Court fine clampdown hailed a success
By Mark HeathA CRACKDOWN on criminals with unpaid court fines has been hailed a success after six persistent offenders were jailed and more than £36,000 of debt cleared.
By Mark Heath
A CRACKDOWN on criminals with unpaid court fines has been hailed a success after six persistent offenders were jailed and more than £36,000 of debt cleared.
Operation Payback was launched in Ipswich, under the co-ordination of the Suffolk Magistrates' Courts Committee (SMCC).
A total of 45 people were brought before the courts - 27 of them under arrest - while £18,500 of debt was cleared, with arrangements made to clear a further £18,000.
Steve Finch, director of finance for SMCC, said the crackdown was the first of its kind in Suffolk and warned people with unpaid fines that more raids are to come.
The operation saw 16 specialist enforcement officers join forces with eight police officers to target the homes of persistent offenders.
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Mr Finch said: "In Suffolk, we successfully collect around 80% of court fines. However, we are owed at any one time between £2.5 and £3million, so we are something like £1.5m in arrears.
"Around 5,000 people in the county still owe money to the courts. I don't think they appreciate the seriousness of not paying fines.
"Often people say to us that they were paying off a store card or something similar. They don't realise that, while they can't go to prison for not paying them, they certainly can be jailed for unpaid court fines."
Mr Finch said fines were used to pay compensation for victims of crime - making it vital they were paid in full and on time.
He added: "There are plans for similar operations in the future. We learnt a lot about how to run an operation like this and we now have a model and a method of working that we can employ several times a year across the county.
"Assistance is offered to those who cannot pay and it is always better and cheaper to reach an arrangement with the court, rather than be summoned before it.
"The worst thing people can do is to ignore their fines because they won't go away and we will follow it up. The message to fines defaulters is that we will carry out operations like this again."