Case File 5
Mrs. M., Devon
"Thank you for your web site it has made me feel as though I am not alone. I go to court tomorrow so there isn't time to ask for info really. Basically I was stopped for speeding by an unmarked police car on the M5 near Exeter in March on my way to see my father and his Consultant in Torbay Hospital. It was an acutely urgent situation as he had just had his leg amputated and was pending a further diagnosis of lung cancer.
"Despite having left enough time for my journey, an emergency at the hospital I manage detained me en route and caused me to hurry. I don't deny I was probably exceeding the speed limit but in their anxiety to prosecute me at any cost the PCs involved have issued a confusing statement.
"They open by saying it was raining and visibility "was less than a 100 metres". A little later they say they followed my car for 2/3rds of a mile at a distance of 500 metres. I am obviously the invisible woman! They used a stopwatch and 2 fixed points and estimated my speed to be 99 mph. They say their uncalibrated Speedo reading was 105 mph. They say I said nothing and yet I did explain the circumstances to them. I received no speeding ticket and had to ask them what my estimated speed was.
"My livelihood maybe at stake here so is there any point in fighting and going for an adjournment?
"Police Officers are also meant to assist the public as well as uphold the law and yet they offered no support to me not even one understanding word and they did not check that I was fit to continue my journey, which I was not given the tragic circumstances of my visit and their intimidating intervention. They both proceeded to give me a patronising ear bashing. I wonder how they would have felt if their own wives had been treated like that in a similar crisis situation?
"It is a sad reflection on our society and the humanity of our Police service. I really was not fit to drive subsequently as it's an intimidating event anyway. Chatting to my Doctors at work I was surprised at the strength of feeling against current speeding legislation and the way it is applied. To quote one "they are criminalising the otherwise law abiding citizen because we are an easy target". Two ex staff of my husband relieved his tiny business of £70k over a couple of years pleaded guilty and got 150 hours community service. The maximum potential penalty for me could lose me my job etc etc. We are seriously considering moving to France!"
"Hi, thanks for the advice. Yes basically I got the minimum tariff and it could have been a lot worse, especially given Exeter's reputation and the fact that the traffic cop's final words to me as I returned to my car "you'll be disqualified for this" - just in case I wasn't worried enough already. The fact remains that I was guilty and pleaded guilty, the objective in going to court was damage limitation utilising a carelessly written Police statement and the mitigating circumstances. My husband and I debated whether to use a solicitor. Our barrister son took one look at the Police statement and strongly recommended it. A friend who is a retired chairman of a Magistrates committee agreed. It makes a very positive impression she said and you must turn up in court that also helps - incidentally she's just got her first ticket!
"When I realised that plea bargaining with CPS on final prosecuted speed was potentially possible I knew I had to have a solicitor who understood the process. This he did successfully, albeit 5 minutes before I appeared because of the absence of papers. This caused me a couple of weeks of unnecessary worry. Don't forget my solicitor had already got my case adjourned once for additional time. He was just setting up in independent practice and had previously been based in Taunton where court process had been very different. He was very surprised that the Police retained the papers and that debate with CPS ahead of the case was therefore negated.
"Once again we ran out of time in terms of challenging this and were very unlikely to win a second adjournment. We discussed having the Policemen present but I was pleading guilty and given the very aggressive nature of their statement, decided this would not be a good tactical move in my particular case. CPS did such a poor job of representing them that this was probably an accurate assumption. My gripes remain:
There are 2 traffic cops on the M5 applying the letter of the law with less discretion and common humanity than a camera. Who have forgotten they are there also to assist and serve, particularly a female alone in a critical situation. Their statement contained a fundamental contradiction.
That the Police in Exeter retain the papers until minutes before the case much to the apparent annoyance of CPS, the clerks to the court, the solicitors and the public and from time to time cases are dismissed because the papers don't arrive in time. Why this hasn't been challenged I don't know. I will check with my solicitor.
Although not a criminal, I was required to complete a means form that detailed my total weekly family income including that of children and husband. I had to list valuables, savings and assets and all outgoings including weekly expenditure on alcohol, social life, phones, insurance, electricity etc. The form wasn't marked P&C, I don't know where its being kept or how securely and all because of a potential maximum fine of £2000.00. I would have been reasonably happy to state weekly total income and weekly total expenditure, it was the detailed breakdown that I found inappropriately intrusive and reminiscent of the communist state. I assume this is a standard form in all courts. I'm really surprised it hasn't been challenged.
- Of course finally we'll never know why there's an unmarked car on patrol on the M5 without any equipment and with an uncalibrated speedo!"