Fines rescinded for Ashfield councillors accused of breaking lockdown rules

Fines controversially handed out to two Ashfield councillors, accused of breaking lockdown rules, have been rescinded by the police.

By Richard Silverwood
Wednesday, 12th May 2021, 1:38 pm
Coun David Martin with his daughter Hannah at last week's election count.
Coun David Martin with his daughter Hannah at last week's election count.

Coun Tom Hollis and Coun David Martin, who represent the Ashfield Independents, were each slapped with fixed penalty notices of £100 in January this year.

Officers accused them of door-to-door canvassing or election campaigning by posting leaflets through the letterboxes of residents – claiming this was against the government’s Covid regulations at the time.

However, the councillors were stunned, saying the material they posted was nothing more than important Covid-19 information offering help for those self-isolating.

Coun Tom Hollis (left) on a council engagement with Coun Jason Zadrozny and Paralympic gold medallist, Ollie Hynd (centre)

They also claimed the fines were issued before new government guidelines came into place on February 1. And the leader of Ashfield Independents, Coun Jason Zadrozny, threatened to take legal action in protest.

Now the fined duo have received a letter from the police’s Criminal Records Office to say the penalties have been withdrawn “after the issuing force had reviewed the evidence”.

Coun Zadrozny said: “This Keystone Cops-like attempt to damage the Ashfield Independents is a stain on the reputation of the police.

"We knew from the start that they had no case. I am relieved that these illegally-issued fixed penalty notices have been independently overturned.”

The letter sent by the Criminal Records Office, withdrawing the fixed penalty notices for the two councillors.

The police only intervened after complaints had been made, and Coun Zadrozny felt it was “a vindictive attempt to interfere” with the build-up to last week’s Nottinghamshire County Council elections, in which Coun Martin and Hollis were candidates.

“We were informed that the police didn’t have a leg to stand on only after thousands of votes had already been cast by post,” said Coun Zadrozny.

"The whole thing has been exposed as a scam. I really hope that Tom and David seek legal remedies so this doesn’t happen again.”

Despite the furore, Coun Hollis still won his seat (Sutton West) by a large margin and Coun Martin was elected in Selston – but only by 11 votes.

They are also members of Ashfield District Council, representing the wards of Huthwaite and Brierley, and Underwood respectively.

Coun Martin said this week: "We lost hundreds of votes as a result. I am pleased that I held my seat by the skin of my teeth, but the police’s failure to understand Covid rules is shocking.

"The Ashfield Independents took the rules very seriously during the pandemic.

"Even though the fixed penalty notices have been overturned and the police have agreed to pay our legal costs, we have had no apology. We are now taking legal advice.”

Coun Hollis said he was ‘baffled’ by the fines.

"I wasn’t delivering anything political. It was a calendar that had information for people if they needed medication, plus all the council’s contact numbers,” he said.

"It was nothing like ‘Vote for Tom Hollis’ or ‘Vote for the Ashfield Independents’. It was: ‘If you need help, call this number’.

"When the government issued its new guidelines on February 1, we immediately stopped.”

At the time the fines were issued, Insp Mark Dickson, the police’s district commander for Ashfield, said all political parties had been emailed on January 7 asking them to refrain from door-to-door canvassing or posting leaflets.

This was because it was not considered essential activity during a lockdown when people were being told to stay at home.

He said: “The rules are very clear that people should stay at home unless they are needing to go out for essentials like food or medicine, or taking daily exercise.

"The exemptions to this are where people have to go to work as this cannot be done from home.

"The government has made it clear that door-to-door canvassing or leafleting are not essential.

"There are a variety of alternative ways of doing this during the pandemic without unnecessarily raising the risk of Covid transmission.

"Disappointingly, we had to respond after a member of the public alerted us to two people deliberately canvassing in the Ashfield area between Saturday, January 23 and Monday, January 25.”

Insp Dickson added that the fixed penalty notices had been issued by e-mail on January 30.

This week, Nottinghamshire Police told Chad that the fines had been rescinded because of “a legal technicality”.

A spokesperson said: “We issued the fixed penalty notices using the national guidance following reports into us by concerned members of the public.

"Canvassing at the time was not permitted under the then guidance, and we took positive action at the time, based on the evidence we found.

"We have since reviewed this specific case and, as a result of advice upon a legal technicality, we took a decision to withdraw the prosecution via ACRO (the Association of Chief Police Officers’ Criminal Records Office).”