Handcuffed and clearly distressed, a 76-year-old exserviceman is led away to begin a prison sentence.His crime? Non-payment of council tax.
Richard Fitzmaurice appeared shocked when a pair of handcuffs was slapped around his wrists as soon as his 34-day sentence was passed at King’s Lynn Magistrates’ Court, Norfolk, yesterday.
Mr Fitzmaurice, who spent 22 years in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, had declared in court: “I am here on a matter of principle. The way old age pensioners are being treated is shameful.”
He said that rising fuel and food costs, along with council tax rises, were making life unbearable for many elderly people.
Mr Fitzmaurice, who has high blood pressure, added: “I can afford to pay it but there are very many people on fixed incomes who cannot.
“This morning there will be pensioners making cups of tea while they are standing in their overcoats. There will be many sitting in front of one-bar electric fires. Is that fair?
“Pensioners in this country are the worst treated in Europe. It is not fair and it is not right. I have no other way of protesting.”
Catherine Saunders, representing King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council, said the authority had no option but to seek a prison sentence.
Chairman of the bench Sandy Chandler told the old soldier: “You are clearly a man of principle, but we have to enforce the law.”
As the handcuffs were put on him, the former warrant officer asked: “Is that really necessary? You don’t need those for me.”
But the court ruled “procedures had to be followed”.
While violent offenders may be released on licence halfway through their sentence, Mr Fitzmaurice must serve his full term unless the debt is paid because there is no remission for non-payment of council tax.
Yesterday he began his sentence in a police cell in Peterborough as there was not enough space at the local jail. When he is transferred, he will be held alongside muggers and burglars.
It is the second time he has been over his stance which began after he became increasingly angry that he and his wife were having to limit what they spent on food in order to pay their council tax.
In 2006, he served three days of a 32-day sentence before his family, concerned about his health, paid his council tax.
Mr Fitzmaurice, who lives with his wife Rita, 77, in Heacham, Norfolk, owes £1,359 on his 2007-2008 Band D council tax plus £209 bailiff’s and court costs. The couple receive £200 a week in pensions.
He went to court yesterday, clutching a washbag, accompanied by his son Christopher, daughter Sally and other supporters.
After the hearing, his daughter said: “Non-payment of council tax only carries a custodial sentence. It is part of an unfair system.”
The family had not made any decision about paying off the debt, she added. “We will have to wait and see whether it will be necessary to get him out.”
Matthew Elliott, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said he applauded Mr Fitzmaurice’s “brave stand”.