Grant Woodward: Heard the one about police stealing from the public?

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West Yorkshire Police took drivers’ money unlawfully, but refuse to give it back. How does that work?

HERE’S a good one. The police issue parking fines to drivers. Then, when they realise they did it illegally, they come clean... and refuse to hand the money back.

You couldn’t make it up, could you? It’s almost as if the police are now stealing from the public.

If they broke the law, then that’s arguably what they’ve done.

And they did break the law. They’ve admitted as much.

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Police Community Support Officers dished out 16,000 parking fines to drivers in West Yorkshire between 2006 and March this year – despite having no legal power to do so.

Rather than hiring PCSOs – who I think do a great job by the way – and giving them traffic warden powers, the police admit they should have hired traffic wardens and given them PCSO powers.

It might sound like a technicality, but it’s set down in black and white in legislation.

If the police can’t stick to the letter of the law, then why should the rest of us?

It’s rank hypocrisy of the worst kind – and from the very people who are meant to uphold law and order.

What makes it worse is the way they are now trying to weasel their way out of it.

They say that the motorists who were fined had the chance to challenge the validity of the process in court.

Hmmm. Let’s have a wild stab at how many people realise the police had cocked up over an obscure piece of legislation.

I’m thinking it’s a nice round number – in other words a big fat zero.

And how many drivers thought better of appealing because they didn’t want the hassle and expense of taking it to magistrates court?

Basically, as Hugh Bladen from the Association of British Drivers has pointed out, the police are saying that you’re guilty unless you can prove you’re innocent.

That’s the exact opposite of how justice is supposed to work in this country.

Of course, the majority of those who copped fines were bang to rights. But that’s not the point.

At the end of the day, this money has been obtained through questionable means.
 If the average Joe Bloggs in the street had done it, they could expect to find themselves hauled before a court for their trouble.

They certainly wouldn’t be allowed to hold on to the cash.

But instead of getting a slap on the wrist, the police are keeping the public’s money and telling us to lump it.

A similar thing happened over in York, where the council closed the city’s Lendal Bridge to traffic on a trial basis.

It started handing out fines for those who still went across but a review found the council had no power to do so because signage and CCTV weren’t up to scratch.

As a result, they started giving the money back. And quite right too.

So why should West Yorkshire Police be any different?

We should remember that policing in this country is done by consent.

It means – thank goodness – that the police don’t need to carry guns.

But our system of policing relies on the public trusting the police to be fair, transparent and on their side.

Episodes such as this erode that trust and create the feeling that the laws that apply to us don’t apply to them.

That’s a slippery slope – and potentially a very dangerous position for us to get into.

In this instance the police should have held their hands up, admitted they got it wrong and allowed the drivers to claim back their money.

As it is, they’re painting themselves as being above the law – and that sets a dangerous precedent.

It’s important that people respect the police. They do a great job keeping us safe. But respect is a two-way street. And if we the public are expected to stick to the letter of the law, then the police have a duty to show us that they will too.

Rhinos stars are proper heroes

NEXT Monday night on BBC1 there’s an hour-long documentary on Wayne Rooney.

Gary Lineker gets a tour of Wazza’s multi-million-pound mansion, has a chinwag with Coleen and shows us “the real Wayne Rooney”.

Good for him.

But I can’t help thinking that this attempt to rehabilitate a sporting figure who’s attracted his fair share of bad headlines in the past is a bit ironic.

For a world class sportsman you’d be more than happy for your kids to look up to you need look no further than our own Leeds Rhinos.

Tomorrow night at Headingley, two of the club’s absolute heroes will be playing their final game at the ground where they’ve achieved such incredible success over the last decade or so.

Kevin Sinfield and Jamie Peacock embody the ideals that every sports fan worth their salt wants from his or her heroes.

Talented but prepared to work incredibly hard, they are committed to their team, their fans and their families.

They don’t do bling, kiss and tells or falling out of nightclubs at 3am. These guys know how to handle themselves on the pitch and how to carry themselves off it.

Through all their success they have remained humble and aware of their responsibilities as role models.

I’ll be there tomorrow night to cheer them on in the play-off semi-final. And I think I’ll give Wayne’s World a miss.

Déjà vu over airport plans

SOMETIMES I read a headline and wonder if I’ve done a Quantum Leap and ended up in 1995.

This week, Leeds City Council unveiled three new potential road links to Leeds-Bradford Airport.

Is it really 2015?

This issue over getting passengers in and out of the airport has been going on since Moses was in short trousers.

Everyone’s fully aware of the shameful irony that it’s easier for someone from Leeds to fly from Manchester than it is from their own city airport.

So why are we still kicking round ideas? Why aren’t we already building the infrastructure the airport has badly needed for so long? Or better yet, already using it?

For my money, a rail link and new station would be by far the best solution to take the hassle out of using Leeds-Bradford.

The question is, would the airport try to charge you £3 just for getting off the train?

WATER TREAT: The river at Otley full of people in pedalos and rowing boats.

Neil Hudson: Hire boats return to Otley’s river for first time since 2001