Hauliers celebrate Home Office retreat over fines for stowaways

Jason Bennetto,Crime Correspondent
Friday 13 December 2002 01:00
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The Home Office has written off £12m in controversial fines issued against lorry drivers found with a total of 7,000 stowaways aboard their vehicles.

The climb-down is a victory for the road hauliers and drivers who took legal action against the Government after it imposed £2,000 fixed penalties for every stowaway found attempting to smuggle their way into Britain.

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, announced in February a change in the law on penalty fines for lorry drivers after the Court of Appeal confirmed they breached human rights legislation.

Since the ruling, the lorry drivers and haulage firms have been in dispute with the Home Office over £12m of unpaid fines issued since April 2000 – the equivalent of about 7,000 stowaways.

But in an unexpected move, the Home Office has agreed to drop demands for the unpaid fines, but they have refused to return £2m of penalties that have already been paid.

Richard Turner, chief executive of the Freight Transport Association, said: "This is a common sense and inevitable decision by the Home Office. However, FTA remains very unhappy that the £2m worth of fines already collected will not be returned. FTA will be seeking to review this decision."

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "When the penalties have been paid and they have accepted liability then it is appropriate for us to keep the money."

In February, the Appeal Court ruledthat the imposition of fixed fines without regard to the individual circumstances was incompatible with the convention on human rights. Under new legislation, drivers and haulage firms can be fined up to £2,000 but the amount is variable and no fines will be issued where the driver and operator can show they have taken due care to protect their vehicles from stowaways.

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