Watch: Duke to argue against driving ban due to role in arranging King’s coronation
The peer who organised the Queen’s funeral has been banned from driving despite a plea in a secret court hearing that he is instrumental in the forthcoming coronation of King Charles III.
Edward Fitzalan-Howard, the 18th Duke of Norfolk, was using his mobile phone when he ran through a red traffic light in Battersea, and admitted to officers that he had not been concentrating on the road.
He pleaded guilty to the driving offence on Monday morning, and could have faced a six-month ban because he already has past convictions on his record.
However the Duke argued for leniency, including more than 30 minutes giving evidence in secret about his pivotal role as Earl Marshal in King Charles’ coronation.
“His Grace needs to be able to organise what is a huge event. He needs to travel to all jurisdictions of the UK, to locate venues, speak to people, encourage people to be involved”, said his lawyer Natasha Dardashti.
“It is going to be another world spectacular day, of the highest economic importance to the UK. The Royal Family brings a huge amount of money into the country through tourism. The world’s love and interest in the Royal Family is an economic driver and a very important institution in our nation.
“The coronation of the King in the UK financially is important to all of us, especially during times when we are suffering financially.”
She said the Duke is “the one man who has responsibility” for the Queen’s funeral and the upcoming coronation, which is “a huge undertaking”.
“It is the responsibility of one man at this very difficult time”, she added, saying the Duke would not have sought an exception to a ban at a different time.
Successfully arguing at Lavender Hill magistrate court for the Duke’s pleas about the coronation to be heard in secret, Ms Dardashti said the Duke must divulge sensitive information to make his case.
“It’s an extremely peculiar situation whereby his grace, the Duke of Norfolk, is Earl Marshal. One of his responsibilities is for the preparation and organisation of the funeral of Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II. He is now the person in the country responsible for the coronation of His Royal Highness King Charles III”, she said.
“In relation to exceptional hardship, his Grace needs to provide some details and information about the preparations of the coronation of His Royal Highness King Charles.”
But despite extensive argument, magistrate Judith Way said the Duke has not established that he would suffer “exceptional hardship” if banned.
“We accept this is a unique case because of the defendant’s role in society”, she said.
“Although inconvenience may be caused, we don’t find exceptional hardship. We consider alternative modes of transport are available.”
The court heard the Duke was pulled over by police officers while at the wheel of a BMW in Battersea on April 7, after “cutting across” their car after driving through a red traffic light.
“One of the officers observed the driver using a mobile phone while doing this, and he didn’t seem to be paying attention”, said prosecutor Jonathan Bryan.
“They drove up to the BMW and saw through the window the driver was using a mobile phone. They spoke to the driver, who was His Grace, and there was a conversation about the use of a mobile phone.
“He said he hadn’t been aware of going through the red light, but accepted that he was using his mobile phone. He said he was in communication with his wife.”
The peer, 65, initially denied the offence, but pleaded guilty on Monday morning when his trial had been due to take place.
The Duke, who also holds the title Earl of Arundel, oversees and advises Buckingham Palace on major ceremonial events including the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations earlier this year.
Following the death of the Monarch earlier this month, he played an instrumental role in co-ordinating the state funeral at Westminster Abbey, the military procession through central London, and final service at St George’s Chapel in Windsor.
In his role as Earl Marshal, the Duke – England’s most senior peer - will now oversee preparations for the coronation of King Charles III.
The Duke already has nine points on his driving licence from two speeding offences in 2019, and faced a further six points for the latest offence. A driving ban for having more than 12 points on his licence is automatic, unless it can be successfully argued that disqualification would cause “exceptional hardship”.
Giving evidence, the Duke said he is working on averting “nature’s complete collapse” and securing the future of mankind by protecting rare species of bird, insect, and plant.
He told the court a driving ban would be “catastrophic” to his business interests, with 150 people employed across his Arundel estate in Sussex, another estate in Norfolk, and an industrial business in Sheffield.
“Crucially, if there is a problem the buck stops with me. I have to be able to react, steady the team, take the right decisions, encourage, and sort the problems out”, he said.
“Obviously I have got the financial means to hire a driver from 9 to 5 or whatever time you hire a driver. The trouble is life is never that simple. I never quite know.”
He argued it would be “almost impossible to have enough drivers” to cater for his needs, adding: “I love arriving somewhere in my normal BMW, at the drop of a hat in an uncomplicated way…it is impossible for me to get the manoeuvrability I need to be where I need to be by drivers.”
Turning to his environmental interests, the Duke said: “Over the last 20 years we have been trying to find a way of saving nature as well as producing food to feed the world.
“I personally believe global warming is an enormous problem threatening our way of life. But it is not the most pressing problem - the biggest threat to mankind is not global warming but nature’s complete collapse.
“I spend an enormous amount of time in my spare hours, my passion, is going up on the Downs to witness the revival of nature.”
In his evidence to the court, PC Lee Hamilton said he was on duty in Battersea Park Road, near to Albert Bridge, at 4.13pm when the Duke’s blue BMW “cut through from the left, going through what I believe to be a red light”, adding that he could not see the traffic lights clearly.
“I could see the driver was looking down, not paying attention to the road”, said the officer.
“As we pulled up beside the vehicle, I could see the driver operating the phone in his hand. There is video evidence relating to this incident.”
The officer said he saw the Duke “operating” a phone in his right hand, adding that he “confirmed the communication was to his wife”.
The Duke, wearing a dark grey suit, sat in front of the dock to enter his guilty plea, and gave his address as the family seat at Arundel Castle.
He pleaded guilty to driving while using a handheld device. He faces sentencing later.