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Margate gallery manager Dean Stalham wins legal fight against Thanet council fine for spitting after choking on bacon

By Matt Leclere

A gallery manager has won a year-long legal fight against a fine for spitting when he had been choking on a piece of crispy bacon.

Dean Stalham, 55, received a letter confirming charges had been dropped ahead of a court trial for refusing to pay an £80 fine he was issued by an enforcement officer working on behalf of Thanet District Council (TDC).

But the authority has decided it will not be able to prove in court that Mr Stalham spat on the ground when he was fined near the Dalby Cafe in Margate.

Mr Stalham, who runs the Stretch Outsider Gallery in The Centre, was adamant he never spat after visiting the cafe for breakfast last February.

He said he even had to point out to the officer a piece of bacon was caught on his coat sleeve after he raised his hand to his mouth.

The officer was employed by Kingdom on behalf of TDC. The controversial firm, which has come under fire for its methods for several years, holds contracts with councils across Kent to carry out litter enforcement.

The gallery boss and writer described the victory as 'a result' adding: "I'm completely vindicated and been protesting my innocence for so long.

"It's ludicrous it's taken 12 months to receive this letter which says they can't prove I did it.

"My solicitor will be demanding some apologies from everyone now and writing to Kingdom.

"I said I'd see it out to the end and it's a massive relief."

Dean Stalham, who runs The Stretch Outsider Arts Gallery in Margate, was fined for spitting but the writer and gallery manager says he was coughing on a piece of bacon which was caught on his sleeve (6769236)
Dean Stalham, who runs The Stretch Outsider Arts Gallery in Margate, was fined for spitting but the writer and gallery manager says he was coughing on a piece of bacon which was caught on his sleeve (6769236)

A spokesman for TDC said: "The summons has been withdrawn because the principle prosecution witness, a former Kingdom employee, is not contactable."

The penalty was issued after the officer claimed he saw Mr Stalham spitting on the ground when he left the cafe.

Mr Stalham initially refused to tell the officer his name, address and refused to pay the fine as TDC took him to court last month where a trial date was set for March.

Speaking after the court hearing last month, Mr Stalham told KentOnline he had ordered the Dalby breakfast special and ordered his bacon extra crispy.

He says as he crossed the road and walked for another 100 yards, he was tapped on the shoulder by a litter enforcement officer who told him he would be fined.

"I said 'you're having a laugh'. I never spat, I coughed. I said I think you need to go to Specsavers because this is ludicrous," he said.

"I've got an unusually large tongue, that's a medical fact and it's joined at the top. I often get food trapped - that's a fact of my life.

"I left the cafe, coughed and the bit of bacon came out my mouth. In no way was it spitting.

"I was brought up to cough into your hand and I've always done that."

He joked he would never eat bacon again after it led to him being put on trial and added he would 'die innocent of this'.

"Never in a million years am I giving them a penny for something I didn't do," he added.

Dean Stalham, who runs The Stretch Outsider Arts Gallery in Margate, was fined for spitting but the writer and gallery manager says he was coughing on a piece of bacon which was caught on his sleeve (6769232)
Dean Stalham, who runs The Stretch Outsider Arts Gallery in Margate, was fined for spitting but the writer and gallery manager says he was coughing on a piece of bacon which was caught on his sleeve (6769232)

"I'll die innocent of this. If you interview me on my death bed I'll still maintain it. It's one of those cases - it seems so ludicrous and ridiculous but there is a serious side."

Mr Stalham was concerned his previous criminal record could have gone against him despite being crime free for 15 years and becoming a respected writer and artist in Margate.

He is open about serving time in prison twice - for bank fraud and again for trying to sell stolen art by Warhol and Dali worth more than £6 million - after being born into a life of crime in a poverty hit part of post-war north London.

But he believes his life now is evidence that anyone can turn their fortunes around and has made him more determined to fight the fine.

He said: "I do loads of stuff for Thanet council, I run creative writing classes and run a community art gallery and two homeless charities in Canterbury.

"I work with Thanet council on one hand and yet on the other it's them [who was] taking me to court.

"It's no secret I've been in prison but I've been completely crime free since 2004 and built up a good reputation.

"Government guidelines for issuing a PCN say don't issue if it's not in the public interest and this isn't because it's been admitted what it was - a piece of bacon."

He said he was fighting so hard to appeal the fine because he was a volunteer worker and received universal credit.

"Things are tight as hell and I've even been to the foodbank last month. So £80 would cripple me.

"Your innocence is major to who you are and it's your human right to plead you're innocent - £80 against £2,500 shows how committed I am to proving my innocence. Why else would I do it?"

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