Record number of on-the-spot fines for ‘busybody’ crimes are issued in the county – including feeding seagulls in East Devon

Feeding seagulls in East Devon, sleeping in public, shouting and swearing in the street have landed culprits with on-the-spot fines across the county, a new report has found.

Councils across Devon have played their part in issuing a record number of on-the-spot fines for so-called ‘busybody offences’ including feeding seagulls on Exmouth seafront, shouting in Teignmouth and handing out leaflets in Barnstaple, writes local democracy reporter Guy Henderson.

Across the country, councils use Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) to crack down on activities such as urinating, drinking, swearing or taking a nap in public.

East Devon District Council bans feeding gulls on the beaches at Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton, Sidmouth, Beer and Seaton, and has fined at least one person who has done so.

In addition to the ban on feeding the gulls, East Devon District Council has four PSPOs in place, covering dog control, aggressive begging and causing intimidation, alarm or distress. These cover the town centre and seafront areas of Exmouth.

There are dog exclusion areas in towns and villages all over the district including Exmouth, Axminster, Honiton and Ottery St Mary. In 2022 the council issued three fixed penalty notices for urination, anti-social behaviour, not having dogs on leads and failing to surrender alcohol.

Exeter City Council has one PSPO in place, covering the use of intoxicating substances, aggressive begging, urinating in the street and causing harassment, alarm or distress in the city centre and St Thomas.

Research by the Manifesto Club, which challenges what it says is the ‘hyper-regulation’ of public spaces, says more than 13,000 fines have been issued nationwide, and more than 150 councils issued at least one penalty in 2022.

The organisation says offences for which people were fined included shouting, which is banned by four councils, and making noise, which is also banned by four councils. There were 22 restrictions on loitering, seven on busking, six for feeding birds and seven for rough sleeping or sleeping in a vehicle.

PSPOs first appeared in the 2014 Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, and can be issued if a council official believes activities carried on in a public place ‘have had a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality’.

They can be enforced by police or council officers. Violation is a criminal offence, punishable by an on-the-spot fine of £100, and if prosecuted in a magistrates’ court with a fine of up to £1,000.

Devon councils have used them for various purposes. Torbay has a PSPO to restrict rogue fishermen landing large quantities of mackerel and leaving rubbish at Hopes Nose and Berry Head.

Torbay Council’s deputy leader Chris Lewis (Con, Preston) said: “It is important that we protect these unique, beautiful and much-loved areas of Torbay that are so popular with residents and visitors, and make sure they remain safe places for everyone to enjoy, now and for future generations.”

Plymouth City Council has two PSPOs in use, covering alcohol consumption and dog control. On average it issues a fine every two days to someone in charge of an out-of-control dog – a total of 181 fixed penalty notices for the offence last year.

In addition to the PSPOs on Berry Head and Hopes Nose, the Manifesto Club says Torbay Council has two orders in force for dog fouling and alcohol abuse. The council issued 32 fixed penalty notices for dog fouling in 2022.

North Devon District Council has four PSPOs in force, tackling alcohol, littering, ball games, aggressive begging, intoxicating substances, dog control and leafleting at the Pannier Market in Barnstaple and Ilfracombe Harbour. The council issued five fixed penalty notices in 2022 for street drinking and dog fouling.

Torridge District council has two PSPOs, according to the report, for anti-social behaviour and alcohol confiscation in Bideford and for dog control in Bideford and Westward Ho!. It issued four fixed penalty notices in 2022 for dog control issues.

Teignbridge District Council has two PSPOs in place, covering shouting, swearing, drunkenness, intoxicating substances and dog control on the seafront and parts of the town centre at Teignmouth. Six fixed penalty notices were issued for dog control breaches in 2022.

West Devon Borough Council has one PSPO in force for alcohol misuse and anti-social behaviour in The Meadows at Tavistock. South Hams District Council and Mid Devon District Council have none.

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