Driver given Ulez fine despite donating car to Ukraine

Charles Cooper said that he has spent hundreds of pounds on lawyers contesting the Ulez fine
Charles Cooper said he has spent hundreds of pounds on lawyers over the Ulez fine

A driver has been handed a Ulez fine despite donating his car to the Ukraine war effort last summer.

Charles Cooper, 65, drove his Volvo SUV across the Ukrainian border in August 2023.

Yet Transport for London (TfL) sent Mr Cooper, of Lymington in Hampshire, a series of fines after automated number plate recognition cameras (ANPR) allegedly picked up the car being driven through London in October.

TfL is chasing him for hundreds of pounds in penalties for non-payment through the courts even though the accountant showed that his car was given to Ukraine last year.

In a letter to The Telegraph, Mr Cooper said he has spent hundreds of pounds on lawyers after officials rejected his explanation that their automatic cameras had mistakenly identified the wrong car.

“I have already provided adequate information showing details of the export of this vehicle to the Ukrainian army, with associated paperwork,” he wrote.

The chartered accountant, a former chief executive of investment fund BRI Wealth Management, added: “I am not aware if the case has been abandoned.

“This situation is positively Orwellian. What sort of country are we living in?”

Mr Cooper said he would “rather go to prison” than pay a wrongfully issued fine.

He said his ordeal began when fixed penalty notices were sent late last year, which he did not immediately receive because he was travelling in Greece.

He came home in January to find letters from the transport authority had escalated into threats to take him to court for non-payment.

One picture sent to him by TfL of the alleged infringement showed “a very unclear photograph of the front of a Volvo which they claim was my number plate”, he said.

“It looks to me like [the letters] OKK, and they say it’s OKW which was my plate,” he added.

“But my car had been given to the Ukrainian army in August. I drove it over there.”

A letter sent by TfL to Mr Cooper and seen by The Telegraph said: “We have reviewed the vehicle image(s) and believe that the charge(s) have/has been raised correctly.”

The letter invited him to send proof that the Volvo was at a location outside the London charging zones on Oct 10 last year.

His car was delivered to Ukraine as part of a mercy mission by the 4Ukraine humanitarian aid group, which delivers surplus cars and medical supplies from the UK to the eastern European country.

Mr Cooper said: “I sent them those papers. I sent them a photograph of me handing the car over to my army contact who was actually a priest. And they ignored it.

“The last thing I got from them was that I was going to be sent to court... And bailiffs would be appointed, which was when I wrote to [TfL] and said, well, there’s no point in doing that, because I would rather go to prison than pay you anything.”

Ukrainian charity representatives receive Charles Cooper's car in August 2023
Ukrainian charity representatives receive Charles Cooper's car in August 2023

Photographs taken in August 2023 show Mr Cooper handing the grey Volvo over to Ukrainian representatives.

A TfL spokesman said: “We are investigating what has happened here. We will be speaking to Mr Cooper very soon.”

It comes as Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, remains locked in battle over sending cars to Ukraine, despite pledging in February that vehicles handed in under the Ulez scrappage scheme would be sent to the Eastern European country.

Richard Lofthouse, a volunteer representing the Car for Ukraine campaign, said that he had concerns over the speed with which vehicles were reaching Ukraine.

It came after Mark Harper, the Transport Secretary, suggested Mr Khan was blocking the exports after the former cited legal barriers when the idea was first put to him in 2023.

Under the conditions of the London ultra-low emission zone (Ulez), owners of polluting older cars, such as the Volvo XC90 driven to Ukraine by Mr Cooper, must pay £12.50 per day for driving inside the M25.

The London Congestion Charge, a £15-a-day tax, also applies for driving inside inner London.

It is not the first time TfL has been accused of wrongly giving drivers Ulez fines.

A government commissioner warned ministers last year that more than two million motorists a day could be wrongly identified for fines by Ulez or speed cameras.

Professor Fraser Sampson, the surveillance camera commissioner, said the ANPR camera network’s 3 per cent error rate for reading car number plates meant there were “significant risks” of penalty notices being wrongly issued to innocent motorists.

One driver who was wrongly fined was a plumber who fitted his company’s vans with customised number plates after TfL incorrectly assumed the vans were too old – and thus too polluting – to comply with Ulez.

Sam Reading bought four registration plates that created the words “GAS JOB” for his company vehicles to help promote a distinct brand for his business.

Yet the registrations were originally issued between 2002 and 2008 and so were classified by TfL as not Ulez compliant.