Driving ban for peer who is arranging King’s coronation

The peer who organised the Queen’s funeral has been banned from driving for six months despite claiming he needs his licence to arrange the King’s upcoming coronation.

The Earl Marshal, the Duke of Norfolk, 65, pleaded guilty at Lavender Hill Magistrates’ Court on Monday to using his mobile phone behind the wheel.

Edward Fitzalan-Howard, who is responsible for organising the State Opening of Parliament, was stopped by police on April 7 after driving his BMW through a red light in Battersea, south-west London, said prosecutor Jonathan Bryan.

Mr Bryan told magistrates said he told officers he had “not been aware of going through the red light but accepted this was because he was using his mobile phone” to communicate with his wife.

The court heard the duke had already totted up nine penalty points on his driving licence from two previous speeding offences in 2019, meaning a further six points would lead to a ban.

Duke of Norfolk court case
The Earl Marshal, the Duke of Norfolk (PA)

The highest-ranking duke in England argued he would suffer “exceptional hardship” if he was disqualified, highlighting his official duties along with his conservation work to prevent “nature’s complete collapse” and “the end of mankind”.

But a bench of magistrates, chaired by Judith Way endorsed his licence with six points and banned him from driving for six months.

“We accept that this a unique case because of the defendant’s role in society and in particular in relation to the King’s coronation,” said Ms Way.

“The hardship needs to be exceptional and although we find inconvenience may be caused, we don’t find it exceptional hardship.

“We consider alternative means of hardship are available.”

The duke, who is the most senior lay member of the Roman Catholic Church in Britain and a crossbench peer in the House of Lords, was also fined £800 and ordered to pay another £400 in other costs.

Ms Way said that he had the means to employ drivers, although they would need security clearance, adding: “We do not accept employees on your estate are in danger of losing their jobs.”

He gave evidence for more than 30 minutes in secret after magistrates ruled the media and public should be excluded from court for reasons of “national security”.

It followed an application from his lawyer Natasha Dardashti, who said details of the coronation, which had not yet been discussed with the King, Prime Minister Liz Truss or Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, should remain private until after the event.

“Very few people have been made aware of the date, the more sensitive the material the fewer people are yet to be involved in that,” she said.

“In relation to the exceptional hardship argument, his Grace will need to provide some detail and information about the preparation of the coronation of His Royal Highness King Charles III.

“The application for this matter to be in camera is for reasons of national security and because details of this will be provided which have not yet been discussed with His Royal Highness, and not yet discussed with the Prime Minister and not yet discussed with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

“It would be unacceptable for these details to be made public or made known to risk the escape of that information of a very sensitive nature.”

Queen Elizabeth II funeral
The King walking behind the Queen’s coffin (Danny Lawson/PA)

Before ordering the press, who had argued against the submissions, to leave court, Ms Way said: “We grant the application by the defence but only in relation to issues relating to national security and the coming coronation.”

However, it is understood cross-examination of the duke involving other matters also took place behind closed doors.

In open court, the duke told magistrates his office and the local railway station are four miles away from his Arundel Castle home, in West Sussex.

He said he employs some 150 people, needs to travel to his other estates in Norfolk and Yorkshire, and spends a lot of time on the South Downs, where he funds a conservation project to protect “near extinct” bird life.

“The most pressing problem, what’s going to bring about the end of mankind, it is not global warming per se, it is nature’s complete collapse,” he said.

“I spend an enormous amount of my time, my spare hours, because it’s my passion, going onto the Downs, witnessing the revival of nature and managing the detail needed to bring this change in nature about.”

The duke also told the court he has borrowed some £45 million to buy back land from other side of his family to restore the dukedom in what he described as his “life’s work”.

He said the loss of his licence could be “very, very serious”, leading to the loss of jobs for up to 20 or 30 employees, such as tractor driver “Gary”, which he said, “would mortify me”.

The Oxford-educated father-of-five, who is a descendant of Elizabeth I and reported to be worth more than £100 million, said he drives an “old BMW” because he likes “being simple” and tries to be “unpompous”.

The 18th Duke of Norfolk, who inherited the position upon the death of his father in 2002, said: “Obviously, I have got the financial means to hire a driver.”

Queen Elizabeth II death
The Queen Consort signs the Proclamation of Accession of King Charles III, watched by (left-right back) the Prince of Wales, Prime Minister Liz Truss , Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, Lord Chancellor of the Privy Council Brandon Lewis and Earl Marshal, Edward Fitzalan-Howard, the Duke of Norfolk during the Accession Council ceremony at St James’s Palace, London, where King Charles III is formally proclaimed monarchy (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

But he said, although he could be driven from 9am to 5pm or at 4am “to get out to see the curlew or lapwing”, “it is almost impossible to have enough drivers to carry out this task of getting me to the right place.”

Asked about his ceremonial duties, the duke said: “These last two weeks have been really full on, with not only the rehearsals in Windsor and London in the early hours, but that of course has been exceptional.

“I get into the office at 7 to 7.30am… It is very, very important I lead the team, react to the problems, take the right decisions and motivate.”

Two thousand people including world leaders and foreign royals gathered inside Westminster Abbey in London last Monday for the final farewell to the nation’s longest reigning monarch, in an event watched around the globe.

The duke, who previously described organising the funeral as “both humbling and daunting”, is now in charge of arranging the King’s coronation.

After the media were allowed to return to court, Ms Dardashti said: “He has given quite a bit of information about what is going to be involved in this coronation.

“He must be mobile to achieve what he needs to achieve in this regard.”

She continued: “His Grace needs to be able to organise what is a huge event.

“He needs to travel to all of the jurisdictions of the UK, to located venues, speak to people and encourage people to become involved in what is going to be another world spectacular.”

The lawyer added: “It is an extremely peculiar set of circumstances at a really crucial point in the history of this nation with the one man who was responsible for not only the funeral last week but the coronation of King Charles III.

“It is a huge undertaking and it is the responsibility of this one man at this time.”