18 Jun 2018

Why Wirral should dump Kingdom

News today that Wirral Council plans to renew its litter enforcement contract with Kingdom Securities. A bad move in my opinion and further evidence of the authoritarian streak that runs through the Labour-led administration. Witness the current consultation around proposed public space protection orders aimed at dog owners.

I have written previously about the use of Kingdom Securities to enforce littering offences in Wirral. Recently, some updated figures have been published:
These show that nothing has changed over the past 18 months. Most fines are issued in the Birkenhead area and the overwhelming majority are for cigarette litter. 

This month, Kingdom's contract is up for renewal. Here are the main reasons that Wirral Council should dump Kingdom:

1. It's clear that Kingdom continue to target smokers who account for over 90% of the fines. The contract is therefore mainly about maximising revenue rather than tidying up Wirral. I have noticed no reduction in complaints about litter in the three years that the Kingdom contract has been in operation. Has Wirral Council provided any evidence that this contract is leading to significantly cleaner streets? 

2. If there are any benefits they need to be set against the huge amount of stress caused to specific individuals who have been aggressively and unfairly targeted. The internet is awash with complaints about Kingdom's heavy-handed tactics and Wirral became a national laughing stock when Jeff Hughes was targeted for depositing three cherry stones in the bushes outside Birkenhead library (later dismissed) and Leonora Brace was threatened with a fine after dropping her disabled blue badge (Kingdom was forced to apologise). The figures speak for themselves as the overwhelming majority of appeals have resulted in fines being quashed and we are given no figures for cases that went to court but did not result in a fine. Our Labour-run council is in denial about the hurt and distress caused to many innocent and/or vulnerable people by Kingdom. 

3. How much of the revenue generated is draining out of Wirral? Labour promise that their new Growth Company will prioritise local labour but, in this case, money is being extracted from the poorest parts of the Borough straight into the hands of wealthy, private shareholders who live elsewhere. Administering environmental crime should be part of the public service. 

Why is a Labour-run council using poorly regulated private operators to aggressively target the poorest areas of Wirral with a scheme with few if any environmental credentials? Wirral should join the growing list of local authorities that have dumped Kingdom in favour of in-house enforcement.

Below I detail nine cases reported to me about heavy-handed and, sometimes, ludicrous, behaviour by Kingdom.

Case #1
B is an elderly lady who lives in Tranmere. She was accused of dropping a cigarette butt near the bus stop on Borough Road by the junction with Whetstone Lane. She denied this claiming she always stubs out her cigarettes and takes the butt home. She was able to show the Kingdom officer a cigarette butt but he insisted on issuing a fixed penalty notice (FPN).
B appealed the FPN but was sent the standard letter of rejection. She was adamant she had done nothing wrong. She appeared in court to challenge the FPN and, inevitably, the case was thrown out as Kingdom had no evidence to support the FPN.
I know from speaking with B how stressful this entire experience was and that is lasted for many months while she waited for the court case. She had never been in a court before and found the whole experience extremely intimidating. I know that many people would have paid up to avoid the stress and feel she was incredibly brave to withstand the pressure.

Case #2
F is an elderly lady who lives in a sheltered housing unit in Rock Ferry. During the bitterly cold winter weather she was concerned for a neighbour whose flat was cold and lacked sufficient heating.
She went to Birkenhead to buy a portable heater. As she was placing this in the boot of her car she attempted to remove the price sticker as she didn't want her friend to know how much she had paid. Part of the sticker was caught by the wind and blew away (this was the day of Storm Emma in late February).
A Kingdom officer approached F and issued her with a FPN for littering. She was incredible distressed by this as she never intentionally drops litter, is a keen gardener with a great love of nature.
I advised her to appeal. Again she received the standard rejection. Ravely, she said she was refusing to pay the fine and would contest the FPN in court.
The case was dropped before it went to court.

Case #3
Jeff Hughes is a committed environmentalist who previously worked for the Wirral Environmental Network. One day, he was eating some cherries outside Birkenhead Central Library. As any green minded person would do, he dropped the cherry stones in some nearby bushes so they would compost naturally.
A pair of Kingdom officers approached Jeff and issued him with a fine.
I know from speaking at length with Jeff how close he came to paying the fine as he found the whole situation incredibly stressful. Thankfully, he stood his ground, refused to pay the fine and insisted he would contest the FPN in court.
The case achieved coverage in the local and national press. Needless to say, it made Wirral Council and Kingdom look ridiculous.
The case was dropped before going to court.

Case #4
Perhaps the worst case of all when a disabled lady was issued with a FPN for dropping her blue badge. Again, this made the national press and painted a very ugly picture:
Kingdom apologised for its behaviour but how many similar cases have occurred where no cameras were present and the victim was able to publicise the case via her journalist husband?

Case #5
We had a nasty altercation with Kingdom officers regarding 2 dog fouling FPNs. I have all the relevant paperwork, including details of our appeals. 
We pleaded not guilty and it was our word against Kingdom. The 'officers' involved did not show up in court after we requested them to do so. The magistrate set another court date so that Kingdom could provide video footage. 
The two Kingdom officers followed us home and turned up the next morning shouting through our letterbox. Obviously they had no evidence, as our dogs had not fouled. The case was eventually dropped but it was a worrying few months as we would have all the court costs to pay if found guilty, which as you can imagine has caused us a massive amount of stress. 
I have limited mobility so I don't own a dog and both dogs belong to my partner who was about to walk them. I at no time ventured onto the field but was issued an FPN. I later learned that they are only allowed to issue one FPN per alleged incident which surprised the magistrates, so Kingdom decided that I owned one of the dogs which enabled them to issue an 2 separate FPNs. I hope that this company will be removed from the Wirral as they have no place in our society. 
We can prove everything we say and are happy for our story to be published minus our names. 

Case #6
A colleague told me about his stepson's run in with a Kingdom Enforcement Officer. His stepson suffers with Asperger's syndrome and was given a fixed penalty notice at the end of March for allegedly dropping a cigarette. It has taken a while to get the full account of what happened due to his condition, this is his account:
"I was walking along Grange Road West in Birkenhead and stubbed a cigarette out on top of a bin just outside Hurst's bakery, then deposited it inside through the top opening and carried on walking towards home. I continued along Grange Road West and turned right into Cole Street, then left onto Park Road South.  All of a sudden I was tapped on the shoulder and confronted by a man (who turned out to be a Kingdom officer) who informed me I had stubbed my cigarette out on the bin and it had blown off onto the street. I hadn't realised I was being followed and was quite shocked to be approached like this. I said that hadn't happened and that I had put it in the bin but he said he saw it blow off the bin and I had to give my details. I was feeling intimidated and didn't want a confrontation so I gave my details to him. I paid the fine as soon as I could, I didn't appeal as once again I don't like confrontation. I didn't even want my mum to know.

It wasn't until after I paid the fine that I noticed the printed off slip said I had put a cigarette down the drain in Cole Street. This is not what happened. I didn't tell my parents about what had happened until I had to borrow money from my mum as I had no money left to get to work. She asked me why I had no money, and It was then that I told her what had happened."
Evidence to substantiate this account is available via the young man targeted and both parents, payment receipts are also available.

Case #7
Mr X is currently undergoing investigation for ADHD and Autism, and as you can imagine this is a stressful time for him. He also suffers from learning difficulties and mental health issues. One of his problems is suicidal thoughts, due to manic depression, and he is under the care of a Community Psychiatric Nurse. Finally, he has suffered dyspraxia from childhood, and has requested a medical certificate to submit as evidence. 
At the beginning of May Mr X was fined for dropping a cigarette butt. He maintains he ordinarily disposes of his cigarette butts responsibly and has no recollection of committing the offence. He does remember that he was actually smoking a cigarette when approached by the Officer.  He advised the issuing Officer of his problems, which I feel classify him as a vulnerable person. This however was ignored. He emailed an appeal – he thought to Wirral Borough Council but the email address provided for appeals is actually to a Kingdom employee using a WBC email address. This appeal was unsuccessful. 
Several days after his first alleged offence Mr X was fined again by the same Officer. Mr X understood the offence he was being accused of to be spitting. He concedes that following a coughing fit and having no tissue he did spit. He spoke to the Officer at length and refused to give his details, to which the officer responded "it's ok, we've still got them from last time". This response made Mr X feel very nervous and somewhat targeted. When the Fixed Penalty Notice arrived in the post the offence noted was for "littering with a cigarette butt". Mr X'Neill again refutes this and has appealed again. He has also written to Phil Davies and had the standard "I'll get back to you response". In addition to this he has made a complaint to Merseyside Police regarding harassment by this Kingdom Officer and is awaiting an interview to give his statement. 
Fortunately, Mr X has been able to speak to his CPN about this matter and is supported, however he has told me that the two fines by the same Officer within such a short time period have made him feel very insecure and caused him distress. What may have been a throwaway comment from the Officer regarding having Mr X's address has been perceived as a threat. He is now very nervous about going out locally, feeling he is being watched by Kingdom. 

Case #8
It happened last year, but I'm still upset about it now, it was all a big con. I'm a female pensioner and I was alone with my two dogs. I was picking up after my male dog when a young man approached me and told me my female dog had pooped, and I hadn't picked it up. I told him she had already had a poop in my garden, so I asked him to show me where it was. He took me a few yards away and there was a large man standing over a round dried up poop that must have been there for hours. I pointed that out to them and the large man said he had seen her do it and that there were flies on it. I had a doggy bag so used that to pick it up and asked them to feel that it was cold (and therefore not freshly done) and they refused. It was only when they then asked for my name and address that they showed me a badge, which he pulled out of the neck of his top where it had been concealed. I was taken to court twice as I refused to pay the fixed penalty notice as I knew I was innocent of their accusations. I was told there was video evidence against me which I therefore asked to see, and I was told I had to apply to see it, which I then did. When I saw the video it showed them asking me for my details and showed a used doggy bag in my hand. The screen then went blank for a few seconds and when it came on again it showed a piece of grass with a hand covering what was alleged to be the poop. My daughter said the video had been edited – the woman I spoke to at Kingdom said it was impossible but at our insistence she showed it to a colleague who said it WAS possible the video had been edited. I was due back in court for my third appearance when about 10 days prior to the court date I received a letter, saying they weren't going ahead with the case. The whole ordeal was so stressful that my GP put me on anti-depressants, but there was no way I would plead guilty to something that was false. 

Case #9
It was about 3 weeks ago when I was with my daughter, walking down the road and she was on her scooter, we came to a four-way crossroads on Heygarth Road. I had my bag in my hand and my phone in the other I had a cigarette, but my daughter went straight into the crossroads and I dropped my bag, my keys, everything and grabbed her on her scooter as a car was right in front of her.  It was so scary, natural instinct is to save your child I had to drop everything as I have osteoarthritis in my hand, I would not have been able to grab her and keep hold of everything. Also, unsurprisingly, I was terrified, everything happened in seconds.
After we got across the road and were a bit further down a very big man walked past us with his hood up and then turned around and stood in front of us and said, "Can I just say something to you" then started reading me this big statement, I actually thought he was going to ask how we were. But I stood there, and my head just went blank, I didn't even know what to say as it was not purposely done he must have witnessed the whole thing and used it as his chance to issue a fine. I do also suffer from brain fog, due to my fibromyalgia, so all he was saying to me was like a big dream. I just saw his mouth moving and feel he used my confusion and my daughter's upset to get information, by saying he can get the police and during all this my 5-year-old was so upset. I did give him my information but when I got home and had a chance to calm my child and work out what had actually happened, I thought "I am going to complain" as even he could see I dropped everything including my personal possessions and he must have seen her in the middle of the road in front of the car. He must have realised what exceptional circumstances had occurred and how distressed we both were. 
Having decided to complain, I sent an email to the address given on the fixed penalty notice. I believed this email would go to Wirral Borough Council but have since found out it is actually a Kingdom employee with a Wirral.gov.uk email address.  Since I emailed the complaint I have had him following me, both on his own and also with another man, even to the school and waiting there and hiding around the corner. On one particular day I waited outside the school and at 9.11 they were still there, I looked right at them and the other man with him patted him on the back 3 times, then they got in the car and did a 3 point turn in the road and drove back to where I was, so I got my phone out and took pictures on one of the photos he tried to cover his face but I have his reg number. I am very scared and distressed, I feel they are purposely harassing me because I complained about the circumstances in which he ticketed me. I ordinarily walk home on my own past two big fields and because I am now scared something bad is going to happen to me or my children, my neighbour has been accompanying me anywhere. I know I gave them my address details for the FPN, but I never thought my personal information could or would be used against me in this way.

1 Jun 2018

A sad day for Clifton Park

At last night's planning committee there was an application for a pair of new semi-detached houses on Clifton Road within the Clifton Park Conservation Area. You can read the officer's report via this link.

I argued strongly that this application should be refused as it undermines the openness of the conservation area and sets a dangerous precedent for the future of the entire Clifton Park estate. You can read my arguments below. You can also watch a video of the proceedings courtesy of the following link from the ever helpful John Brace (my contribution starts at 10:42):


Although all the Conservative and Lib Dem councillors supported my position, the plans were approved 7:6 as all seven Labour councillors voted in favour.  Not one of the seven spoke up to explain why they disagreed with my arguments and felt the plans should be approved.

I don't believe this is what the public expects from their councillors. They expect them to have a mind of their own, weigh up the pros and cons, and explain their position. Sadly, Labour councillors in Wirral fail that test time and time again.


Clifton Road is unique in this part of Birkenhead. It's dominated by the grand scale villas of the 1840s and 50s set in large grounds. The original conservation area appraisal states that "Clifton Park is of particular importance because of the overall architectural quality of the earlier housing and the spacious nature of the plots."


"Conservation area designation is important not only to protect the buildings from demolition, but their setting." 

So, the point members should grasp and, as you can see from the map at the beginning of the report, is that the open aspect of the street is a crucial part of its designation as a conservation area.
I have had a look at relevant advice the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Paragraph 132 states that:

"When considering the impact of a proposed development on the significance of a designated heritage asset, great weight should be given to the asset's conservation. The more important the asset, the greater the weight should be."

If you read the officer's report its clear that a lot of weight has been given to the design of the proposed new houses but very little consideration if any to the loss of space which is a key characteristic of this part of the conservation area.

Paragraph 133 of the NPPF says:
"Where a proposed development will lead to substantial harm to a designated heritage asset, local planning authorities should refuse consent, unless it can be demonstrated that the substantial harm or loss is necessary to achieve substantial public benefits that outweigh that harm or loss"

It's clearly a subjective matter whether this application would lead to "substantial harm" to the conservation area. The important point to note here is, if approval is granted for this application, it would be very difficult to refuse similar applications that seek to develop the many other similar open spaces on Clifton Road. So, the precedent we set here is incredibly important for the future of Clifton Park Conservation Area.

But even if you consider that the harm to the conservation area is "less than substantial" then paragraph 134 of the NPPF says:

"Where a development proposal will lead to less than substantial harm to the significance of a designated heritage asset, this harm should be weighed against the public benefits of the proposal."

Given that all of the benefits of this proposal accrue to the applicant the key public interest test is clearly the preservation of the conservation area. I would therefore argue that there are clear grounds for refusal in this case.