The Bickerstaffe Record
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Being Labour

Is this really acceptable?

06.22.08 | Comment?

By mistake, I happened upon this page on the West Lancashire District Council website the other day.  It’s concerned with ‘naming and shaming’ people it refers to as ‘litter louts’, and appears to be written in accordance with the official  guide to cheap and nasty journalism.

It struck me as strange that I should have been ‘invited’ in to see the Chief Executive and the District Solicitor to warn me about the wording of my own press releases (about Serco operations in West Lancs), when the Council itself appears to be engaging in what might be construed as libellous activity. 

To label the Director of a bus company a ‘litter lout’ when the ‘story’ then goes on to say quite clearly that he’d been prosecuted, not for throwing litter, but for not naming a driver seen throwing litter, seems pretty close to the edge to me.  Closer to the edge, say, than describing as a ‘scandal’ the use public money to subsidise a leisure service which is failing to do what it should so for residents. But then I’m not a lawyer, so what would I know?

That is not, of course, to say that I condone the actions of the Director, of which he was found guilty in court, but to label someone in public as something they are very clearly not seems wrong to me.

 The more serious question is whether the Council should be engaging in this kind of ‘name and shame’ stuff in the first place.  Yes, littering is an offence and yes it is anti-social, but punishment in the English courts is supposed to be about a sense of proportion with the crime, and for a body which is not a court to then add this punishment of public shame is to be disproportionate, in my view.  Why, if it’s such a good idea, does the name of the factory up the road from me, which was eventually fined £20,000 for continual breaking of planning conditions and disturbing local residents’ sleep over many months, not get its name in big letters on the Council website as a deterrent to others.

 In the end, I think the answer to that is quite simple.  It’s because West Lancashire District  Council is more concerned with tough-guy PR, at the expense of real efforts towards improving the lives of their residents.  They’d be better moving the resources they use to name and shame people for littering (or people not telling the courts who littered) into clearing up the litter properly in areas where people feel it’s ok to litter because there’s already lots around, and leave the punishment-in-public to the people’s whose job it is – the courts (and I suppose the local press who do that kind of thing as part of their job).

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