WIGAN Council has been accused of persecuting smokers after research showed that a massive 96 per cent of folk put in the dock for littering had dropped cigarette butts.
Statistics showed smoking-related incidents accounted for 283 littering cases seen at Wigan and Leigh Magistrates’ Court between January 1 and June 30 this year.
And of the remaining four per cent prosecuted for other forms of littering one person was hauled before the bench for dropping a cigarette packet and another for throwing a wrapper on to the ground.
In the same six-month period, there were just 12 incidents of littering in court which were nothing to do with smoking.
The figures also suggest enforcement officers are concentrating on a tiny number of town centre streets, with 84 people being brought to court for incidents on Standishgate alone, and show Wiganers have already forked out more than £73,000 in fines this year.
The research was compiled by Ince resident Andy Ratchford, who decided to find out where officers were patrolling after frequently seeing litter left on the streets around his home.
Mr Ratchford said: “My interest was triggered by seeing the court pages on the Wigan Today website and how many cases were littering or dropping cigarettes. Where I live there’s litter everywhere, all around the precinct and the roads.
“The data proves specific areas are demographics are being targeted, which I think is social engineering.
“I think smokers are being singled out because you can’t put a lit cigarette in your pocket, like you can with a bag or a wrapper, so naturally it gets thrown on the floor.
“It seems as though the enforcement officers spot people smoking and wait for them to finish a cigarette.
“All the focus also seems to be around the town centres, it’s clear these enforcement officers are not patrolling the entire borough. There seems to be no interest in the rest of the community.”
The research shows other hotspots for patrols include Market Place, where 39 incidents occurred, the Spinning Gate Shopping Centre and Railway Road in Leigh, where there were 33 and 29 littering cases respectively.
However, there were only six streets in the entire borough where more than 10 littering incidents which ended up in court were recorded in the first half of 2015.
Just 10 cases were brought to the magistrates’ court which occurred outside of a town centre, a total of three per cent of cases, and defendants were forced to cough up a total of £73,195.32 in fines.
However, Wigan Council robustly defended its policies on bringing charges for littering, saying those who end up in court should show a greater sense of civic pride rather than drop rubbish on the ground.
Mark Tilley, assistant director for infrastructure, said: “We use fixed penalty notices to back up campaigns regarding dropping litter to raise awareness of the costs to the council.
“Everyone wants to see a cleaner, greener borough but there are still people who want this but ignore the law and choose to drop a cigarette butt or chewing gum. Based on reports we get, we do periods of enforcement in different areas to target this behaviour.
“The offenders need to take more ownership of where they live and help us to keep the borough a clean and tidy place.”
The dozen non-smoking cases of littering included dropping bags, receipts and pop bottles as well as four cases brought to court for refusing to clear up dog mess.