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Son got a fine for littering when he didnt - he spat on a railway station platform

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I need some advice - my registered disabled Son was at a train station (i thought this was not a public place once through the gates? ie: tresspass on railway etc) he had a bad cold and was coughing. He needed to spit out the phlegm  went to the side of the platform and spat it out so no one would step in it.

Then a local 'authorised officer' from the council went up to him and told him he was from 'the environmental health' and was now going to be fined for littering and demanded his name, address and age - my Son said he didnt understand but gave his name and address through fear. The man asked his age and when he told him he was 17 the man said "oh your parents will be informed but we cant do anything as your a minor".

We've just received a '1st reminder' letter in my Sons name.

We didnt get the initial letter and it says he may have to pay up to £2,500 for littering for an offence under the environmental health act 1990.

There's no phone number that I can ring and the only way of communicating is a chat thing on the website address that I got off the letter.

I put that he's a minor and didn't litter and that he's registered as disabled. I also said the officer told my son he is from the environmental health which we believe is not true so can I have his name to verify that he was from environmental health or just an 'authorised officer' from the council and who ever he is hasn't got recordings of him littering, waiting to hear what they say.

I've done a quick bit of research and cant find if spitting is a breach of the environmental health act 1990

my concerns are :

1. can he approach him in a non-public place (if the station isn't public) as the environmental health act says about incidents in the public.

2. is spitting an offence ?

3. can they take a child to court for littering if he spits?



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  • dx100uk changed the title to Son got a fine for littering when he didnt - he spat on a railway station platform

I don't think you can be so certain that it is littering.
By coincidence there are a couple of recent incidents where people have been accused of littering.

One of them was a child urinating on the side of the street or something. These incidents have drawn a lot of criticism and a lot of comment on what has become clear is that there is no definition of "litter".

I agree that it is most unlikely go to court. Although spitting on the ground is pretty unpleasant, you would think that local authorities, public authorities, railway authorities have better ways to occupy their time and to spend money. It seems to me that you have come across a "jobsworth" and I hope that that person's managers can take a more sensible and pragmatic view.

I would suggest that this is one for your local papers. Whereabouts are you in the UK?

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when youve got a cold and cough up phlegm and theres no toilet on the platform where are you meant to put it genius?....and not really a comparison saying i wouldnt have it on my living room floor as obviously i would spit it down the toilet...also theres no point in NOT reading my post properly and coming out with stupid comments like "the poor staff etc" when i said he spat it at the side of the platform onto the tracks...do the staff clean the tracks? no!

i just want facts about my concerns as posted above that would help...not condescending remarks that dont help! ie: point me to a law that says section xxxx of law xxx says its littering.


thanks bankfodder - ive always thought of littering as dropping litter. and spitting is spitting. and urinating is urinating. ive never been confused by getting them mixed up. yes i agree he probably is a jobsworth ....all i want is some forewarned facts that if he can twist common sense and say that spitting is littering i can come back to the council and say no as in sectionxxxxof such law says its not.

im not saying spitting is nice..but as i said hes disabled and had a serious cold for over 3 weeks...the other day he was coughing so bad that it irritated his throat and he threw up instantly....when your out in public theres not much you can do about it....i mean you dont get to choose when your going to have a coughing fit or when to sneeze etc...if we did get to choose then we'd be living in a perfect world..but thats not the case...

the only thing ive found so far is :

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2006), which states: ‘Litter is best defined as something which is improperly discarded by members of the public in an area. It includes sweet wrappers, drinks containers, cigarette ends, gum, apple cores, fast food packaging, till receipts, small bags.

That doesnt include spitting and as my DISABLED son done his best in discarding it PROPERLY by spitting it down the side of the platform where no one will tread on it....i think that will be my reply to the council.

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1 hour ago, danyboy72 said:

.... point me to a law that says section xxxx of law xxx says its littering.

Unfortunately it's not that straightforward. There is no single definition of "Litter". Some legislation gives examples of what could be considered litter. It does not include material deposited by spitting but that is not an exhaustive list. As mentioned above, there have been a couple of threads where the definition of litter was discussed. Somebody suggested as a "rule of thumb" that if you can pick it up, it's litter, if you can't then it's not. This would seemingly rule out urine and phlegm, but this simple definition is not mentioned anywhere in any case law that I know of. 

There is certainly a strong case to suggest that urine is not litter. Whilst it's unpleasant, the litter laws were framed to prevent a different kind of "mischief". I would suggest that a similar principle could be applied to phlegm.

I would think that if your son declined to pay the fixed penalty the council would look long and hard before prosecuting. You should let them know about his difficulties and also that they may find it hard to secure a conviction in the circumstances you describe. That said, once the FP has been declined he is at the mercy of the court. Being under 18 the matter will go before the Youth Court and whilst the burden of proof remains the same, the range of penalties is more restricted than in the adult court. I would like to think, however, that the council would take the view that for a couple of reasons a conviction may be difficult to secure but in any case that a prosecution is not "in the public interest". Local Authorities usually employ "Civil Enforcement Officers" and, without being unkind, their training is often not what it should be, especially when their decisions can result in criminal prosecutions.

It's a bit late now but if I get time tomorrow I'll have a further think and look at the legislation and some case law (if I can find it).

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I'm asthmatic although fortunately the last time I had an attack was 23 years ago.

However in my teenage years I had it really badly, and having a simple cold was terrible, I would start wheezing and having to cough up phlegm.  On occasion this was when I was out and about and would come out of nothing, and it was damn embarrassing having to find somewhere to get rid of the phlegm.  I remember running around the back of buildings or coughing it up on a grass verge hoping no-one was around.

Just a suggestion by someone who knows very little about "littering" - but could a medical emergency suffered by a disabled person be a road to go down?

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thanks man in the middle and ftm dave - yes that was what i was thinking of explaining: an emergency medical condition which was unavoidable by a disabled child,.. which of course what it was...he doesnt go around spitting when he hasent got a cold.

what if he had a coughing fit like he did the other day and was sick on the platform...a medical accident which cannot be helped,

why would a officer fine him for littering as it cannot be 'picked' up , the same as spit...(maybe scooped up if someone provided some sort of device for scooping and appropriately disposed..hence it still wouldn't be classed as litter as its not 'picked' up?)

I will explain to the council that the 'officer' was over zealous.

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yes explain it as a medical emergency, though i will say that carrying a tissue or two is not a bad idea in the future........

you also must be wary that courts won't necessarily view a disability as a coverall 'excuse' and neither should they and neither should it ever be used for that purpose, for 'improper' social behaviour, esp where the conditions and the effects a disability have upon someone have been known and experienced by the person for years.



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From experience based on my previous incarnation, if I had been presented with this bylaws offence to supervise, I would have discontinued it because - It involves a juvenile who probably has some needs that require input from an appropriate adult. Also because the offence is "de-minimus" Too trivial to proceed with.

Whilst there are still railways offences of spitting on platforms (originating in times when TB was prevalent) that's not mentioned here. 

The letter should have details of how to proceed with a challenge. But as one poster said, local news and embarrassing the issuer may be more effective. 

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Unfortunately, as I said in my first reply, there is not a simple answer to the definition of littering.

If the allegation is “littering” and it’s not being made under railway bylaws, then I suspect it is under s87 of the Environmental Protection Act. This is here:


There is an interesting report by the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England. It’s a lengthy tome, but the relevant passage begins on page 14:


There are a number of points you could take on board:

The High Court tried to define litter in the case of Westminster City Council v. Riding. The court took an approach based on the term’s natural or ordinary meaning, stating that the word ‘litter’ in the EPA 1990:

‘should be given its natural meaning of miscellaneous rubbish left lying about. Rubbish left lying about can consist of all manner of things including domestic household waste, commercial waste, street waste and no doubt other waste not falling within such description’.

It goes on to mention “Exclusions” and in particular this:

There are several categories of rubbish, all of which may also be regarded as a social problem, but, nonetheless, do not fall within the legal definition of ‘litter’ – the definition is relevant here for litter authorities, whose role it is to clear such waste. Categories of rubbish, as distinguished from litter, include: 

Detritus ‘comprises small, broken down particles of synthetic and natural materials, including dust, mud, soil, grit, gravel, stones, rotted leaf and vegetable residues, and fragments of twigs, glass, plastic and other finely divided materials. Leaf and blossom falls are to be regarded as detritus once they have substantially lost their structure and have become mushy or fragmented’.

There is certainly an argument to be made that phlegm might fall into this category. It is interesting to note that dog fouling is specifically excluded from the litter laws. It has its own separate legislation and a person suspected of allowing a dog to foul the footpath or road cannot be convicted under the littering legislation. 

But I think more important from your son’s current situation (having been issued with a fixed penalty) is the guidance that DEFRA issued in 2015 to enforcement officers. It clearly states that there should be no fixed penalty notice (FPN) where the following circumstances apply:


  • Where it is accidental littering, for example if something falls from someone’s pocket
  • it’s not in the public interest to do so;
  • the offender is vulnerable;
  • the offence is trivial

Of course none of these fit your son’s circumstances precisely, but they give you a flavour of how the law is likely to be interpreted. Furthermore, although guidance is not law, it remains persuasive to those making decisions.

Have a read of the CPRE’s paper down to about page 20 to see more details.

If I were you I would firstly try to engage with the LA emphasising that you do not consider that your son has committed a littering offence at all. But also add details about his condition, his vulnerability and the triviality of his action. I would try to make an analogy with someone vomiting on the pavement. It’s unpleasant, it’s would be nice if nobody did it, but occasionally it’s going to happen. Is it “littering”? I can’t see a court agreeing that it is and nothing I have found supports it.I think there is a very strong link between that and your son's actions. I have an idea that, when all the circumstances are taken into account, the LA will not run with this. The hurdle you must clear is to get it examined by somebody who knows what they are talking about as, once again without being unkind, many LA employees are poorly trained in such matters.  

Hope this helps. Do let us know how it goes as it helps us when advising others.

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And I've just noticed your remarks about the letter. It should give you details of the alleged offence (citing the legislation), how to pay the penalty (should that be your choice) and how to appeal (either to an arbitrator if it is appropriate or in the Magistrates' Court).

Any chance you could post a redacted copy on here?

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to the cheeky people on here suggesting i teach my Son to use tissues or a good idea to make sure he carries some etc etc

i forgot to mention : were not simpletons , he did have some but ran out and he also knows how to use a tissue.

i dont know why someone would say things like that...maybe because they think im stupid or because they are pompous enough to think that he wouldnt do such a normal simple thing as carry tissues when you have a cold.

.either way youre all wrong in more way than one - and it wasnt the subject so dont go out your way trying to offer obvious advice that the person has already naturally done.

to the others that have given advice on the legal side: cheers, much appreciated and it has been taken on board.

to the others who gave no advice, were of no help, only hindered someone in a time of need and gave only their opinions that was irrelevant to the topic - go and mess yourselves.

Im off of this site, its too much hard work !

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