Lifelong non-smoker is fined £50 ‘for dropping cigarette end from car’

So unfair: Gillian with her penalty notice
So unfair: Gillian with her penalty notice

A non-smoker was stunned to be given a £50 fine for throwing a cigarette butt out of her car window.

Gillian Leah has never had a cigarette and is vehemently anti-litter.

So the 46-year-old, of Hove Edge, Brighouse, thought the matter would soon be sorted after contacting council officials.

But her dispute has left her paying £50 for a crime she claims she didn’t commit.

The alternative was a fight through the courts with no guarantee of winning – and a legal bill running into thousands.

Mrs Leah was driving her Vauxhall Zafira along Halifax Road towards Hipperholme on June 14. A few days later a letter came telling her an offence of depositing a cigarette end had been committed and asking if she was the driver.

No debate could start until the form was completed.

Mrs Leah sent it back confirming she was the driver and followed it up with several phone call to plead her innocence.

Eventually, a litter warden and his supervi-sor visited her home.

But Mrs Leah said it was no amicable conversation.

“I thought they were coming for a chat but the supervisor asked the warden if I was the lady who committed the offence,” said Mrs Leah.

“It sounded very formal and serious and they kept stating their position that ‘I was seen.’

“But, they have no evidence and were totally inflexible.”

Mrs Leah said no cigarette butt was collected; she had not been monitored smoking beforehand; and there was no CCTV.

“They could not see anything, because I didn’t do anything,” she said.

“The `evidence’ is that two litter wardens saw me at Hipperholme traffic lights.”

Mrs Leah sought the help of ward coun Graham Hall without success.

After taking legal advice Mrs Leah paid the £50 fine within the timescale before it went up to £80.

“How many other people have been put in the same position as me? It seems so unfair that when you get a fine for something that you haven’t done, there is absolutely nothing realistically, that you can do.”

Councillor Hall (Con, Hipperholme and Lightcliffe) said the case was disturbing and concerning.

He had no reason to disbelieve Mrs Leah - or the two wardens - and took up her complaint, but officers told him with two witnesses she would have to fight the case through the courts.

That would have meant paying for a medical examination to back up her claim she had never smoked with no guarantee she would win her case.

She would have also faced paying legal costs and potentially a much higher fine.

“I have not got that sort of money,” said Mrs Leah, a self-employed foreign language teacher.

Mark Thompson, head of environment at Calderdale Council, said it would be inappropriate to comment on individual cases.

But he added: “The council has a duty to ensure the district is kept clear of litter.

“It spends £1.6m every year on street cleaning and issues more than 200 fixed- penalty notices a year for dropping litter.

“Sometimes people wish to dispute a fixed penalty notice and in those cases, the council will look at each case on its own merits.

“Where it is found the council had legitimate grounds for fixed penalty, then the notice still stands.”