The ‘Aunt Sally' syndrome

Published: Friday, 03 June 2016

A FEW of you may recollect me writing of a comment made to me prior to the take-over by the Canal & River Trust, it being that as British Waterways it was fed up with being an ‘Aunt Sally', unable to avoid whatever was thrown at it, write Pam Pickett.

However, as a trust those shackles previously preventing it from responding would be gone. Now as a trust, accountable only to itself, it would be able to get its own back. Here I doubt even 'friends' of the trust could deny that in line with this promise, and following its immediate re-interpretation of waterways law to suit its own purpose, a well orchestrated campaign of fear for a good many boaters, particularly so liveaboards and any not actually residing on a home mooring , was immediately put into place.

Lack of loyalty, or a convenient smoke screen?

The lack of any loyalty to boaters, many whose licence monies have been the life blood of our waterways for years, counts it seems for nothing, if your way of life, or if your face doesn't fit the trust's re-interpretation of how you should use (or perhaps not use!) your boat, given the volume of licences that have been revoked.

Money here it seems is no object when it comes to taking expensive court action against paid up vulnerable boaters. Shoosmiths, the trust's chosen solicitors surely must see the trust as the ‘goose that laid the golden egg' and be laughing all the way to the bank whilst, we the boaters, see only the navigation CaRT is in the actuality tasked to maintain falling into further disrepair. Couldn't legal action be a convenient smoke screen indeed?

The vengeful trust

Again in line with the trust's promise to ‘get its own back' we have previously fully paid up boaters now unable to venture onto the system, this despite all issues of compliance having been met. Firstly we have the boat Peal of Geoff Mayers, now shrink wrapped, having been held by the trust since 2014 with the additional cost of a second lift and probably with this warm weather now representing an exorbitantly expensive mushroom factory. The trust will certainly need a considerable amount of ‘friends' to pay this bill!

We have another boat, snatched last year, owned by Lee Ravenscoft and now having been bought back by the owner left to reside in a farm yard, unable to receive a licence despite the owner having a bona fide home mooring and the requisite BSC and insurance.

The third boat, Andy Wingfield Hildegard is no longer on CaRT waters but having been given access to this boater's  bank statements it seems he not only paid in full for a licence following his licence being revoked but also for a mooring he no longer had access to. Perhaps a good time for CaRT to check its records for boat No. 45205? The fourth boat I refer to, well you just could not make this up, and I feel this incredible saga deserves its own paragraph.

A saga indeed! Boat No, 4

Firstly, though I hate repeating myself best to mention a very honest Radio Four broadcast by Simon Salem, at that time in charge of the trust's enforcement policies. According to Simon provided a boater had the necessary BSC (where applicable) and insurance the trust could not refuse a licence. As this has direct relevance to the third boaters plight, better perhaps here that I quote the remaining content of the interview:

‘We can't not give you a licence because of what we think you might or might not do in the future'.

Hmm, maybe someone should mention this to CaRT! Regardless, to continue. A licence was issued for Richard Chaurchill's Tadworth. Money was taken and all should have been well. However, not to be. An urgent email from Peter Palmer, CaRT's Enforcement Supervisor South East Region then advised this boater that the licence had been issued ‘by mistake'. Monies however had not been refunded. Skipping some of CaRT's rubbish rhetoric, on the 26th April Peter Palmer suggested that the trust, at its own cost, provide a marine surveyor to check the safety of the boat. What value the BSC I ask!

A further email on the 19th May from Peter Palmer then confirmed that satisfactory evidence of a home mooring had been received and that he would now confer with CaRT's legal team regarding the 'possibility' of issuing a licence. Finally progress one could assume, but again, not to be! On the 26th May an email from Paul Griffin, Enforcement Operations Manager landed in this boater's inbox. Again a separate paragraph is I think merited!

Assumption/Presumption of Probity?

Bending the rules to suit its own purpose now has to becomes clear. Paul Griffin in his email states that the licence was issued ‘due to an administrative error' and subsequently was not ‘revoked' but was ‘cancelled‘. ‘A get out of gaol card'? Nevertheless, the email went on to advise this boater that the trust has no necessity to apply court proceedings, thus this boat can be seized should it dare to venture out from its mooring. Fear tactics.

And yet again, whilst it is confirmed that the condition of the boat is no longer a cause of concern this boater is again requested to prove his home mooring. As I said, you couldn't make it up! When CaRT took over from British Waterways it was supposed that it was on the grounds of an 'assumption of probity‘ for the task. Sadly not the reality with in so many cases new job titles being brought in, qualifying it seems due only to a lack of knowledge for anything waterways!

Offend the trust

The question we should however be asking here is if we ‘offend' the trust in any way and have our licence revoked will we find ourselves banned from its waters for all time? As is increasingly appearing to be the case?

Finally, on a personal note I am told I was ‘spotted' on the North Oxford Canal no less than five times last year. That I moor at Willington. A further check came up with the information that I moor on the Soar, by a bridge? What bridge I ask! Presumption/assumption of probity I think not! Best not to assume!