Maitland man Kyle Jones wins against a 'bogus' EPA fine for throwing cigarette butt out window

ANNOYED: East Maitland's Kyle Jones was sent a fine for throwing a cigarette butt out the window. But he says he doesn't smoke and had to go through a long process to clear his name. Picture: Jonathan Carroll
ANNOYED: East Maitland's Kyle Jones was sent a fine for throwing a cigarette butt out the window. But he says he doesn't smoke and had to go through a long process to clear his name. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

An East Maitland man was left furious after being sent a "bogus fine" for throwing a cigarette butt out of his car window despite claiming to be a non-smoker.

Kyle Jones successfully got the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to back down from a $250 fine for littering after he threatened to take the matter to court.

But he fears the 'dob in a tosser' system that allows the EPA to fine people based on the word of witnesses could be causing other people to pay fines they shouldn't.

It started with a fine notice Mr Jones received saying littering from his Nissan was reported on August 15.

He said he didn't dispute driving on the particular street at that time, but there was no way he tossed a cigarette.

"I don't smoke," he said. "And I checked the weather for that night, it was about 13 degrees so I wouldn't have had the window open."

He asked if there was evidence to support the claim, but said he was given conflicting advice.

"The State Debt Recovery Office initially advised that the report of incident on file did not contain any photographic evidence and as the report came from an EPA officer, no evidence was needed," he said. "I was effectively branded guilty until I could prove myself innocent."

He contacted Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison, who approached Revenue NSW.

Revenue NSW responded saying a witness saw a cigarette butt being discarded by the driver and they had dash cam footage to prove it. They said in a situation where accounts of an incident vary, the court is the appropriate authority to make a decision.

So Mr Jones "called their bluff" and chose to take it to court. But before too long he was sent a letter advising that the EPA "reviewed the information provided and decided not to proceed".

An EPA spokesperson said the penalty notice was issued based on a report from a community member "who indicated that they had dash cam footage and were prepared to attend court".

The EPA spokesperson said it "checks the evidence before issuing any fine" but when pressed by The Mercury, the spokesperson said "the EPA did not view the footage" in this incident.

After they were advised that Mr Jones wanted to take it to court, they contacted the reporter who "reviewed the footage and were not prepared to attend court".

"As the reporter was not prepared to attend court the EPA withdrew the matter," the spokesperson said.

Mr Jones said he was lucky he had family and friends in the legal industry who were able to assist him.

"Given that the fine didn’t include any demerit points, most people would probably have resigned to paying as legal fees and days off work for court appearances would cost more than $250."

The system is 'flawed'

Mr Jones said the 'dob in a tosser' system that led to him being fined was "very flawed".

"It allows people with grudges or who are looking to simply be annoying to the public to make bogus claims without being held accountable for false reports," he said.

Mr Jones said the difficulty in obtaining evidence was "cumbersome, time consuming and secretive" with electing to take the matter to court the only way to clear his name.

The EPA confirmed that penalty notice recipients did not receive a copy of the evidence held when a penalty notice was issued for littering.

"For EPA officers to have the power to issue fines without needing to provide evidence seems an abuse of power," Mr Jones said. 

"It's horrible that a government department thinks it can bully people like that."

NOT TAKING IT: Kyle Jones said he was lucky he knew people with legal backgrounds to help him.

NOT TAKING IT: Kyle Jones said he was lucky he knew people with legal backgrounds to help him.

The EPA said it had "a robust system in place to deter false and misleading reports".

To report littering from a vehicle, a person must first register with the EPA and provide contact details. 

"When reporters sign up to the system, they agree to the terms and conditions, including agreeing to provide only true and accurate information and accepting to appear in court as a witness if required," the EPA spokesperson said. 

"A litter reporter must also declare whether they know the person they are reporting. This helps deter use of the application for personal reasons."

Once a report is received, the EPA checks the vehicle registration and other details with the Roads and Maritime Service. 

The EPA said the community reporting system was an "important part of the solution" towards reducing litter in NSW.