Northern Ireland

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly pays fine for removing clamp

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Media captionSinn Féin's Gerry Kelly was filmed removing a car clamp

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly has said he regrets removing a clamp from his car and would not do it again.

The North Belfast MLA was recorded using bolt cutters to remove the clamp on Friday.

Mr Kelly said he had agreed to pay a fine to the clamping company and also for the damage to the clamp.

He said he had borrowed the bolt cutters he used from the gym he had been attending. He said as far as he was concerned the matter was now over.

Mr Kelly said he had been at the gym early in the morning and discovered his car had been clamped as he was leaving.

He said he tried to contact the clamping company, but had been unable to speak to anyone.

The MLA said he had been due to attend political talks at Stormont and "made a decision, almost on the spur of the moment" to remove the clamp.

He said he went back into the gym and borrowed bolt cutters they used to open lockers, telling staff he had a small problem with his car.

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Media captionGerry Kelly 'regrets' removing clamp

"I did what I did, I regret doing it and I haven't done it before," Mr Kelly said.

"I shouldn't be above the law and neither should anybody else."

He said he had agreed to pay a fine of £150 to the clamping company, as well as £50 for damage to the clamp.

Clamping in Northern Ireland

The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) is responsible for the enforcement of most parking restrictions.

Clamping and removal are used when parking tickets have not been paid.

But the department has no responsibility when it comes to private land, such as a retail park, hospital or supermarket.

Landowners can set their own rules and hire firms to police their parking restrictions.

When it comes to clamping and towing on private land, Northern Ireland is out on its own.

The Protection of Freedoms Act outlawed the practice in England and Wales in 2012. It has been banned in Scotland since 1992.

But in Gerry Kelly's case, there is another law at play - the Criminal Damage (Northern Ireland) Order 1977, which means you cannot damage other people's property "without lawful excuse".

Clamping and criminal damage has been tested in the courts elsewhere.

In 1991, a motorist in England was found guilty of causing criminal damage to property after he forcibly removed a clamp from his car in a private car park.

His defence was that he had a lawful excuse for cutting the padlocks in that wheel-clamping was a trespass to his car, and under the principle of the "recaption of goods" he was entitled to recover his car.

However, a year later, a Scottish appeal court called clamping "extortion and theft".

"The act of depriving the motorist of the use of his car by detaining it against his will can accurately be described as stealing something from him," one of the judges said.

Mr Kelly said he had gone to the police to tell them what had happened, but that as far as he was concerned the matter was now over.

As well as being an assembly member, the 64-year-old is also Sinn Féin's policing spokesperson. He is also a former member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, which holds the PSNI to account.

Image caption Mr Kelly said he removed the clamp in an "almost spur of the moment" decision

'Nobody's holding their breath'

His actions were criticised by other political parties.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said it was a "significant test for the Sinn Féin leadership".

Mr Dodds asked: "Will Gerry Adams, Mary Lou McDonald or Michelle O'Neill finally take action when we have their policing spokesperson act like this?

"Nobody's holding their breath."

The leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV), Jim Allister, also criticised Mr Kelly.

"He, who sat on the Policing Board, pontificating about law and order issues, should now think that he can take the law into his own hands and behave in this manner, needs to be called to account.

The incident happened near the Metropolitan Arts Centre (MAC).

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