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Lay-by’s & Layabouts

Matt Trevallion, Sub Editor – World Affairs


I read the other day of a man who was taken to court and fined for contaminating a recycling bin by putting a junk mail letter in the container meant for other material. Unfortunately for him the letter bore his name and address. As I understand it there was no evidence of him actually lodging the offending material in the offending bin but the Magistrates decided in their wisdom that – ‘it was he wot done it’ and issued a substantial fine! 

When I drive around my native Northamptonshire I am immensely saddened, not to say angered, by the sight of piles of rubbish dumped in every gateway and down every half hidden lane where the countryside offers cover for these polluters. Old fridges, cupboards, boards, cookers, garden refuse in plastic bags are, along with old cars, now a feature of lay by and lane. 

When ’Travellers’ invaded our local woods - several hundred of them, in old vehicles without tax mostly looking, if not actually, too dangerous to be on the road and certainly justifying the old stop and search - rather than administer the Law the local police provided escorts to and from the site! 

Meanwhile, parking, speeding and other offences by people with vehicles that are fully taxed, insured and well maintained are pursued with the full rigour of the Law and the bureaucracy. Similarly, if you are held up abroad when your car tax becomes due you risk an instant fine having created an absolute offence even if you had properly taxed your car every year for the last 20 year! 

In both cases and in many more - from collecting money from absent fathers to following up fines - there is, it seems to me, a growing tendency for the “The System” to pick on the easy targets. The effect is that people whose lives are lived largely within that system and in society become angry and frustrated to see whole swathes of the community ‘getting away with it’. 


It is not that difficult to work out how this unwanted and unwarranted effect comes about. These days we cannot set up a new agency without giving it targets. A good thing, surely? Well, that depends on identifying the real purpose of the agency and ensuring that the targets really measure what is important.

Let us say the CSA goes after 1000 absent Dads. A proportion of them may well be deliberately avoiding paying towards the upkeep of their children and, for that and other reasons, are hard to find. Easier then to go after those Dads who are already paying something and who, as a result, are more readily located. Of course it should be the case that every father contributes whatever it is they are required to pay, but the effect on those fathers who are paying something to see how many who pay nothing get away with it is, again, frustrating and angry making in the extreme.

So, we have some poor devil summoned and fined because there was evidence of his contaminating a recycling bin. Meanwhile a van pauses briefly in a gateway or lay-by near you and unloads a cargo of detritus from which evidence of its source or the depositor has been carefully removed. 

In both the above, as in too many cases, too many resources are applied in directions that are capable of meeting targets - and therefore ‘showing your boss’ what a great job you are doing but which actually contributes very little - whilst continuing the process of alienating the community who increasingly have little confidence in any of the established structures – police, agencies, national or local government – offering protection, fairness or justice for normal people who are largely law abiding, good’ish’ citizens.

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