3 Years, 7 Sheriffs, 8 Court Cases, 20 Police Officers and [Pounds Sterling]50,000 of Your Money. for a Fine of [Pounds Sterling]100 (of Which the Guilty Man Paid [Pounds Sterling]0!)

Article excerpt

Byline: Gordon Currie

A SCOTS criminal has escaped without paying a single penny of a [pounds sterling]100 fine - despite the case costing taxpayers a staggering [pounds sterling]50,000.

James Johnstone was found in possession of drugs and was hit with the penalty under a controversial scheme designed to keep so-called 'minor offenders' out of court.

When he chose to simply ignore the fine, the authorities began legal proceedings to try to recover the cash.

But despite the costly involvement of seven sheriffs, eight court hearings and about 20 police officers, Johnstone, 33, has now been told he cannot be forced to pay.

Last week, one exasperated sheriff announced that the case had been a 'total waste of time'.

Critics last night lamented the catastrophic waste of public money and claimed that the matter highlighted a serious flaw with Scotland's 'fiscal fines' system introduced by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.

Meanwhile Johnstone - who is delighted to have dodged justice - showed his contempt by advising anyone hit with such a fine to ignore it. He said: 'I would just tell anyone in the same situation as me not to bother paying either. The sheriff was right that it was a waste of time.' The case began in November 2008 when police caught Johnstone with a small lump of cannabis. The procurator fiscal decided that, rather than take him to court, a [pounds sterling]100 fiscal fine would be issued.

After ignoring the fine, Johnstone, of Newport-on-Tay, Fife, was sent two warning letters in March and April 2009.

In July that year, he was sent a citation to attend Perth Sheriff Court but he failed to turn up on August 7, 2009 and a warrant was issued for his arrest by Sheriff Robert McCreadie.

He was brought to court on October 2, 2009, when Sheriff Gordon Fleetwood ordered him to pay up at [pounds sterling]10 per fortnight.

When he ignored this order, Sheriff Linda Smith issued another warrant for his arrest on December 4, 2009. On March 25 last year he appeared before Sheriff McCreadie again, who continued the case until April 9 for further inquiries.

But Johnstone never showed up and Sheriff Lindsay Foulis had to grant another warrant.

It was more than four months before he was brought back to court and on August 31 last year, Sheriff Michael Fletcher agreed - again - to let him pay [pounds sterling]10 per fortnight.

Johnstone again failed to do so and Sheriff Foulis granted another warrant on November 3, 2010.

On November 19, Sheriff James Williamson agreed - yet again - to let him pay [pounds sterling]10 per fortnight.

With no payments made by this summer, police were forced to go to his home again on July 5 to serve another citation to appear in court. …