Exceptional hardship

A hat tip is due to cyclegaz, who runs the blog Don’t Phone and Drive, for bringing this to my attention. He writes that

Reuben Hazell, who plays for Shrewsbury Town FC, was caught driving whilst using his mobile phone. Mr Hazell already had 9 points on his license so was sent to court to determine the outcome. Mr Hazell pleaded guilt but told the court that if he lost his license he would have no way to get to his training sessions.  He stated that public transport did not go near his destination and that friends or family couldn’t give him a lift. The courts gave Mr Hazell 3 points, a £150 fine, charged him £35 costs and imposed a £15 victims’ surcharge.

And no driving ban. According to the Manchester Evening News,

Oldham magistrates spared Mr Hazell, of Farcroft Grove, Handsworth, Birmingham, a driving ban because he said he had no other way of making the 110-mile daily round trip to training at Shrewsbury’s ground, New Meadow. The footballer, who has two young children, claimed special hardship, saying no family member or colleague could give him a lift. He added that his partner worked full-time for the Crown Prosecution Service so could not drive him, that no train went near the club’s ground and that he could not afford to take a taxi every day.

Is it really true that Mr Hazell ‘had no other way’ of making the journey to Shrewsbury Town FC’s training ground, other than by using his car?

As it turns out, his home address, Farcroft Grove, is a very short distance from The Hawthorns Rail station.

Mr Hazell could walk this distance quite easily. Or jog it. He is, after all, a professional athlete, and could treat it as some extra training. (Or use a bike. This is, after all, ostensibly a bicycle blog).

From this station, Mr Hazell could then get a train to Shrewsbury train station.

It would take him an hour, and cost him, as you can see, the princely sum of £11.90.

From right outside the station in Shrewsbury, he could get the Park & Ride bus, which runs to Meole Brace. It takes eleven minutes, and runs every ten minutes in the morning. It costs £1.60.

Meole Brace is only a short walk – around 500m – from the Shrewsbury Town training ground, marked on the map below. If Mr Hazell was feeling exceptionally lazy, a colleague would no doubt be helpful enough to pick him up.

So is it really so impossible for Mr Hazell to get to work without his car? Absolutely not. It is mildly more inconvenient, certainly – but that is what punishments are supposed to involve. Inconvenience.

We should also bear in mind that Mr Hazell already had nine points on his licence when he was caught driving while using his mobile phone, so no doubt he has had plenty of warnings – all the more reason, then for some inconvenience to actually be imposed, rather than for him to be exempted from punishment.

Hazell claims he could not afford a driver to take him all the way from his front door to the training ground, but I’m sure he could stump up the small amount of cash for a train fare and a park and ride bus ticket, especially as he would be saving the money he would otherwise be spending on fuel for his car. I further note that it seems that Mr Hazell is now playing for Shrewsbury Town largely because his previous club would not stump up what he himself considers the small change of a £200 a week pay rise – “I wasn’t asking for much, a couple of hundred quid a week extra and a two-year contract” – demands which Shrewsbury Town have presumably met.

But despite the obvious ease with which Mr Hazell could actually get to work, both financially and logistically, his excuses have, pathetically, been accepted at face value by the magistrate, apparently without any investigation. (It is mildly interesting, but no doubt purely an accidental detail, that Mr Hazell’s partner works for the Crown Prosecution Service).

To me, this is symptomatic of a wider, creeping car-sickness in society, in which the very idea of being without a car, even temporarily, is seen as as an incredible hardship, despite the existence of real – yet slightly more inconvenient – alternatives. We are not dependent on cars – not yet, at least – but evidently the idea of making journeys from one town to another without one is beyond the imagination of some of our magistrates.

The chairman of magistrates, Mrs Chetana Bhatt-Shah, said: “We find exceptional hardship and we will not disqualify you. You will also have 12 points on your licence, they are still there and you cannot use exceptional hardship again.”

Now to me, ‘exceptional hardship’ should mean exactly that, and should not be conditional on whether someone has used ‘exceptional hardship’ in mitigation before. But apparently that’s how this works, which obviously suggests that magistrates are openly accepting that it is, precisely, an excuse that will be accepted once, and then not subsequently. Bizarrely, we have a conflicting report of the judgement, which if correct only serves to show how farcical these ‘hardship’ judgements are –

Mrs Bhatt-Shah added that Mr Hazell was unable to plead special hardship again for three years.

What? Why? Either he would suffer hardship, or he wouldn’t. The idea that his ‘hardship’ should be specifically framed by a three year period is absurd.

The fact that ‘exceptional hardship’ is seen as nothing more than a ‘one-off’ mitigating tactic by magistrates is also apparent from the case of another footballer, Wayne Thomas, who has likewise escaped a ban, despite totting up 12 points.

Magistrate Keith Dawe told Thomas: “We accept that your son would be affected and that on that reasoning we accept there is exceptional hardship.”But Mr Dawe added: “You cannot use that excuse again. This is your third speeding offence and you also have one of using your mobile phone. By now you ought to be learning your lesson. You should be giving a better example for other people.”

So despite the fact that Mr Thomas should quite plainly ‘be learning his lesson’, the magistrate is explicitly allowing the use of what he himself terms ‘an excuse’, which for some reason Mr Thomas will not be allowed to use again, despite his circumstances presumably remaining unchanged.

If both these footballers are not going to be allowed to use ‘exceptional hardship’ in the future, why should they be allowed to use it now? The answer is that it is quite obviously nothing more than an extra layer of leniency that has been smeared on top of the already grossly lenient ‘points’ system.

(Thanks also to Downfader for the link to the Wayne Thomas story)

UPDATE – Gaz points out in the comments that the Shrewsbury Town FC training ground is actually out to the north east of the city, at SY4 4RR, rather than at the club ground itself. This is a little more difficult to get to, but needless to say, there is a bus that will take Mr Hazell close to the ground – the 519 (pdf), which stops at the Uffington Turn (pdf), again, only a few hundred metres from his destination. The bus is less frequent (every two hours), but still only appears to take ten minutes. A lift from the town centre, of course, remains a possibility. And we should remember that a driving ban is supposed to be a punishment.

This entry was posted in Car dependence, Dangerous driving, Driving ban, The judiciary. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Exceptional hardship

  1. Gaz says:

    The training ground is actually at SY4 4RR. So it’s not quite as easy to get to but a bus service still stops off near by, but i believe he would have to walk along a road without pavements.
    Did you see that he stated it was a 110mile journey? That is rubbish, it’s more like 40-50 miles.
    Like you, I also looked into the local train stations, times and prices. It’s only about an hour journey with 1 change and for a good price!
    My journey to work via public transport is about an hour, involves 3 changes and costs more, all to go 13miles!

    As you sum up well, the current use of exceptional hardship is a joke.

  2. Robert says:

    Excellent post. It is hard to believe nothing can be done. Isn’t there some ombudsman or other official to whom you could present this information? The court clearly should have investigated this guy’s claims and found them specious. Moreover, considering how many infractions it takes to get over the limit, the whole notion of “exceptional hardship” should be seriously questioned. As the magistrate you quote rightly says: “This is your third speeding offence and you also have one of using your mobile phone. By now you ought to be learning your lesson.”

  3. Quite appalling. Yet another indicator of how car-fixated our society has become.

    “Our” being us in the UK, as our continental European neighbours have a much more balanced view of transport. When doing some work for BMW in Munich, their suppliers travelled to meet them from Stuttgart (about 140 miles, just over 2 hours along the E52 dual-carriageway) by train – and couldn’t understand why anyone would want to drive that journey!

    Also speed limits are treated as limits in Europe, rather than the rough guidelines they are treated as in the UK. These reports suggest the tolerance for speeding is only 2 mph over the limit, and that no-one should be surprised to get a fine for driving any faster than the limit:
    One person commenting above says “I got fined for going (35-3=)32 in a 30 zone.” which translates to “I got fined for going 20 mph in a 18 mph zone.” – fat chance of that here in the UK 😦

  4. Paul M says:

    The distances you describe, even to the training ground, would be perfectly manageable on a bicycle, which leasds to the obvous solution – get a Brompton (or similar). The Brommie in particular makes an ideal tool for a daily multimodal commute. I have been folding and unfolding mine four times every weekday for the last 6 years or so, getting onto and off trains.

    And Anthony makes an interesting point about the continental comparison. France recently took the decision to conceal all speed cameras, precisely because they want to catch people speeding, rather than allowing them to slow down in the nick of time. Of course, their road accident stats are worse than ours (or at any rate, car-on-car they are. Their cyclist and pedestrian casulaties are lower, even though Dutch-style cycle lanes are almost as rare in France as they are here). I once remarked to a German colleague that where the autobahn actualy has a speed limit, eg 100kph around Dusseldorf, everyone drives at 99. His repsonse – if you get caught speeding by the police you have an on-the spot fine (quite a hefty one too). As you almost certainly don’t carry enough cash to pay, and they don’t accept credit cards, you have to go to the cash machine. They won’t let you drive until the fine is paid so you have to leave your car where they stopped you. If it still has its wheels on when you get back to it after going to the cash machine and paying your fine, you are very lucky indeed.

  5. Some German Autobahns also have distance-to-the-vehicle-in-front cameras, especially on the sections with no speed limit. If you drive too close to the car in front for the speed you’re doing, you’ll get a fine. Oh, and you’re fined if you drive in winter conditions without winter tyres fitted.

    The tabloids and government here in the UK think we have a “war on the motorist”. Heh, they should be careful these driving attitudes don’t find their way over the Channel!

  6. Pingback: Links In Darkness: Wednesday 21st September – Tuesday 27th September | Set In Darkness

  7. Henning says:

    Dear cycling friends from the UK,
    I am from Germany and many cyclist and responsible car drivers here think that our fines against car drivers are to “small and lazy” but as I can read in the UK it is bad, too.
    Many people can not believe someone better likes to go by bike or train that by car to reach their destination, it is really a pity!

    Have a save ride!

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