Lowestoft man claims police ‘over the top’ with seatbelt fine

IT has been a source of frustration for thousands of motorists – making many of them cross in more more ways than one.

But one Lowestoft man was furious after he queued up on the town's bascule bridge, and ended up in hot water with the law.

Austin Musgrave-Brown, 67, of Uplands Road North was sat in his car in stationary traffic with his engine switched off and handbrake applied, when he unfastened his seatbelt in an effort to relax as he waited for the bridge to come down.

Despite belting up again before he drove off, he was then stopped by the police – and given a �60 fine for failing to wear his belt.

For the past two-and-a-half months, he has been involved in a 'battle' with senior officers over the fixed penalty notice.

And having been so 'dissatisfied' with his treatment, Mr Musgrave-Brown – who has a clean licence and has driven thousands of miles while working across the UK – has now lodged an official complaint with Suffolk police.

This week, he hit out at the 'crassly stupid' situation and sent out a warning to other drivers, urging them to 'belt up' at all times.

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Mr Musgrave-Brown said the incident happened on Saturday, October 9, while he and his wife Lena were driving south on the A12, away from Lowestoft town centre, and the bascule bridge was raised to allow two yachts to pass.

'There were about four or five cars in front of us. And I could tell that we were going to be waiting for at least five minutes and probably more,' said Mr Musgrave-Brown.

'I applied the handbrake, stopped the engine and took off my seatbelt.

'When the bridge came down, I put my seatbelt back on before starting the engine and continuing.'

Or so he thought.

For, having travelled less than half a mile, he was soon being pulled over by an unmarked police car and was stunned when he was issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) for �60 for 'driving without a seat-belt'.

Mr Musgrave-Brown, a retired Hoseasons sales executive who now works part-time as a driver for John Grose, claimed this week that the female officer has asked him to sign the FPN without telling him that it was – as the notice states – a 'request'.

'Had she told me, I would not have signed it because I was not doing what the notice says – namely driving without a seat-belt,' he said.

'At no time was I ever driving without a seat-belt; the only time I had it off was when we were stationary at the bridge, with the handbrake on and the engine switched off.'

When Mr Musgrave-Brown queried this point with the officer, he says she told him that he should have kept his seatbelt on as this would have prevented him suffering whiplash injuries if his vehicle had been hit from behind.

'While I could have understood that more readily had I been on the outside lane on a motorway, I have difficulty in understanding that explanation when all the traffic behind me was stationary for at least 400 yards,' he said.

'The police have been so over the top with this.

'It's absolutely ridiculous. Surely the officer could've shown some common sense and told me to put the belt on without treating me as a petty crook, as I did not drive the car an inch without the seat belt on.

'It would've been very easy for me to accept everything and not do anything about it.

'But I was appalled at the way I was treated by Suffolk police and I felt that if they can book me they can book others,' he added. 'They have made a mountain out of a molehill. The whole thing is just crassily stupid.'

By highlighting this recent incident, Mr Musgrave-Brown – who was in touch with the Constabulary's Professional Standards Department this week regarding his complaint – hopes that 'no other unsuspecting motorist' is treated as he was.

A Suffolk police spokesman yesterday confirmed that a complaint had been received and the Professional Standards Department was now dealing with the matter. 'Suffolk Police have received an official complaint and this is being investigated,' the spokesman said.

It is likely that investigation will take another three weeks.

'Fine was petty beyond belief' – Journal Postbox, pages 22 and 23

What do you think? Were the police right to issue the �60 fine – or was Mr Musgrave-Brown unfairly treated? Write to Postbox, The Journal, 147, London Road North, Lowestoft NR32 1NB or e-mail: max.bennett@archant.co.uk and be sure to include your name and address.