Just occasionally the blogosphere can be about more than just hot air – as it proved today by raising over £10,000 to pay off the fine of pub landlord Nick Hogan and to bring about his release from prison.
Meanwhile, a score of 'nul points' to Paypal for its rigid adherence to its in-house rules, which meant that Hogan spent nearly a week longer in jail than he needed to.
Hogan was jailed in February of this year for non-payment of a fine originally imposed for a "mass smoke-in", which took place in his pub, the Swan and Barristers in Bolton, on the day the smoking ban came into force in 2007. He was fined again when council inspectors walked into his present pub and discovered a group of customers smoking, even though Nick wasn’t even on the premises at the time.
Although 43 year old Hogan initially made efforts to pay off these fines, his business was hard hit by recession and he is now bankrupt. He went to court last month to argue that he was unable to pay the £500 per month demanded by the authorities and ended up being sent down for six months. Two widely-read and anti-establishment bloggers picked up on this case: first Anna Raccoon and shortly after that Aulde Holborne.
Within 36 hours over £5,000 had been raised. A further £1,200 was donated over the next two days, with money coming in from all over the world.
Four days after Anna Raccoon’s story first appeared, Aulde Holborne’s Paypal account held in excess of £9,700 in assorted currencies – and the bloggers asked people to stop sending money.
There was then a delay – sufficient funds were available last Thursday, but money has only been released Tuesday - while Holborne explained to Paypal that the fund was not an international money-laundering cartel.
Paypal had difficulties processing the donations because the donate button went to Aulde Holborne but the bank account to which the money was to be paid was in his real name. According to Anna Raccoon, Paypal appears to have just one man in Dublin competent to deal with issues of this kind.
A complicated dance ensued, and it was not until late yesterday that Paypal finally managed to release the funds to the friends of Nick Hogan - thereby ensuring that Mr Hogan spent an extra week in jail. We are awaiting comment from Paypal on this matter.
Speaking to the Reg, the instigators of this campaign said: "This was not a campaign conducted by the smoothly professional spin-meisters of the main political parties, or campaigning organisations, with stories carefully planted in friendly newspapers, written by highly trained professionals. There were no government ministers wheeled out to TV stations to tell the obliging public what they should think.
"This was not the 'pro-smoking' lobby shouting, this was the authentic, raw voice of thousands of ordinary men and women who felt that the State had over-stepped the mark, and was making a political point by jailing this man."
From a legal point of view, the case against Mr Hogan was unexceptional: pub landlords remain responsible for activity on their premises whether they are present or not. However, this case does underline a growing trend over the last decade towards coopting ordinary folk as enforcement officers for government.
The Licensing Act 2003 has greatly increased penalties for retailers who sell drinks to under-age tipplers – thereby providing a strong commercial impetus to the case for ID cards.
Later this week Andy Norman, host and organiser of Thimbleberry Music Festival in County Durham, UK, will be appearing in Durham Crown Court facing the charge of "permiting the use of cannabis on his premises" – even though no charges for the alleged offence were ever brought. ®