A Leyland taxi driver walked free from court yesterday after being found not guilty of flouting the smoking ban.
Peter Cowley was taken to court by South Ribble Borough Council after he refused to pay a £50 fine for allegedly smoking in his private hire cab.
The case is the first time the council had taken such action and related to an incident in April, this year when Mr Cowley was working in the taxi rank at the Tesco supermarket in Towngate, Leyland.
The 54-year-old, of Chadwick Court, Bamber Bridge, who represented himself at the hearing in South Ribble Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, pleaded not guilty.
Mr Cowley, who now works for Miller’s Taxi’s in Murray Street, Preston, said: “I am disputing that I was smoking in my cab.
“I am a smoker but everytime I had a cigarette I was not in my cab so when they issued me with the fixed penalty notice, I didn’t really understand what was happening.”
Tasneem Safdar, who represented the council, said that they had decided to take action after receiving two letters complaining that Mr Cowley had been smoking in his cab, a silver Rover 45 saloon car.
In the first letter, received by the council in March, a lady stated that Mr Cowley smoked while she was in the cab with her granddaughter.
The second letter was sent by another taxi driver who informed the council that Mr Cowley had allegedly continued to smoke in his car despite repeated warnings.
According to the council Mr Cowley was also caught in the act on April 10 in the Tesco supermarket car park by council-employed smoke free officer, Andrew Cowley (who is not related to the taxi driver).
Ms Safdar said: “Mr Cowley seemed to think that he was above the law and continued to ignore repeated warnings from the council about health legislation.
“This would be our first prosecution and would set her precedent for other taxi drivers in South Ribble.”
However, after hearing evidence from two council witnesses, Andrew Cowley, smoke free officer and David Stewart, licensing officer, Judge Kenneth Mcdonald found Mr Cowley not guilty.
He said: “There was some dispute about the distance the smoke free officer, Andrew Cowley was from the car and because of this we cannot be certain that Mr Peter Cowley was definitely smoking in his taxi.
“Therefore, we have decided to find him not guilty.”
If Mr Cowley had been found guilty he could have been slapped with a maximum £200 fine and could have had to pay more than £700 in costs.
The smoking ban, which was introduced in the UK in July 2007, bans people from smoking in public places and places of work, which includes hackney carriages and private hire vehicles.
South Ribble Councillor Peter Mullineaux, cabinet member with responsibility for environment and green issues, said: “We are very disappointed at the outcome of this case.
"Our Enforcement Officer personally saw the defendant smoking and then throwing his cigarette butt out of his window.
"It was clear to us that an offence had been committed and we took action accordingly.
"We were confident that our Enforcement Officer’s statement stacked up as robust evidence and are disappointed that the Magistrates found in favour of the defendant.
“Despite our disappointment, we will not let this result deter us from our commitment to enforce the law when it comes to littering, smoking in a workplace or work’s vehicle, or committing any other environmental offences.
"We will now consider how best to learn from this experience and look at whether there are any lessons to be learned when it comes to gathering evidence at the time an offence is committed.”