Emma Caresimo, a 40-year-old mum from Magor in South Wales was stunned when bailiffs showed up at her house and threatened to take her car. They demanded payment of a fine for dropping a cigarette butt in Wigan. The fact that she didn't smoke, and had never been to the town didn't seem enough to persuade them they'd made a mistake. It's the latest dramatic consequence of councils deciding to take a heavy-handed approach to litter.
Emma, who runs an artists' agency in Newport, said the bailiffs boxed in her Volkswagen Golf, and told her to clear her belongings out of it, because they were taking it away to be auctioned.
She was forced to pay the £650, to keep hold of her car. She told the Daily Mail: "Magor is a small place and people were looking. It was so embarrassing and I had done absolutely nothing. It was totally bizarre."
She told Wales Online that she called police, who confirmed that the bailiffs were legitimate, so there was nothing they could do.
She then called Wigan Council, and was told there had been an administrative error - and that a woman from Liverpool who shares Emma's birthday and maiden name (Smith) had actually dropped the cigarette. A spokesperson said the council itself hadn't made a mistake, and had issued proceedings against the woman in Liverpool
A spokesman for HM Courts & Tribunals Service told the Daily Mail: "As a result of human error HMCTS wrongly took enforcement action against an individual with the same name and date of birth as an offender. We are deeply sorry for any distress caused by this regrettable incident and have arranged for the money to be refunded. We have taken steps to avoid this happening in future."
Heavy-handed approach to litter
Clearly Emma has been particularly unlucky to suffer fro this kind of administrative error. However, more and more people are finding themselves facing heavy-handed litter fines.
In January, Marcus Jones, the Communities minister, upped the ante by introducing fines of up to £150 for litter louts - announced as part of the Clean for the Queen campaign. Previously, councils were free to set the fines themselves - and tended to settle between £30 and £80. The aim was to increase the fines to a point that people thought twice before carelessly discarding litter.
Jones told the papers that litter was an anti-social nuisance, that didn't just make the environment less pleasant - but it cost cash-strapped councils hundreds of millions of pounds that they could ill-afford.
Councils, meanwhile, have realised that litter louts could make them money and help pay for some of the cleaning costs. They have brought in private contractors to issue on-the-spot fines, and use the money they generate to pay the private company - with a profit on top.
As a result, we have seen some unusual examples of draconian fines imposed by these companies. These have included a woman who was fined for throwing a piece of Christmas cake to a squirrel in a churchyard in Kent, one who was fined £50 for throwing some of her leftovers to a pigeon in Swansea, and a woman from Coventry who discarded a cigarette butt on her way home from the supermarket - and after refusing to pay and being taken to court, she was eventually left with costs of £504.
But what do you think? Do you support this kind of approach, or do you think it goes too far? Let us know in the comments.