A green campaigner who said that he had never owned or driven a car overturned a motoring conviction on appeal after becoming embroiled in a case described as “Kafka comes to Lewes”.
But it was more like A Comedy of Errors than The Trial at Lewes Crown Court yesterday (Tuesday 10 May).
Nick Till, 67, a Sussex University professor, appeared before Judge Stephen Mooney to challenge a conviction for failing to tell Sussex Police who had been driving a speeding car along Brighton seafront.
Mr Till, of Rheidol Terrace, London, patiently rebuffed a series of claims made by barrister Michael Shilliday who appeared by video link for the respondent, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
By the end, it was All’s Well That Ends Well as Judge Mooney upheld Mr Till’s appeal, telling the CPS not to go blundering after “the wrong Mr Till”.
How the case unfolded at Lewes Crown Court …
The court clerk asked the man in the dock if he was Nicholas Till and he said that he was but that he had never driven a car.
Mr Shilliday said that the Land Rover was registered in his name but Mr Till said that he had never owned a car.
He said that he was an environmental campaigner who had been sent for trial from Crawley Magistrates’ Court last month.
Mr Till has denied causing a public nuisance during the Insulate Britain campaign group’s protests on the M25 last September.
Mr Shilliday said that documentation was sent to an address in Crawley where Mr Till did not live and was returned – twice – saying that he was not known at that address.
Mr Till was asked if he lived – or had lived – in Crawley. He said: “Until I went to the magistrates’ court, I’d never been to Crawley. I live in London.”
Mr Shilliday said that the documentation was then sent to the premises of a company, MCS, and the company said that Mr Till was driving, giving an address in Copthorne.
The barrister said that the documentation was then sent to the Copthorne address, adding: “That was returned to the police by a Barbara Till who said that she lived alone and produced a council tax bill showing that was a single occupant.”
Judge Mooney turned to Mr Till and said: “Barbara Till … ring any bells? No? No relation?”
Mr Shilliday said that a court summons was then sent to an address in Croydon but Mr Till said that he did not live in Croydon – and it was still not him.
The judge said: “Is there anything at all that links this Mr Till to the address where the summons was served?”
Mr Shilliday said: “Nicholas Till went to Crawley (Magistrates’ Court) to enter a not guilty plea … A driving licence was issued to Nicholas Alexander Till to that address in Crawley in 2020.”
Mr Till said: “My name is not Nicholas Alexander Till.”
Asked by the judge to tell the court his full name, he said: “It’s Nicholas John Thirlwall Till.”
Judge Mooney said: “It’s not going well so far, Mr Shilliday.”
The barrister then said: “I don’t know why this particular Mr Till is in court.”
The judge said: “So you’ve got the wrong man?”
Mr Shilliday said: “The short answer is that I don’t know why that Mr Till is in the dock … Nicholas Alexander Till, who is on the summons, is aged 31.”
The judge said that Mr Till appeared to be wearing well but that, without wishing to show any disrespect, he was probably older than that.
Mr Till told the court: “I’m 67.”
A perplexed-sounding Mr Shilliday said: “The wrong man is in the dock. That man shouldn’t be appealing. Well, has he appealed? This Mr Till need not appear.”
Judge Mooney said: “This is the wrong man. This is Kafka comes to Lewes!”
Mr Shilliday said: “I don’t know why the wrong Mr Till is in the dock.”
The judge allowed the appeal by Mr Till and awarded him costs.
Mr Shilliday objected but the judge said: “I don’t want this case darkening our door.”
The barrister asked for the matter to be listed again next week, adding: “It needs careful consideration so the underlying conviction against the right Mr Till is not expunged.”
The judge said: “This was a single justice case, wasn’t it?”
And Mr Shilliday said: “Mr Till successfully reopened it.”
It was unclear which Nicholas Till he might have meant.
Judge Mooney said: “What I don’t want is this blundering on. I don’t want Mr Till pursued, brought to court, having his credit rating affected and being pursed for a debt that he doesn’t owe.
“I’m encouraged by watching the mists slowly and inexorably lifting as clarity appears.”
He agreed to the case being listed next week.
How did the confusion arise?
A summons was sent to Nicholas Alexander Till, of St Francis Gardens, Copthorne, Crawley.
Till was charged with speeding – driving a Land Rover along the A259 Marine Parade, on Brighton seafront, where the speed limit is 30mph.
The offence – driving at 36mph and captured by the seafront speed cameras – was alleged to have taken place in September 2019.
In December, he also faced a charge of failing to give information about to the identification of the driver when required by Sussex Police.
Court records suggest that he pleaded not guilty to both charges in June 2020 – and the next month the case was adjourned for a trial in September 2020.
But Till was not present at Brighton Magistrates’ Court in September when the speeding offence was withdrawn.
He was, though, convicted in his absence of failing to tell the police who was driving the speeding Land Rover.
The magistrates endorsed his licence with six points, fined him £660 and ordered him to pay £250 prosecution costs and a £66 victim surcharge, making £976 in all.
But in May last year, Till appeared at Brighton Magistrates’ Court again when the conviction was overturned and the two offences were set down for trial in September.
The court was told that Till was living at Augustines Avenue, in Croydon.
The case was tried last October in Worthing – again in Till’s absence. Magistrates dismissed the speeding charge but convicted Till again of failing to tell the police who was driving.
He was given six penalty points again, fined £660 and ordered to pay £85 costs and a £66 victim surcharge, making £811 in all.
It remains to be seen, though, whether a case that started with the speed cameras on Brighton seafront can cross the finish line in Lewes next week.
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