 2014.
It turned out to be a letter, on SBC notepaper, from Russell CAMM. It was dated 17th April 2014 – the day of the incident. It contained CAMM’s Statement, which confirmed that he had acquired Crispy’s former landlord’s address by peering through the van window and seeing a letter to Crispy – but for all he knew, it could have been a letter to somebody else entirely.
Russell CAMM concluded his remarks with the assertion that he had sent a letter to Crispy’s mother’s address, where Crispy has not lived since January 2013 – and then only briefly. He appended a copy of this letter, which informs Crispy that “these matters will now be considered for possible legal proceedings” and stipulating 14 days in which to “comment”.
So Crispy had received nothing from the Council – or from the Magistrates’ Court – until 1st May 2014.
That same day, Crispy made three attempts to lodge his Formal Complaint against Russell CAMM. He attached a MSWord.doc containing his Statement and Formal Complaint, which he referred to in his email, thus:
- “Please use this as a formal complaint against Russ Camm”
What more did he have to do? But Crispy heard nothing more. Not until Friday 27th June 2014, when he visited his mother and saw another letter from SBC which had arrived that very day.
The letter, dated 25th June 2014, was from SBC Solicitor Mark ROBINSON, informing Crispy that he would be commencing proceedings against Crispy and, sure enough, Crispy was looking at a £1,000 fine – plus £120 costs, if he had the effrontery to plead “Not Guilty”.
It also included CAMM’s Statement in respect of the events at the car-park in which a lengthy and ostensibly verbatim record of his exchange with Crispy is presented rather as one would find in the script of a play or other work of fiction. It includes CAMM admitting that he had ogled the letter on Crispy’s dash-board and visited the former landlord, where he proceeded to disclose Crispy’s personal data.
Crispy examined every document in the ‘bundle’ but could find no Court Summons.
But it DID contain a copy of Crispy’s Formal Complaint (including photos) of 1st May 2014, though there has been no formal acknowledgement of that and Mark ROBINSON has since claimed never to have seen Crispy’s Formal Complaint:
- “On the basis that you have never made a formal complaint , something that Mr Wared appears to be unaware of, any suggestion that the council has not followed its own procedures does not hold water, as these procedures were never initiated by you when presented with the opportunity to do so.” [30th June 2014]
Pants on fire! What happens to Council solicitors who are caught telling porkies in Court proceedings?
Crispy realised that he was in the process of being stitched up. So he approached me to act as his authorised Complaint Friend, which I was happy to do.
On Monday 30th June, I emailed SBC Solicitor Mark ROBINSON, providing him with an eleven-point refutation of CAMM’s statement; pointing out SBC’s many departures from due process; recounting the encounter that I, with my wife, experienced with the female Dog Warden on Whitby’s Tate Hill Beach, and inviting him to meet with me to straighten things out in an amicable way.
Mark ROBINSON did not respond to me.
He ignored Crispy’s instruction nominating me as authorised Complaint Friend.
Instead, he emailed Crispy directly (contrary to accepted protocol), citing my correspondence to him (which he has not acknowledged) and insisting that because Crispy’s Formal Complaint was not lodged (which it was), it somehow did not count. He also insisted that the ‘bundle’ of documents sent to Crispy at his mother’s address contained a genuine Court Summons and not just an SBC letter purporting to be a summons. It did not. He concluded by inviting Crispy to the Town Hall to discuss the case but omitted to mention that Crispy is entitled by law to be accompanied by a Complaint Friend or legal advisor of his own choosing.
Crispy forwarded Mark ROBINSON’s email to me to provide a response on his behalf – which he is fully entitled to do. The Council has no standing in Crispy’s choice of Complaint Friend. And Crispy emailed Mark ROBINSON instructing him to direct future correspondence to me – his authorised Complaint Friend.
- “Dear Mark thank you for your email and attachment. In future , please address all correspondence on this matter to my authorized COMPLAINT FRIEND, Nigel.”
On Tuesday 1st July 2014, I emailed Mark ROBINSON for a second time. I drew his attention to Crispy’s instruction, I refuted the statements he had made to Crispy and pointed out that he had a clear duty to address Crispy’s Formal Complaint as its diligent investigation would elicit independent testimony regarding Russ CAMM’s conduct and the falsity of his allegations. It would thereby demonstrate that Crispy has no case to answer.
I also asked him to address my own dissatisfactions with the female Dog Warden who my wife and I encountered in Whitby.
Mark ROBINSON again ignored my email.
Instead, he emailed Crispy directly once more:
Dear Mr [named redacted]
Thank you for your email. For the avoidance of doubt I must correspond with you directly in relation to these prosecution proceedings. I am obliged to speak only to you or an appointed, qualified legal representative. Since Mr Ward cannot represent you in these proceedings I cannot discuss them with him.
In addition, I should point out that Mr Ward has been deemed a vexatious complainant by Scarborough Borough Council, which means I will not enter into any discussions with him regarding this or any other matter.
I hope that this clarifies the position.
By naming me and disclosing to Crispy the fact that I have been deemed “vexatious” by SBC, Mark ROBINSON was himself breaching my rights under the DPA (see above).
The law is clear on the subject of being deemed “vexatious”. An FOIA request may be deemed “vexatious” – but not the requestor. A request is not a human being. To state that I (a human being) have been deemed “vexatious” is as nonsensical as stating that a lamp-post has been deemed “vexatious”.
Attempting to assist the authorities by exposing wrong-doers so they can be held to account is not “vexatious”. It is the mark of civic responsibility. Surely, no honourable institution could take issue with its wrong-doers being held to account . . .
But at SBC, it is apparently “vexatious” to lodge a request for information that would prove embarrassing to the Council, or to expose wrong-doing on the part of Officers or Councillors – wrong-doing vindicated by the BBC in their “Inside Out” documentary, for example, or by Private Eye or the national press.
Mark ROBINSON also indicated that it was solely because I have been (unlawfully) deemed “vexatious” that he is prevented from engaging with me. But this is deeply disingenuous, because Officers and Councillors of SBC correspond with me frequently – some of them are entirely supportive of the North Yorks Enquirer’s voluntary work in the public interest and frequently provide information to assist us in exposing wrong-doing. They know better than to expect SBC to do so.
Yet Mark ROBINSON insists that he is “obliged to correspond” with Crispy directly. Obliged by whom, or by what statute, he cannot say. The truth is that Mark ROBINSON has a duty to engage with any member of the public and is as free to engage with me as any of the other Officers and Councillors who do so. He just doesn’t have the chops because he knows he has no case and he knows I will demonstrate that in the public domain.
It should not be overlooked that Mark ROBINSON is also stepping out of line by actively seeking to disadvantage Crispy by depriving him of the assistance of his chosen authorised Complaint Friend – me.
What we are dealing with here at Scarborough Bully Council is a culture of secrecy, paranoia and bullying – compounded by an astonishing degree of incompetence. This is a Council afraid of transparency because it is a Council of shameful secrets. It is a Council with a bunker-mentality, afraid that its bullying attitude to criticism is becoming too widely-known. It is a Council on the brink of meltdown – at least in terms of Leader Tom FOX’s present regime.
The Magistrates’ Court
On the appointed day, Crispy attended Scarborough Magistrates’ Court, with a surrogate Complaint Friend.
Before the case was called, Crispy engaged informally with Mark ROBINSON and presented his Formal Complaint and supportive documentation in hard-copy.
Mark ROBINSON agreed to seek an adjournment (which the Court upheld; new date in mid-August), by which time, he assured Crispy, the Formal Complaint against Russell CAMM (which he had previously claimed had not been lodged) will have been properly processed, with the expectation that SBC would be withdrawing its false allegations against Crispy.
We shall see.
In the meantime, responsible dog-owners who have been targeted by the SBC Dog Wardens may take some comfort from the fact that when the North Yorks Enquirer shouts “Dog Foul!”, SBC solicitors jump on the Pooper-Scooper.
Readers may also feel free to share their experiences with NYE by writing a Letter to the Editor.