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New speed camera puts more drivers in the frame

Technology will stop motorists claiming someone else was at the wheel

DRIVERS who try to evade speeding penalties by claiming that someone else was at the wheel will be the target of a new camera that captures a clear image of the driver’s face, The Times has learnt.

Police are investing in the new technology because of the growing problem of drivers “passing off” penalty points to relatives and friends in order to avoid an automatic six-month ban for accumulating twelve points within three years.

A study last year estimated that more than 700,000 drivers had passed off points in the past decade. Police issued 1.9 million camera penalties in 2004 and there are currently 160,000 drivers with a strong incentive to pass off points because they have nine points on their licences, one offence away from a ban.

The Times understands that the digital photographs taken by the new camera will be studied in any case that arouses suspicion, including when the registered keeper of a vehicle claims that a partner was driving or tries to blame someone who was visiting from overseas. In disputed cases investigators employed by police and local authority camera partnerships will visit people’s homes and show them the photographs.

Drivers who have falsely given another person’s name will be told to reconsider or face prosecution for perverting the course of justice.

The new forward-facing camera has been developed by Gatso, the biggest speed camera supplier, to work in conjunction with traditional rear-facing cameras. The flash of the first camera triggers the second, which takes a digital image of the front of the vehicle, using an infra-red filter to prevent the driver from being dazzled and to ensure clarity in darkness.

The Essex speed camera partnership has had trials with ten of the cameras and used them to identity the driver in more than 1,000 cases in which the culprits were either trying to pass off points or claiming they did not know who was driving.

Neil Hamilton, the disgraced former Tory MP, and his wife Christine escaped a penalty for doing 63mph in a 50mph limit in 2003 after claiming that they could not remember who had been at the wheel. The new device would have identified which of them was responsible.

The London partnership has bought five of the cameras, which cost 10,000 each, and is installing two on Lower Thames Street in the City next week. Several other partnerships, including Derbyshire, have expressed interest and hundreds of the cameras are expected to be installed across Britain. Trevor Hall, operations manager of the Essex partnership, said: “The cameras have been highly successful in cases where the driver claims it was his wife but the image clearly shows it was a man driving. When people see the images it helps to change their minds.”

Tom Duckham, manager of the London partnership, said: “We have 30 enforcement offi-cers who will be paying visits to drivers and presenting them with the pictures.”

He said that the images would also help to catch drivers who falsely claimed that their numberplates had been copied and fitted to another car.

Police will also no longer have to drop cases involving pool cars shared by several people, none of whom will admit to the offence. A Hampshire police officer escaped prosecution for speeding in 2002 because the force was unable to prove which of the 100 people authorised to use the unmarked car had been driving.

In Essex, four men who committed a series of street robberies were caught after an officer found a picture of them that night speeding past a camera in a stolen Ford Fiesta.

The time-consuming process of comparing the camera image with the suspected offender will be streamlined from 2012, when police will be able to compare instantly on screen the camera image and the driving licence photograph of the registered keeper.

Some drivers caught passing off speeding penalties are being prosecuted for perverting the course of justice and jailed or fined several thousand pounds.

This month, a nurse was imprisoned for six months for trying to blame a speeding offence on her former sister-in-law, who lives in America. Joy Rees, 39, was caught at 51mph in a 40mph limit in Plymouth last July. She had nine points on her licence and, to avoid a ban, twice forged signatures on forms sent by police. She was caught after the DVLA contacted the woman in America.

Stewart and Cathryn Bromley, of Hyde, near Stockport, invented a Bulgarian employee who they said was driving their car when they got two speeding penalties. Mrs Bromley, 42, travelled to Bulgaria to send a postcard from him. They were fined 11,000 last October.

David Simmonite, 60, of Bradford, was jailed for four months in January last year after claiming that a French friend was responsible for a speeding offence committed by his daughter. Police found that the Frenchman had been at home with a kidney complaint at the time.


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