4/14/2008UK Motorist Proves to Judge that the Traffic Camera Lied
London, UK officials caught manipulating photographic evidence to issue traffic tickets worth millions.
The spread of photo enforcement depends upon the truism that the camera never lies. A photograph presents a record of exactly what happened, free of the human problems of bias or misrecollection. This month, however, a UK motorist was exonerated after he proved conclusively that a traffic camera photograph issued in the London Borough of Lambeth did lie.
The incident occurred at Salters Hill, the favorite location for a Smart Car equipped with a CCTV ticketing camera. The car had been set up to generate tickets at a "pinch point" where the road narrows to allow only one vehicle to pass at a time. Failure to yield properly to approaching cars results in a £100 (US $200) ticket being dropped in the mail to the vehicle's registered owner. A pair of Lambeth employees would sit in this car, reading a newspaper (see photo), while the machine issued 6286 tickets between February 27, 2007 and July 7, 2007, generating £628,600 (US $1,257,200) in revenue or a rate of $3.5 million per year.
On May 15, 2007, the borough's ticketing machine took the photograph (shown above) which appears to depict the white Mini Cooper belonging to Jonathan Greatorex, 37, swerving immediately in front of a similar vehicle at 5:16pm. To all appearances, a collision was narrowly avoided. But the citation Greatorex received in the mail did not describe what he had remembered of the incident.
"As any Mini driver knows, one Mini driver would never fail to give way to another Mini driver," Greatorex wrote.
So Greatorex decided to appeal, but found he would have to pay to obtain the evidence he would need to make his case.
"Lambeth say that they will make available any video images upon payment of an administration fee," Greatorex said. "There's no other place on earth where you get accused of a crime, then charged a fee to get the evidence to try to prove your innocence. The system's insane and frankly, it's about time some one stood up to it."
After Greatorex obtained the additional evidence, he made an important discovery. The photograph used to convict him was zoomed in such a way that the depth of the image was compressed. The resulting photograph made a distant object, the black Mini, appear much closer than it actually was. View an unzoomed image of incident. This was enough to convince a National Parking Adjudication Service hearing officer earlier this year that Greatorex was innocent.
"I am satisfied that the appellant's arguments have considerable force," Adjudicator Joanne Oxlade ruled. "I would add that the appellant has a fair point as to the distorting effect of the zoom function which results in the stills being produced."
On April 1, Oxlade took the extraordinary step of refunding the £176 (US $352) in fees that Greatorex was forced to pay to defend his innocence. Such a refund was "not normally" made, according to Oxlade's ruling. The borough has no intention of refunding the tickets issued to the thousands of other motorists who found themselves convicted by zoomed photographs.
"This is legalized mugging and these motorists are victims not villains," Lambeth Councilor Graham Pycock said in a statement. "It is grossly wrong that the council is prosecutor and judge on technical offences which only exist because the council itself created the camera trap."
A full copy of the ruling is available in a 390k PDF file at the source link below.