Page last updated at 14:48 GMT, Thursday, 24 April 2008 15:48 UK

Putting a lid on it

By Mark Simpson
BBC North of England correspondent

Gareth Corkhill
A local campaign raised more than enough money to pay Mr Corkhill's fine

The Cumbrian man prosecuted after over-filling his wheelie bin has won sympathy and donations - but the "bin police" have won too.

That is the feeling in the coastal town of Whitehaven, where the tale of one man and his wheelie bin prompted national headlines and local head-scratching.

How could a man with a large family end up with a criminal record simply by leaving his bin lid open by four inches? Could more leniency have been shown?

And if you pardon the pun, was it really such an open-and-shut case? Friends, neighbours, and many people who didn't know Gareth Corkhill felt he had been treated harshly.

Within 36 hours, a campaign by a local vicar, the Reverend John Bannister, raised enough money to pay Mr Corkhill's fine three times over. In total, he owes 225 - an on-the-spot fine of 110, plus 115 in legal costs.

Large family

It was his refusal to pay the initial fixed-penalty fine which resulted in his prosecution, and subsequent criminal record.

So, technically, it wasn't the four-inch gap at the top of his bin which spoilt his clean record, but his failure to pay the penalty.

Nonetheless, for some he is now a local hero. "Good on him," was the repeated response from many other Whitehaven residents.

"What's wrong with leaving your bin lid open every now and again? We've all done it. And he has a large family."

The local council, Copeland Borough Council, answered this point directly.

As Mr Corkhill lives with his wife, Claire, and three kids, he had already been provided with an extra-large bin - 50% bigger than the normal size.

Wheelie bins
The council insisted warnings about over-filling the bin had been ignored

What is more, the council insisted that the family had been given warnings about over-filling their bin but ignored them.

In a statement, the council said: "Copeland Borough Council will continue to crack down on the problem of overflowing bins, which cause problems for local residents and in the battle to reduce waste.

"Cumbria has a big waste problem. People throw away more waste here than any other county in England. Hence the get-tough policy."

'Not an inch'

And when pressed the council insisted that, never mind four inches, even a one-inch gap at the top of the bin was unacceptable.

But there are some within the local authority who privately accept that the Corkhill case has been handled badly, and perhaps officials were over-zealous.

On the street, many agree. "It's ridiculous. But whatever happens, the 'bin police' have got what they want, haven't they?" complained one local mum.

"I'll now certainly think twice before leaving my bin lid open."

She isn't the only one.

Take a quick drive round seaside Whitehaven and you don't see too many bin lids open or even slightly ajar.

Across the Irish Sea in Belfast, the phrase "not an inch" used to be a slogan used by intransigent politicians, now in Cumbria it's taken on a whole new political meaning.

And given the national publicity the case has generated, this outbreak of bin lid vigilance may stretch well beyond Whitehaven.

For many, life with the wheelie bin may never quite be the same again.

Councillors aid wheelie bin fine
24 Apr 08 |  Cumbria
Father fined for overfilling bin
22 Apr 08 |  Cumbria

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