Court action against King’s Lynn ferry man is dropped as judge criticises prosecution decision

King's Lynn Ferry operator Steve Kingston was arrested and pepper sprayed by police during the floods for refusing to leave his boat. ENGANL00120131220145357
King's Lynn Ferry operator Steve Kingston was arrested and pepper sprayed by police during the floods for refusing to leave his boat. ENGANL00120131220145357
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Charges lodged against Lynn ferry operator Steve Kingston for refusing to leave his boat during December’s tidal surge have been dropped.

And a judge has questioned whether police ever had the right to force him to leave the vessel.

Mr Kingston, 62, was sprayed in the eyes and handcuffed during the incident and police say they acted in the interests of protecting life and property.

But Mr Kingston, of Bankside, West Lynn, has spoken of the humiliation and horror of being arrested and charged.

The lifelong sailor was accused of obstructing a police officer by refusing to leave his boat.

Yesterday, prosecutors discontinued the case against Mr Kingston at West Norfolk Magistrates’ Court, in Lynn, saying there was no realistic chance of conviction.

And district judge Peter Veits said: “I don’t think the police had the power to force him off his boat. They should have said ‘if you want to stay, fine, but we are not responsible for your safety’ and walked away.”

Mr Kingston, a grandfather of three, said: “I’m glad this is finally over. I am still bewildered about how the whole situation came about.

“What should have been a simple passing of high water with my presence, just in case it was needed to attend to any problem that could have arisen, instead turned into an unnecessarily traumatic night.

“The whole thing was instigated by people who don’t understand the river or marine situations.

“All other boats in Lynn and at affected marinas up and down the country would have had crew standing watch on them that night. You can’t separate a boat from its owner. A boat without a person on it is a liability.

“This has been a traumatic experience for myself and my family. I would like to say that I have respect for our police and the very difficult job they do.

“I was not aggressive or abusive to the three police officers and was within my legal rights to remain on my boat.”

During the December 5 high tide, police were called after Mr Kingston advised West Norfolk Council that it was his intention to moor the ferry on the pontoon on South Quay. That night the tide combined with storm conditions to force the precautionary evacuation of 400 homes in Snettisham and Hunstanton, flooded South and Purfleet Quay, in Lynn and caused severe damage to coastlines along the east coast.

A council officer agreed that Mr Kingston could use the pontoon, but ordered him not to remain with the boat.

Mr Kingston refused police officer’s requests to leave the vessel and was sprayed in the face with an incapacitant spray, handcuffed and locked in a police cell.

A police spokeswoman said: “There were very challenging circumstances for police and partners to deal with on the night of the tidal surge. With the situation continuing to develop and change over a number of hours, officers took action as appropriate to protect life and property with our priority throughout the safety of people on and near to the coast and waterways of King’s Lynn.

“We would welcome contact from Mr Kingston to discuss the incident, whether with local senior officers or our Professional Standards Department.”

Mr Kingston appeared in court in January to deny the charge against him and had been preparing to face trial on May 28. He was denied Legal Aid and although an application had been made for some of his legal costs to be recovered, Mr Kingston will be left out of pocket.

He said he felt humiliated to have been arrested and dragged through the court and had suffered stress, trauma and worry on the night and during the court process.

Mr Kingston has been operating West Lynn Ferry, the daily passenger service between West Lynn and Ferry Lane, Lynn, since 2000.

On occasion in the past, emergency services have asked Mr Kingston to help in rescue operations on the river.

Sarah Asbrey, Senior District Crown Prosecutor, said: “In considering the public interest in bringing the case, we took into account that the police were diverted to deal with Mr Kingston at a time of flooding emergency because of his action in refusing to leave his boat.

“After receiving a copy of the CCTV evidence in March 2014 and the defence statement at the court hearing on 20 March 2014, the case was reviewed again. In light of this additional evidence we decided there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction.”

A West Norfolk Council spokeswoman said: “We have flood risk assessment procedures in place regarding the pontoons and their use. These clearly state that if vessels are being moored at the pontoons during flooding or a flood alert, then they should not be occupied.

“In emergency situations such as these it is crucial that we follow procedures. If we had not done so and something had subsequently happened to Mr Kingston or a member of emergency services who may have needed to assist him, then we would have been culpable.

“Our emergency plans and risks assessments are there to protect and preserve life. Choosing to ignore them would be a blatant disregard for our responsibilities and given the same circumstances we would make the same decisions again.”