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.
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.