IN the scorching summer heat, lying down in a park, knocking a ball around or cooling off with a swim sound like the most natural things in the world… but did you know that these activities could land you in trouble with the law?
As bizarre as it sounds, in some parts of Britain you can earn yourself a £100 fine for doing these mundane activities in public – and it’s all thanks to a shocking rise in the number of busybodies patrolling our streets.
Yesterday it emerged that paramedics had been wrongly fined by an officious parking warden for stopping their ambulance so they could get some water.
This sort of jobsworth behaviour is becoming more common among Britain’s council wardens, who are tasked with enforcing obscure new rules, as well as cracking down on littering and parking offences.
As a result a private militia of wardens has been bending the limits of common sense in their quest to fine as many Brits as possible.
This has lead to one woman being slapped with a £100 fine for emptying her shoe in public, and claims that a mother was fined when her baby dropped its dummy on the pavement.
How swimming can earn you a £100 fine
Like the characters of Norris Cole in Coronation Street and Hyacinth Bucket in Keeping Up Appearances, nosy jobsworths and busybody wardens are everywhere you look.
Increasing numbers of people are working as professional council wardens in our towns and villages – monitoring what we do and fining citizens hundreds of pounds for non-criminal activities banned by the council.
These rules have been brought in to target anything from skateboarding to playing ball games and messing about with drones in parks, all in the name of making public spaces more pleasant.
And the wardens who enforce these are often paid based on how many fines they collect, which creates an incentive for jobsworths to try and catch the public out.
Josie Appleton, author of Officious: Rise Of The Busybody State, told Sun Online: “Using new powers, called Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs), councils have banned pretty much anything you would want to do in a public space.”
Some of these rules are sensible and popular – like bans on littering or dog fouling – but it’s hard to understand the thinking of North East Derbyshire council when they made it an offence to carry a golf bag in public.
This law was introduced to crack down on people playing golf in local parks, but the busybody rule banned carrying golf equipment as well as playing the sport.
Just as laughable is the rule against using loud remote-controlled cars in Hillingdon, drawing pavement art in Swindon and Conwy and Wirral councils’ bans on lake swimming.
Mercenary busybodies on our streets
These rules are enforced by a growing busybody army, with council employees and private security staff donning their high-vis jackets and working as full-time wardens.
Some can rake in commission by handing out fines, like the private litter monitor who was caught boasting that he would hand out as many tickets as possible to boost his £5-per-fine bonus.
Josie tells us that this is a lucrative “boom time” for the busybody business.
“They’re mercenaries,” she says, speaking about the people paid to enforce these laws. “Incentive-based punishments are shocking but lots of people don’t see it as a problem.”
What are PSPOs?
PSPOs have been around since 2014, but their use is growing, and more pseudo-police forces are springing up to enforce them, alongside wardens employed by private companies.
They were designed to let councils quickly ban “disruptive” activities in public places, needing only a brief police consultation to create new laws without much oversight from voters – which some say is a threat to democracy.
The only criteria for a new PSPO is that the banned activity has a “detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality” and is “persistent” and “unreasonable”.
The new offences can be punished by on-the-spot fines of £100, which can be issued by both police officers and authorised council wardens.
A report on numbers of PSPO offences by the Manifesto Club, a campaign group which Josie runs, notes the introduction of 130 new PSPO laws up to 2016 and another 189 laws up to June 2017.
Described as a “busybody’s charter”, the laws have created lots of new offences to police, but most actual police officers have neither the time or the inclination to chase down litterers and tell people off for swimming.
This is where private security companies come in, with many firms providing the service of enforcing PSPO laws in return for keeping a chunk of the fine income.
The strangest bans in Britain
North East Derbyshire – Carrying golf clubs in public
Hilligdon – Remote-controlled vehicles
Conwy – Lake swimming
Swindon – Chalk pavement art
Gravesend – Lying down in public
Broxtowe – Dogs off leads (in certain parks)
Guildford – Swearing
Stockport – Sitting within five metres of a shop
Tamworth – Playing jusic between 8pm and 6am (in one area)
Kettering – Skateboarding
Tamworth – Loud or ‘reckless’ ball games or ball games after dark
Wolverhampton – Ball games (on streets)
Blackpool – Public card tricks
Shepway – Sleeping in public
‘Parasitic’ jobsworths going too far
Begging and busking are frequent targets for wardens, as is rough sleeping.
In Gravesend, a clumsy attempt to make rough sleeping an offence has banned lying down in public – meaning dozing off in a park on a hot day could earn you a fine.
Not all councils use PSPOs – but as many as 152 Local Authorities in England and Wales do have at least one in place, out of 348 to whom it is available.
However, earlier this year, in an acknowledgement that these laws are being abused by council jobsworths, the government made clear that these powers were only supposed to be used on genuinely anti-social activities.
Josie says: “There are now examples where councils have banned standing in groups of two or more, carrying skateboards, feeding birds.
“There’s a topsy-turvy world in officials’ minds now where they see every activity as disruptive or anti-social. They don’t make a distinction between criminality or rudeness and the positive parts of social life.
“The companies who enforce PSPOs are parasitic. There have been cases where wardens have been seen to give high-fives when they issue fines and, for some, it’s basically a game to get as many fines as possible.
“They punish whenever they can and they’re only interested in how many penalties can be issued, not in the effect on the public. They don’t care if the streets are clean or not. If they were, they would have no job.”
Pensioners punished for cleaning
One case where council busybodies clearly crossed a line came when two OAPs were threatened with a fine for cleaning up leaves in their street.
Ann Fowler, 76, and Margaret Baker, 71 swept enough leaves to fill 25 bags, but when they left them for collection they were handed a warning by Birmingham City Council for “illegally dumping garden waste.”
Anne said: “My neighbour, Mrs Baker, slipped on the leaves and fractured her wrist and her thumb.
“Now the council have come along and put stickers on the bags saying that we are going to be fined if we don’t moved the bag.
“We were trying to help, and now we are getting threatened with a fine. It is dangerous, and the council should be clearing it themselves.”
In the end, the council backed down and acknowledged that the women were doing a good thing, but these bizarre cases are becoming more and more common.
The busybody backlash
Not everyone is taking this lying down – and not just because some councils have banned it.
Conwy campaign group People Against The Wardens has tried to encourage people to just walk away if a private official (not a police officer) tries to slap you with a fine you don’t deserve.
Campaigners claim on Change.org that local Kingdom Security wardens have become so officious there that a parent whose baby dropped a dummy out of the pram was fined for littering.
“A woman who voluntarily picked up litter was fined for taking her dog off the lead whilst she placed the litter in the bin,” the group also claims.
In response to the protests, Conwy council said: “Dog fouling and littering are amongst the top five complaints made to the Council by residents.
“From the Fixed Penalty Notice fines collected, Conwy County Borough Council pays Kingdom to provide an enforcement service and the remaining amount allows the Council to support the work this enforcement generates.”
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It is Associate in Nursing offence to not provides a council warder your details, however they need no powers to arrest or detain members of the general public.
Josie advises that the most effective thanks to make sure you aren’t below the belt punished by a nosy-parker warder is by motion-picture photography all of your interactions with them.
But unless a lot of standard folks be a part of the clamour, the jobsworth army on Britain’s streets might be here to remain.