Monday, March 20, 2017

And may God have mercy upon your soul

The last time I was in France I was holidaying in Cataluña. It was the sign that said 20 kilometres to France or something that drew us there. Ah, the gay abandon of it all, the sweet adventure of crossing an international frontier just because we could. Free spirits and all that.

So last Friday I got a speeding ticket from France written in Spanish. Some French traffic camera seems to think I was there on Christmas Eve 2016. Actually I was in Villena and so was the Mini. I bought a bottle of Laphroaig for me and a bottle of wine for Maggie as a Christmas treat. I paid with a credit card. The credit card bill is now one of my few bits of evidence that I was in Spain.

At first I thought the ticket was a scam but a bit of asking around and a bit of checking some websites and it seemed real enough. A 68€ fine or 45€ with a discount for quick payment. I have 45 days from the issue of the ticket to appeal.

The paperwork was pretty good; details of what and how and why, methods to get a copy of the photo and various "modes" of appeal. The website was in several languages and both the paperwork and the website suggested that nearly everything could be done online. Paying the fine went from cash and credit cards to paying via a mobile phone app and a Google Pay account.

When I got into the detail of the paperwork the website and documentation began to look less good. Basically unless I had certain pieces of paper I would have to make a deposit of 68€ to contest the ticket. I rang the service centre in France and spoke to someone in English. She said it was easy. Go to the police, report that my number plates had been usurped (A bit like Richard III and Henry VII) and then send them the scanned report via the website and Robert est ton oncle. I went to the Guardia Civil. "We can't give you any paperwork because how do we know the plates have been usurped?" "You need to get a copy of the photo - it'll either be a mistake or if it is real then we can give you paperwork". "Anyway, it's easy without us," said the Guardia officer, "just fill in the form bim, bam, tell them you weren't there and Robert será tu tio". I rang the French service centre again. "If I just pay the fine do I get points on my licence?" The man, it was a man this time, said he would advise against paying up because if someone had copied my plates I could expect fine after fine after fine. I see the logic but I don't know how that will work practically - how will paying stop the speed cameras generating tickets? He did tell me though that my defence was Mode 1 on the form. He said I didn't need to send money to make the appeal. He was wrong. For a Mode 1 appeal I needed the paperwork from the Guardia. Without paperwork it's a Mode 3 appeal. Actually it didn't matter anyway. After hours of preparing documents, scanning other documents and reducing them in size so they would fit onto the French website I finally pressed the send button. "Erreur" said the site. It was one of those websites where after each failed attempt you need to go back to the very first step. I tried with different browsers, different document sizes, different labels on the documents. I gave up.

I asked my insurance company - insurance companies in Spain often "deal with" speeding tickets - if they could help and I sent them all the scanned paperwork. They, rang me back. They only deal with stuff in Spain so they couldn't help but the legal department pointed out that my paperwork probably proved that I was in Spain but it didn't prove the car was. They thought the chances were that the speeding ticket would hold up in court and I would be found guilty.

I turned my attention to getting a copy of the photo. If it wasn't my registration number, if it wasn't the car or it wasn't me I might not have to prove the nearly impossible that neither the car nor I were in France. That had to be done by ordinary post. It needed lots of copied documentation of course. I went to the post office to post it before work but, after waiting in the queue for thirty minutes, I gave up, stuck all the stamps I had on the envelope and hurled it into the post box. 

I've spent this weekend occasionally trying to get the documentation to load to the website but, eventually, I gave up and collected it all together in an envelope. I paid the 68€ to lodge an appeal online. I notice that there are three possible decisions on appeal: I may end up paying the original fine because I didn't prove my case, I may end up with the fine increased by 10% for wasting the court's time or they may exonerate me. In the last case I have to write to ask for my deposit to be refunded - the refund is not automatic. And the cost of posting the bundle of documents by registered post was another 13.25€.

My guess? They decide I was in France and it costs me 68€.

The photo by the way is of the last time I was in France.

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