Dog walkers fined by Bedford Borough Council are to have their money refunded after the council admitted it should never have enforced the penalties.
At least £2,200 will be reimbursed to 44 people due, the council says, to an “administrative procedural error”.
The error came to light as one of the UK’s leading lawyers, Nick Freeman, aka Mr Loophole, took on the case of Lynette Tweedale. She was fined for walking her 11-year-old miniature Schnauzer off the lead in Foster Hill Road Cemetery despite there being no signs informing people dogs must be on leads
Council chief executive Philip Simpkins said: “All individuals issued with Fixed Penalty Notices have been written to explaining this administrative mistake and they will be offered a full refund of their fixed penalty fine.
“Action will be taken immediately to commence a process to overcome the administrative error.”
He added that it was “considered right” to continue with the prosecution of Mrs Tweedale as there was “reasonable signage” in the cemetery.
The council dropped its case against Mrs Tweedale after it said an anonymous donor had sent them a £75 postal order to clear her fine.
Mr Freeman the chief executive had been “disingenuous” in implying signage was in place when it wasn’t and said while the “administrative error” has not been explained, he discovered the council did not have a valid Dog Control Order under which to prosecute walkers.
He said: “The criminal case has been discontinued because there isn’t a case. From the very outset there never was a valid dog control order, and they must have known there was no valid order.”
Mr Freeman has asked the council to preserve the postal order and associated documentation for forensic examination.
He said: “The police investigated the matter and were satisfied there was no criminal act. However, I will pursue that myself.
“Lynette has made a formal complaint to the council ombudsman. The matter does not end here.”
Mr Simpkins said the anonymous £75 payment will be donated to the Friends of Bedford Cemetery, adding: “I would like to offer a full and unreserved apology for the mistake which the Council has made for this administrative error which has led to us being unable to enforce against people who allow dogs in places where it is entirely unsuitable or to foul public areas.”