Days after Nick Hogan was sent to prison, the authorities are throwing their weight around again.
A business owner is challenging legislation which dictates that no-smoking signs must be displayed in shops.
Stuart Isbister, who owns garden gift shop The Worm That Turned in Derby Road, city centre, refused to pay a £200 fixed penalty notice after being warned to display a sign by Nottingham City Council.
The council has now taken him to court for not paying the fixed penalty notice.
Mr Isbister pleaded not guilty at Nottingham Magistrates' Court today, and faces a fine of £1,000 if he loses a trial, which is due to take place on April 27.
And, as we now know, if he refuses to pay that fine, he could be given six months in one of the most violent prisons in the UK. Pour encourager les autres, of course.
To the authorities, it makes no difference that no one ever smokes in Mr Isbister's shop.
"I can't remember a time when people smoked in shops, so it's a like using a sledge hammer to crush a nut, and I thought it was about time someone stood up to it."
Indeed so. Unfortunately we know what happens to people who stand up to the bully state.
The smoking ban is the only law which requires millions of signs to be prominently displayed on private property. Shops are not compelled to put signs up saying 'No assaults permitted' or 'No drug use permitted'. Mandatory 'No Smoking' signs should never have been part of deal. They are superfluous. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Their sole purpose is to hammer home the anti-smoking message at every turn. And, of course, there will always be jobsworths who use these petty regulations as a bully's charter.
Nottingham City Council says that the shop is the only building out of around 5,000 they have visited in the city since the law came into effect that has refused to comply.
How much have these 5,000 inspections cost the taxpayer, all in the name of prosecuting one man in a garden gift shop? An anonymous council jobsworth was quoted as saying:
"We have provided Mr Ibister with signs and have asked on numerous occasions for them to be displayed which he has refused to do, resulting in us serving a fine which he refused to pay. This has led to the court appearance.
"The Health Act 2006 requires that all smoke free premises display the appropriate sign at the entrance to the premises – we are simply upholding this national law."
Yes, the Nuremburg defence. Only following orders. It would, presumably, be too much to ask the council to use its own discretion and common sense, particularly since no complaints have been made and it is manifestly a victimless crime?
[The smoking ban] includes buildings such as churches, listed buildings and art galleries, and the council says there has been no challenge about the aesthetic impact of signs on premises.
Well, really, what would be the point? When religious leaders described mandatory signage in churches as "daft", "overkill" and "unnecessary", the Department of Health ignored them:
In response to this the Department of Health spokesman said: "I accept, without reservation, that there is a long tradition not to smoke in churches but, as I am sure people will appreciate, to have provided an exemption would have created a dangerous precedent."
Churches setting a dangerous precedent? What planet do these people live on?
Let's be clear. Both Hogan and Isbister have broken the law. The point is that both 'crimes'—"allowing people to smoke" and not publicising a well-known offence—should never have been made crimes in the first place.
Old Holborn is raising money for Nick Hogan's release. If you would like to donate, click here (but ignore his comments about smoking on trains and in shops. It is indeed illegal both to smoke and to "allow" smoking in the UK).
Ed West has more on the Hogan case at The Telegraph:
Match the crime with the sentence:
1) A man who used his two-year-old daughter as a decoy so he and his pregnant girlfriend could steal from three Poppy Appeal tins and a Multiple Sclerosis charity box over a period of two weeks last year, hiding the cash in their daughter’s buggy.
The 25-year-old also pleaded guilty to carrying a lock knife, stealing a guitar, and the attempted theft of another collection tin. He has a string of previous theft convictions dating back five years.
2) A pub landlord convicted for non-payment of a fine for allowing a “mass smoke-in” in his pub on the day of the smoking ban. He no longer owns the pub, and is bankrupt.
a) Six months in jail
b) A suspended sentence and a six-month drug rehabilitation order