By Times Online and PA News
A driver who moved a 40 mph road sign to a 30mph zone to try and dodge a speeding ticket was given an intermittent custodial sentence today.
John Hopwood, 42, removed the sign from a road in Manchester to one in Rochdale after he was caught by a speed camera twice in two days. He then took a photograph of it to "prove" he had been closer to the limit than first thought.
But the driver's plan was foiled after lawyers drafted in a facial mapping expert to study marks on the signs.
Today at Manchester Crown Court Hopwood, from Hazel Grove in Stockport, Greater Manchester, was given an intermittent custodial sentence of 56 days. This means he will report to the custody centre on Fridays and stay there until 5pm on Sundays for a total of 28 weeks.
Sentencing Hopwood, who admitted attempting to pervert the course of justice at a hearing last month, Judge Anthony Ensor told him he had committed a "serious offence". He said: "This was a stupid act bound to fail."
The incident happened in April last year after Hopwood, a care assistant for Manchester City Council at the time, was clocked in his Mazda by two different speed cameras on consecutive days. On the morning of April 4 he was caught doing 48mph in a 40mph zone on Princess Road in Manchester, but by mistake the ticketing office sent him a ticket claiming he had exceeded a 30mph restriction.
The following day, on April 5, Hopwood was spotted doing 41mph in a 30mph area on Albert Royd Street, Rochdale. This time he was sent the correct ticket.
In a bid to fool police, the driver removed the 40mph sign in Manchester, attached it to a lamppost in Rochdale where he was caught, and took a photo. Hopwood then sent two letters to the Central Ticketing Office, including pictures of the sign in its two locations, to try to claim he was barely over the speed limit.
Louise Kitchen, QC, prosecuting, said suspicion arose when other motorists began querying the sign, which had mysteriously appeared in Rochdale. She said: "On closer inspection, it appeared that the signs on Princess Road and Albert Royd Street were, in fact, the same sign."
When experts overlaid Hopwood's two photos, the signs matched perfectly. Facial mapping expert Richard Neave, from Manchester University, agreed that the photos showed the same sign and Hopwood was arrested in May last year.
When interviewed by police, he said: "All I can say is that I'm being accused of taking a sign from Princess Road and putting it on Albert Royd Street and I did not do it."
The driver continued to protest his innocence after he was charged and only changed his plea at the last minute on what was supposed to be the first day of his trial. Ms Kitchen told the court that the cost of the case was $2,763.34.
Mark Smith, QC, defending, said that his client had lost his job after Manchester City Council read about his crime in the newspapers. He also told the judge that a full custodial sentence would prevent Hopwood caring for his ill fiancee, who is currently pregnant with his child.
Sentencing the driver, the judge said: "You deliberately moved a 40mph sign to an area governed by a 30mph limit, hoping to avoid a conviction for speeding. This was a stupid act bound to fail. You refused to accept your crime when questioned by police, even when expert evidence was put to you at two interviews."
He added: "Motorists using the road in Rochdale, which I believe has been the scene of serious accidents in the past, would have been misled into believing it was a 40mph area when, for obvious reasons of road safety, it is 30mph."
But the judge said he had considered Hopwood's personal circumstances, which affect his fiancee, and was therefore sentencing him to intermittent custody. The defendant remained expressionless as the sentence was read out, while his fiancee wept in the public gallery.
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