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Effingham Parish Councillor In Confrontation With Travellers Cleared Of Three Charges, Guilty Of One

By Chris Dick

An Effingham Parish Councillor has been cleared of three charges and convicted of one following an incident at King George V playing fields last August during a confrontation with travellers.

Effingham Parish Councillor James Nicholls.

On Wednesday, April 4, 2018, James Nicholls, 60, appeared at Staines Magistrates’ Court to answer four charges made against him, all of which he pleaded not guilty to.

He was cleared of failing to provide a specimen for analysis as a vehicle driver, the possession of an offensive weapon, and one count of using threatening language or behaviour or abusive language.

He was convicted of swearing in public in the presence of police officers.

The court heard that on Friday, August 25, 2017, Mr Nicholls was involved in a confrontation with a group of travellers who had set up camp on the Effingham playing fields, and that he had used his car to block the entrance.

Police officers arrived, and during the hearing magistrates were told that the officers had suspected Mr Nicholls of having driven his car to the playing field while drunk. The officers administered a breathalyser test. It returned a reading of 113mg of alcohol per 100ml of breath, more than three times the legal limit of 35mg.

Mr Nicholls was arrested and taken into custody. At the police station he refused to give a breath sample for analysis. He told the court he had believed the machine was faulty.

Before Wednesday’s hearing Mr Nicholls had been assured he could expect another adjournment to the case. However, unprepared and without his new solicitor, magistrates decided to hear the case.

In court, the prosecution had said: “It is the Crown’s case that he [Mr Nicholls] was there to take action against people he felt did not have the right to be on the playing field.”

 

Travellers’ vehicles on King George V Playing Fields in Effingham, August 2017.

Speaking today (Wednesday, April 5) Mr Nicholls, who was clearly delighted with the result, said: “My solicitor had been expecting an adjournment so I was totally unprepared and had no witnesses, paperwork or photographs. I didn’t even have my reading glasses.

“The thing I was most delighted about was that, after the prosecutor had in effect accused me of making up stories and telling lies, the magistrates went to great pains to say that they found my version of events was both honest and consistent [with the police evidence].

“Although I was found guilty of a Section 5 public order offence, of swearing in public, I feel vindicated. Before my trial one solicitor told me that virtually any person, on any day, probably does something that could be deemed a breach of Section 5, and that to be found guilty is no shame whatsoever, although regrettable.

“My action was to prevent the fly-tipping and show the people, who broke into our playing fields, that this would not be allowed or go unnoticed. It was accepted in court that I had legally locked the gates to prevent further fly-tipping. My actions were preventative and not provocative.

”It was clear that my refusal to give a breath test on the grounds that the intoxicator meter was faulty was unusual. But I have nothing but admiration for the Surrey Police officers who were completely honest in their evidence. They acknowledged that the procedures were not followed and admitted that during the procedure the machine had been faulty.

Mr Nicholls had been concerned that, immediately after the incident had taken place, many in the village had considered him guilty before his trial.

After the verdict was given, magistrates permitted Mr Nicholls to make a short statement in which he apologised to them for the time taken and inconvenience he had caused and said afterwards: “I was proud to have stood alone and stood up for my community. But in hindsight perhaps I should have handled things differently.”

For the offence he was found guilty of, Mr Nicholls was fined a total of £530, that included a £250 fine along with £250 in costs and a £30 victim surcharge.

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8 Responses to Effingham Parish Councillor In Confrontation With Travellers Cleared Of Three Charges, Guilty Of One

  1. Dave Middleton Reply

    April 6, 2018 at 8:25 am

    So, from the above report, with regard to the drink driving, he got away with it due to a technical defence and a procedural error by police.

    I note that he does not deny having been considerably over the limit when he drove to the playing fields that morning, as shown by the initial roadside breath test, which showed him to be three times the limit.

    He should be thoroughly ashamed of himself.

    There is no excuse for drunk driving and I for one hope the local police keep a very close eye on him.

    • John Perkins Reply

      April 6, 2018 at 8:11 pm

      Actually he did deny it. He pleaded not guilty.

      Moreover, he was acquitted, so a court of law agreed he was not guilty.

      Is Mr Middleton suggesting that a mere accusation is sufficient? If so, why bother with courts at all?

      • Dave Middleton Reply

        April 6, 2018 at 11:14 pm

        No. He did not deny the offence of driving with excess alcohol; he was not charged with that offence.

        He was charged with and denied the offence of failing to provide a specimen of breath at the police station without a valid reason; giving as his justification that he felt that the machine was malfunctioning.

        The officers subsequently failed to follow the correct procedure, by failing to require a blood or urine sample as the breath test machine was “unreliable”. Accordingly and quite correctly, due to that procedural error, that charge was dismissed.

        Stepping outside the strictures of the court and the “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” burden of proof; when he was breath tested at the scene, having driven his car to the playing fields and used it to block the entrance, he blew 113. The limit is 35.

        While I agree that in the UK, the “roadside screening test” result is not admissible in court as direct evidence of the offence of driving with excess alcohol, I’d say that in the “real world” it was a very good indication of the level of alcohol in his body.

        From professional experience I can also say that the current intoximeters in use for roadside tests are extremely accurate. In many other countries, they are accepted as evidential devices and the readings are admissible at court.

        I wholeheartedly support Mr Nicholls’ intentions and actions to prevent further incursion on the playing field and any subsequent fly-tippng.

        However, he should not have driven there in his car with that amount of alcohol in his body and stand by my comment that he should be ashamed of himself for doing so.

        • John Perkins Reply

          April 7, 2018 at 11:17 am

          Despite him not even being charged with the offence, Mr Middleton has him convicted on the basis that the machine is very good. ‘The camera never lies’, and ‘computer says “no”’’. If machines were perfect they might be called gods.

          If you step “outside the strictures of the court” then you step outside the law.

  2. Stuart Barnes Reply

    April 6, 2018 at 8:38 am

    Well done Mr Nicholls. Good to see a councillor standing up for his area and people.

  3. James Nicholls Reply

    April 7, 2018 at 6:22 am

    Firstly, I welcome the observation of Mr Middleton. In truth he is correct and on the face of it the reports he may have read paint a skewed version of the truth.

    I was already parked on the playing fields, I am the closest residential property to the playing fields.

    As reported, the longest serving minor councillor, with my grandparents helping to buy the fields in 1933.

    This is a privately owned field by the residents of Effingham. We do not receive any outside help from a public body.

    This was an eight-hour trial. I did not win, but the truth of two very honest police officers who admitted very serious shortcomings.

    With failures in the system I could be in jail today.

    Please have faith in the police, there are some good girls and lads out there of Surrey Police.

    If you feel, sir, I have failed the system, I am sorry. But on the day I stood against 51 intruders by myself. I alone tried to stop the fly tipping.

    I did not use Twitter, Facebook, or email to have mob rule. I stood by myself and again one of the factors taken into consideration, I have only one leg, if they turned on me I would not have any chance of defending myself and the reason for taking the car was for my security but no excuse, although I was already on the playing fields and only drove 170 yards.

    In truth I was wrong, then there was the truth, while wrong I stood alone and stood I up for you.

  4. Christopher Hogger Reply

    April 8, 2018 at 1:57 pm

    I know that Mr Nicholls has a keen interest in the history of Effingham and so I think it may be useful for me to offer a few corrective points of detail in response to his above narrative.

    Firstly, the KGV playing fields were not bought in “1933” – they were not sold while the owner Mrs Pauling was still alive. She did not die until 1938, after which the fields were sold by her executors.

    Secondly, the fields were not bought primarily by “the village”. The purchase price was about £4,000 to which Guildford Rural District Council contributed £1700.

    A further £1,250 was contributed by two particularly generous donors. So in reality only a quarter of the funding was provided by villagers and not all of those were living in Effingham.

    The contributions of every single penny towards the total purchase price have been meticulously set out in surviving records, naming the families and individuals concerned, listing 116 of them. There is not a single mention of any Nicholls among them.

    Thirdly, the fields were not sold to “the village” and nor could they have been. There is no such legal entity as “the village”, which is unable lawfully to own anything at all. The residents of Effingham do not own the fields either. The land is instead registered to the Parish Council, which holds the deeds.

    Fourthly, Mr Nicholls did not “stand alone” against the travellers. On the same day that he was manifesting his peculiar antics on the fields, others of us were quietly engaged in the sober, legal and ultimately effective process of securing a writ of possession.

    Fifthly, concerning the fly-tipping, it was largely I and a handful of others who subsequently cleared nearly all the visible rubbish, whilst Mr Nicholls contributed, as far as I know, nothing at all to the task, then or since.

    Let us hear no more of this self-justifying and factually incorrect nonsense.

    • John Perkins Reply

      April 10, 2018 at 5:55 pm

      What an odd letter.

      Mr Nicholls admits his fault and, for a second time, shows some contrition whilst perhaps trying to put his, admittedly reckless, actions in a good light.

      In response Mr Hogger offers only irrelevance and pedantry. I doubt anyone cares if the sale was 1933 or 1938. There is no previous reference in these letters to the fields being bought by “the village”, nor to any purchase price, so his ‘corrections’ are baseless.

      Whether Mr Nicholls’ grandparents helped with the purchase or not cannot be assessed using his name – only half of my grandparents had the same name as me and I doubt I’m unique in that.

      It may be that the parish council holds the deeds, but if it is as a custodian trustee, as seems likely, then the land is indeed owned by the residents. Even if the land is actually owned by the council, that would have little real meaning as it only does so on behalf of residents. Certainly, councillors elected for limited terms do not own council property.

      Mr Nicholls claims that he stood alone and tried to stop the fly tipping, he does not claim to have cleaned it up. Again, the ‘corrections’ are aimed at an Aunt Sally. It may be that others were engaged in obtaining a writ, but that hardly counts as ‘standing’ with him, regardless of how many legs they might possess.

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