Northern Ireland peer Lord Maginnis: I'll go to jail over 80p train ticket
A 78-year-old Northern Ireland peer has vowed to go to jail rather than be "browbeaten by bureaucrats" over a train fare.
Former Ulster Unionist Lord Maginnis - currently waiting to go into hospital for surgery - is to be summoned before Dungannon Magistrates Court over an incident two years ago concerning a train ticket.
He has been accused of not paying a train fare at Gatwick Airport in London on March 5, 2014.
However, Lord Maginnis has counter-claimed that he mistakenly bought a one-day ticket instead of a three-day ticket while his granddaughter was with him, and so when he was returning to Gatwick his ticket was out of date.
He claimed he had been hounded for two years over 80p, after buying a £22.25 ticket instead of a £23.05 ticket. The peer is now being asked to pay more than £1,400, including a fine and court costs.
The case was originally being heard at a London court but has now been transferred to Dungannon.
According to court papers, Lord Maginnis, of Park Lane, Dungannon, was convicted of boarding a train without a valid ticket in London on March 5, 2014.
The case initially appeared before South London Magistrates Court, where Lord Maginnis was ordered to pay a total of £1,478.90, which consisted of a fine of £220, along with compensation of £19.90 and costs of £1,239.
However, with nothing paid by November 23 last year, the case was ordered to be transferred to Dungannon Magistrates Court.
Lord Maginnis was not present at a hearing in Dungannon yesterday, nor was any legal representative on his behalf.
A court clerk advised the summons had been served by post, leading District Judge John Meehan to rule it must now be served on Lord Maginnis in person.
This will order him to attend court, or have a lawyer deal with the matter in his absence.
Failure to address unpaid fines can now be dealt with by committal warrant.
In the case against Lord Maginnis, and depending on the discretion of the judge, this could be up to 45 days' imprisonment.
The peer told the Belfast Telegraph last night he will go to jail rather than pay the fine.
He said he had written to the Public Prosecutions Service (PPS) over the handling of the matter.
"I printed out my bank account for three years and every week by week by week I have paid the right fare, just on that occasion I was travelling with my wee granddaughter - and that's maybe where I made the mistake - I bought a single ticket for her and a ticket for myself that was 80p short," he said.
"I said to the judge in the court: 'Look, this is ridiculous, I am not paying this'. So I have now got a fine of about £1,400. Overall, the whole thing will cost me £5,000 for a mistake."
The peer said he had not yet received his summons.
"I'll go to jail before I'll be browbeaten by some bureaucrat," he added, and also detailed a letter he had written to the PPS in protest at the matter.
"In other words, I was cheating 80p on behalf of the Government who were paying me back (the peer's train tickets were to attend the House of Lords and would be reimbursed under the expenses system).
"I am nearly 79 years of age and they have been hounding me over 80p.
"I have made it clear I won't pay and I am aware of the consequences. We are talking about 80p and me being the victim. I tend to fight my own battles and have done so over the last 78 years, whether it be in the UDR, teaching, as an MP, I fight my own battles."
He added he had been rushing to the House of Lords on that date to vote against an equal marriage proposal.
The Dungannon man had been an Ulster Unionist stalwart but lost the party whip in 2012 over controversial comments about homosexuality. He later resigned from the party.
In 2013 he appeared before Belfast Magistrates Court on an assault charge. He was convicted of assaulting a man in a road rage incident and issued with a fine. In 2015 he was acquitted of motoring offences after being accused of driving without a licence.