Massive debts of criminals revealed

CRIMINALS are in debt to Suffolk courts to the tune of £3.5MILLION The Evening Star can reveal today.Figures published by the government show fines imposed by magistrates across the county are simply being ignored.

CRIMINALS are in debt to Suffolk courts to the tune of £3.5MILLION The Evening Star can reveal today.

Figures published by the government show fines imposed by magistrates across the county are simply being ignored.

And in the last year alone, criminals are in arrears by almost £2million in Suffolk – one of the safest counties in England.

Shockingly, these figures pale into insignificance when set against the national picture.

Criminals across England and Wales owe nearly £500million to the public purse.

Nearly a third of new fines imposed in Suffolk last year went unpaid – which again sets our county in a good light when compared to the 55 per cent payment rate across the nation as a whole.

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And even if no new fines were imposed in the county next year, it would still take more than 12 months for the whopping debt to be cleared.

Suffolk MP David Ruffley voiced his anger at the courts' "slack justice" when The Evening Star revealed the stunning figures to him.

He promised to write to the Home Secretary demanding the situation be improved.

He said: "For Suffolk to have one third of fines uncollected is unacceptable.

"It does not show the criminal justice system to be efficient.

"What kind of deterrent is it when convicted people know they have a one in three chance of having to pay the money."

During the financial year 2002/3, courts in the county imposed fines and confiscation orders – judgements demanding criminals give up goods to pay for their crime - totalling nearly £3.5 million.

The total amount paid by defendants totalled £2,366,200 – or 69pc of the total levied.

Problems imposing fines were highlighted this week when serial driving offender Hayley Nicholls, 32, of Clarence Road, appeared before magistrates in Ipswich.

The 32-year-old road was fined a total of £280 after being convicted of 14 cases of driving without insurance between March and August this year.

But magistrates heard she already had fines and costs totalling more than £3,200 against her name – and the new total was added to that.

They accepted it would take a very long time to pay off her fines bill, which now totals more than £3,500.

The level at which she is to pay the fine has still to be determined.

On Saturday we told how the fines of Nicola Baines, 23, of Sandringham Close, Ipswich, were slashed from £1,286 to £260 after she admitted seven counts of driving without insurance, MoT or a licence.

Much of the amount was car tax fines that she had racked up and the cases had been heard in her absence.

In Greater London only 40 per cent of fines are ever paid and in Cambridgeshire the figure is 45 per cent.

The fines go to the government's department for constitutional affairs, which is responsible for the courts in England and Wales, and which has introduced a new Courts Bill to tighten up the collection of fines.

This will give a court official the power to vary the collection of fines – but it will also give the courts the power to take action against non-paying offenders without any further hearing before magistrates.

The Courts Bill is due to become law within the next few months.

nThe Evening Star is trying to raise £100,000 towards the £300,000 cost of a new cancer information and education centre for Ipswich Hospital – a drop in the ocean compared to the criminal debt.

£3.5million would buy more than 1,000 hip operations with the money left over.

The cash would also pay for 12,000 patients to spend one night in a normal hospital bed. That equates to a jam-pack full Ipswich Hospital being funded for more than two weeks.

Suffolk's criminal debts would also fund nearly 200 bobbies on the beat or teachers in our classrooms for a whole year.

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