“It really wasn’t worth it, was it?” “No, not really.”
Nothing could have summed up the day of results at Stockport Magistrates Court on Friday, August 19 better than these final words between the chair of the bench Rachel Medcalf and one of several motorists suspected of using a NIP farm to evade justice for a driving offence. Greater Manchester Police identified 126 vehicle keepers who had failed to give them the correct details of people suspected of driving offences, with their Notice of Intended Prosecutions (NIP) coming back linked to the same few addresses.
Most of these people were trying to dodge relatively minor offences, speeding, running a red light, crimes that typically carry up to three penalty points on your licence. Their efforts have instead landed them in the sticky situation where they face a fine of a few hundred pounds and six points on their licence – enough to see new drivers have their licence revoked.
Although 78 of these people, identified and being brought to justice by Greater Manchester Police, admitted their crimes fairly early on, a substantial number decided to bring the case to court to try and plead their innocence. When Kath Bailey, prosecutions manager at Greater Manchester’s central ticket office, leads each defendant into an unused courtroom to show them just a sample of the mountain of evidence the force has to prove a NIP farm has been identified at an address… they quickly change their minds, and plea.
Dozens of letters linking dozens of fictitious drivers to the same addresses have come into GMP over the last two years, with staff regularly opening up to five letters a day listing the same address and a different driver with a different date of birth on them, leading to dozens of fake drivers being reported as residents of a standard two-bedroom terraced house in Oldham. It was this huge swarm of reports to the same few addresses that showed GMP there was a massive problem – one that spreads up and down the country.
Ms Bailey believes it’s not a new problem, just one that’s only coming to light now as a result of the number of people trying to shift the blame away from themselves. She told the Manchester Evening News : “All forces have the same problem where people are utilising these firms that advertise themselves on Facebook pages and groups offering services and it’s become apparent quite quickly that the same people’s names and addresses kept coming up as being drivers.
“Within Oldham one two-bed terraced house had over 100 different drivers nominated as living at the address which just isn’t possible. Staff in the office who are responsible for opening up the post would sometimes get five notices in the same envelope nominating the same person with a different date of birth.
“There’s 1,723 offences that we know of from certain addresses so there’s been lots of communication and a brilliant job between the courts and our staff and this is the first of three phases. With 136 people before the courts, all but two of the people have pleaded guilty so far so that’s over 98% dealt with by single justice procedures.
“The problem has only just come to light due to the sheer volume of offences for each address. We’re the first force to place such a volume before the courts and once we have finished phase one we will be looking to speak to other forces for them to introduce our system if they want to.”
Phase one of the prosecutions focuses on people who sent back physical NIPs naming another driver, whilst phase two will target people who returned the driver nomination online – the most common method to indicate another person was driving your vehicle. Of the people taken to court in phase one of the prosecutions, around 50 of them are facing disqualification, most because they’re new drivers and six points will cause their licence to be revoked by the DVLA.
One of the defendants who appeared before the court on Friday morning even faces losing their car, as the vehicle is a Motability vehicle which can only be driven by the named drivers and can be reclaimed by the company if the contract is breached or the vehicle is involved in criminal activity.
Paul Rowe, manager of GMP’s central ticket office, sees the action as “making history”, with all those involved in the court proceedings on Friday morning being part of the first prosecutions of their type in the country. He thinks it’s vital to bring those responsible to justice, not just to keep the roads safe but because many NIP farms often exploit someone vulnerable who needs money quickly, harming people who really need help.
He added: “This started off as a big hard to do issues because of the amount of notices and the fact these are the first type of these hearings. The issue really is prolific and a problem across the whole country. We’re all the guinea pigs here and today [Friday] is history in the making and everyone’s done an incredible work. We’ve all been part of making history here.
“Some people say they handed it to someone who said they could make it ‘go away’ but we also see people who say they handed it to the driver to fill out and they sent it back wrong – the form is clear that is not the way to handle this. As the keeper or business owner you are responsible for giving the details of the driver to the police and it’s important people know this isn’t an excuse.”
Friday’s prosecutions are just the start of a wave of criminal activity finally coming to light, as GMP is the first force in the country to bring these offender’s to justice, breaking the seedy NIP farms apart at the seams and revealing repeat offenders and the exploitative nature of the appealing promises that could evade justice fed to people through Facebook posts and word-of-mouth, encouraging so many to hand over minor driving offence letters to someone who can make them “go away”.
Unfortunately for those falling for the too good to be true nature of these services, GMP have a lot more prosecutions to get through yet, and they don’t look like they’re stopping this crackdown any time soon.
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