Meet Benjamin Bowey, the SAPOL Officer Who Fines You For Things You Didn’t Do
Take a good look at the South Australian police officer in the photo above. His name is Benjamin James Bowey, ID# 83575. If you are ever approached or pulled over by Bowey, it is strongly recommended you immediately begin filming the encounter. If he makes any allegations about fixtures on your vehicle, it is strongly recommended you take photos of those fixtures.
The reasons why should become obvious shortly.
On Saturday 9 September 2017, around 5pm, Anthony Colpo was travelling along Port Road towards the Adelaide CBD in his vehicle, obeying all road rules and minding his own business. Anthony has no criminal record and is a Rating 1 driver with an accident-free driving history spanning over 30 years (something an increasing number of SAPOL’s accident-prone officers could not even begin to boast).
As Anthony drove along Port Road towards North Terrace, he noticed a blue SAPOL traffic patrol car rapidly approaching from his rear, siren blaring and lights flashing. Given that he was doing nothing wrong, Anthony initially assumed the officer was pursuing someone else. But when it became apparent the speeding and tailgating officer was after him, Anthony pulled over in a slip lane out front of the new Royal Adelaide Hospital.
The officer, who after some prodding eventually identified himself as Senior Constable First Class Bowey, approached Anthony’s vehicle. He did not explain why he’d pulled Anthony over, but instead asked to see Anthony’s license. When it became clear Bowey was in no hurry to state the reason for the traffic stop, Anthony asked.
“Your number plate is obstructed,” replied Bowey.
Bowey then walked back to his car with Anthony’s license, where he stayed for an exceedingly long time.
While Bowey was checking his details, Anthony got out of his car to see what on earth Bowey was talking about. Had some prankster covered up his number plate without him realizing it?
No-one had touched his number plate. It was not obstructed, but simply covered by a legally purchased and transparent mesh insect screen specifically designed for mounting on motor vehicles. Anthony had placed the mesh screen on his car to prevent bugs from entering the grille area during long drives between Melbourne and Adelaide. The same mesh screen had been affixed to his car since January 2016, and in that time he’d driven past countless police vehicles in Victoria and South Australia. Nobody had a problem with the mesh screen, until now.
Bowey eventually returned. “Here’s your driver’s license back,” he said, “and this is a fine for driving a motor vehicle on a road with an obscured number plate.”
“It’s not obscured,” Anthony replied.
“It is,” replied Bowey.
Feeling like he was about to be drawn into a game of “Is not! Is too! Is not! …”, Anthony instead replied:
“It’s covered by a mesh sheet which I purchased legally at a well-known auto supply franchise…”
“It’s still classed as obscured,” interrupted Bowey. “It’s not visible from a distance.”
Anthony asked Bowey if he truly could not read the number plate from where they were standing. He replied: “From this distance, I can. From the distance, further back, say 20 metres, 30 metres, it’s not visible.”
Bowey’s ambiguous responses suggested he was contriving these distances on the spot. Either the law explicitly states that a number plate must be clearly visible from a specific distance, or it does not – and for the record, it does not. There is no legislation stipulating a distance from which a number plate must be seen.
So Anthony asked Bowey again: “How far back?”
“Twenty metres”, he replied.
Twenty metres, thirty metres, twenty metres … which was it?
And so Anthony walked to a distance he estimated to be twenty metres from the front of his vehicle. He then invited Bowey to come join him. Bowey approached, but refused to look at the number plate. He again simply insisted “It is not visible. It doesn’t meet the regulations.”
Anthony asked: “What regulations?”
Bowey responded: “It’s in the Motor Vehicles Act.”
Anthony asked Bowey to write down the relevant legislation. Bowey then wrote on a piece of card “Section 36(1)(a) Motor Vehicles Act SA” (the card is pictured below).
Anthony also filmed the interaction on his phone, and captured Bowey clearly stating “it is section thirty-six, part 1, part a, of the Motor Vehicles Act of South Australia. That’s the relevant legislation that you need to look up.”
When Anthony finally returned home, he did indeed look it up – only to discover the legislation Bowey cited did not exist. He thoroughly examined the current SA Motor Vehicles Act and it did not contain a “Section 36(1)(a)”.
In order to justify his absurd fine, Bowey had contrived ad hoc distances and cited a fantasy piece of legislation.
While Bowey was busy with his highly creative approach to traffic policing, two more SAPOL cops, Ryan Pollard and Scott Willi Osborne, had arrived on the scene. Astonished at the fuss being caused by a simple piece of mesh screen, Anthony asked “What was the emergency? What was so important that you needed to see my number plate from twenty metres? What was I doing wrong?”
Bowey again replied: “You’ve got an obscured number plate. That is the offence.”
Because no-one or no thing has ever been harmed by a perfectly visible number plate covered by purpose-built, transparent mesh, Anthony asked Bowey once more, “What was I doing wrong?”
Bowey finally admitted: “Aside from that, nothing.”
So despite the fact Anthony was doing nothing wrong, and had not hurt anyone, had not committed any crime and showed absolutely no indication that he was about to do so, Bowey issued him with an exceedingly harsh fine totalling $524.
Having learned from a previous encounter resulting in an untenable fine issued by another SAPOL traffic cop, one Senior Constable Ian Stanley, Anthony now knew the moment a SAPOL cop approaches you, you need to get your phone out and start filming. He recorded the entire incident right up until he was falsely arrested (the beginning of another disgraceful legal saga that you can read all about here).
Anthony also took photos of his number plate from different angles. Those photos clearly demonstrated that anyone with reasonable eyesight could indeed read the front number plate, and would later prove instrumental in getting the fine withdrawn.
South Australian law also states that SAPOL officers are required to provide their name, rank and ID number when requested by a member of the public. When Anthony asked Bowey for all three, he simply kept pointing at the ID number he’d written on the fine notice.
It was only after Anthony repeatedly asked for his name and rank that he finally blurted out, “Senior Constable First Class Bowey!”
We’re not sure what qualifies an officer as “First Class” in South Australia, but it would seem the ability to issue tenable fines based only on valid law isn’t among the qualifying criteria.
Battling Yet Another Revenue-Raising Shakedown
As with the untenable speeding fine issued by Stanley, Anthony flatly refused to pay Bowey’s absurd fine. For a SAPOL traffic cop to be driving around fining people for ‘obstructing’ number plates that are in fact clearly visible, and contriving off-the-cuff distances and citing non-existent legislation as justification, was deeply concerning.
In letters to SAPOL’s Expiation Notice Branch dated 11 September 2017 and 27 September 2017, Anthony described Bowey’s behaviour and false information in detail. He also supplied them with copies of the photos he took of his front number plate. The ENB refused to withdraw the fine and had nothing to say about the patently false information Bowey had relayed to him.
Not only that, but – as with the previous speeding fine – the ENB prematurely escalated the fine and handed it over to the Fines Enforcement and Recovery Unit, the nasty goon squad who escalate the threats and penalties in order to intimidate you into paying the fine. Anthony then applied for a revocation and it was granted – implicit confirmation that the fine should never have been escalated in the first instance.
SAPOL – Not So Cocky When You Get a Lawyer
When it appeared Anthony would be representing himself regarding the speeding and number plate fine matters, SAPOL relentlessly hounded him and refused to drop the matters. This was despite the fact Anthony had supplied clear evidence showing the number plate was visible, and that Bowey had supplied patently false information about the legislation allegedly justifying the fine.
But when an exasperated Anthony explained the fine and showed the pictures he’d taken at the scene to a barrister, she immediately remarked, “that’s an easy one.” Indeed, after she took up the matter, the fine was withdrawn and Anthony was awarded almost $1,300 in costs. The reason? The photographic evidence Anthony provided showed the number plate was indeed visible with the mesh in place.
This same barrister also had the speeding fine withdrawn, securing almost $1,000 in costs for Anthony.
(For those requiring assistance in battling SAPOL’s revenue-raising malfeasance, the barrister who represented Anthony was Yasmin McMahon of McMahon & Co. Another Adelaide lawyer who has established solid form for defeating untenable SAPOL traffic fines is Karen Stanley, of Stanley Law).
The Story Doesn’t End There
Incensed by the way he had been harassed and hounded by SAPOL, in March 2019 Anthony filed a motion for discovery against SAPOL. Among the documents he sought were those pertaining to the two untenable fines he’d been issued.
What he received made for very interesting reading.
The documents show that, after Anthony’s barrister announced she was contesting the number plate fine on his behalf, SAPOL’s Eastern Prosecution Branch wrote to Bowey asking if he was able to furnish evidence that the number plate really was obscured. The internal letter to Bowey, dated 28 May 2018, admitted:
“The difficulty proving this charge is that the photos on file of the number plate show that it is legible.”
There it was in writing: SAPOL admitting the photos taken by Anthony – the same photos that SAPOL had already twice ignored when he was representing himself – did indeed show the number plate was visible.
Benjamin Bowey’s claim that Anthony’s number plate was “completely illegible” was utter rubbish – and this internal SAPOL communication acknowledges as much.
In response to the revelation that his “obscured” number plate accusation was not supported by the evidence, Bowey again exercised his highly creative approach to traffic policing.
In his affadavit reply dated 10 June 2018, Bowey admitted “The plate itself was visible” (bold emphasis added) but then added the ludicrous rationalization that the plate “was completely illegible from an angle of approximately thirty degrees onwards.”
This Bowey character is something else.
On the day he chased down Anthony, Bowey contrived fake distances from which a number plate should be visible as the basis for issuing his fine. When Anthony pointed out to Bowey the number plate was indeed visible from 20 metres, Bowey refused to look at the number plate. Instead, he stubbornly repeated in mantra-like fashion, “It’s not visible.”
Even Bowey’s prosecution-hungry superiors knew his claims were indefensible, so he was now contriving a new justification – that the plate was completely unreadable from an angle of “thirty degrees onwards.”
As with Bowey’s ’20 metres/30 metres/yeah nah 20 metres’ charade, there exists no mention whatsoever in any South Australian legislation of a “30 degree onwards” angle from which number plates must be visible.
Furthermore, one would be hard-pressed to read the majority of vehicle number plates from an angle of 30 degrees.
Again, Bowey was simply making these figures up in order to justify the issuance of a nonsensical fine. Despite Bowey’s absurd numbers and fake legislation, the fact remains the number plate was perfectly visible.
Bowey’s affadavit also provided another highly revealing insight into the attitude of many SAPOL officers. Bowey claimed he could not recall the details of the verbal exchange, but claimed Anthony “was argumentative.”
Behold the condescending attitude with which officers who issue untenable fines view those with the temerity to verbally contest what is transpiring. At no point during their exchange did Anthony in any way abuse or threaten Bowey (if the truth-challenged Bowey attempts to claim otherwise, he would be well reminded that Anthony still has the video recording of the incident).
What Anthony did do was exercise his right to question the validity of a fine that was ultimately shown – as he insisted all along – to be issued on patently false grounds. On 9 September 2017, Anthony Colpo had done absolutely nothing wrong. It was unarguably Bowey who acted as the aggressor, instigating the entire incident by unceremoniously barging into Anthony’s day, pulling him over, making a false accusation against him and issuing him with an exceedingly harsh – and completely unjustified – fine.
It should be further noted that, if Bowey was consistent with enforcing his contrived “30 degree angle” requirement, he would be required to fine the overwhelming majority of vehicles travelling on South Australian roads. Why Bowey chose to single out Anthony Colpo, an individual of distinctly ethnic appearance, remains unknown.
As can be seen in the image above, Bowey again cited the mythical “section 36(1)(a) of the Motor Vehicle’s Act”[sic] in his affadvit. It appears that at no point has anyone in the idiot parade that is SAPOL bothered to inform Bowey there is no such thing as a “section 36(1)(a)” in the SA Motor Vehicles Act.
Bowey crouching down to photograph Anthony’s number plate. Tellingly, Bowey’s photos were not tendered as evidence and were missing from the documents Anthony obtained via legal action from SAPOL. Instead, internal notes included with the documents claimed Bowey’s photos “were not apparently now available.” We suspect that if the photos supported Bowey’s claims, they sure as heck would have been available.
SAPOL Loves Officers Like Bowey
So why doesn’t SAPOL fire or at least penalize officers like Bowey, who cause the public unnecessary grief and financial hardship? Untenable fines issued by the likes of Bowey also waste an inordinate amount of public funds and administrative and court time when rightfully contested by the recipients.
The reason is simple: Officers like Bowey are doing exactly what SAPOL wants them to do.
Australian governments – be it federal, state, local, Liberal or Labor – are absolutely terrible with money management. A key mechanism for compensating for their fiscal irresponsibility is issuing traffic fines. In May 2019, the South Australian government admitted it was increasing the state’s already exhorbitant fines in order to cover yet another budget shortfall.
The problem with relying on fines to create revenue is that people only commit so many genuine offences. In order to increase the income stream from fines, the government needs SAPOL to issue more of them. And SAPOL is only too happy to oblige, turning innocent people into ‘offenders’ by way of slapping them with unjust fines.
In 2011, The Advertiser obtained an email sent from Holden Hill Senior Sergeant Andrew McCracken to patrol officers on July 28 of that year, ordering them to meet quotas for the number of arrests, drink driving reports, traffic and drug offences in a five-week period.
In August 2014, The Advertiser obtained more revealing emails showing police officers were being pressured to “hammer” drivers by strictly enforcing road laws rather than giving cautions. In one email, a sergeant from the dubious Sturt police station told staff in February that year “I’m expecting the SSgt (senior sergeant) to have some words … We fell below our expected returns for traffic contacts for the last reporting period. We’ll hammer those poor people who choose to drive when we’re night shift.”
In June 2016, Channel 7’s Today Tonight ran a story exposing internal emails by senior inspector-rank SAPOL officers confirming “police have official targets” and “are obliged to book a minimum number of fellow South Australian citizens regardless of whether they’ve committed a crime or not.”
SAPOL masquerades as a law enforcement agency, but among it’s more pressing agendas is the raising of revenue for its government masters.
Which is why the behaviour of officers who issue unjust fines is not just tolerated, but virtually demanded by SAPOL. One obnoxious email cited by Today Tonight, from a regional service commander, demanded reports from each team sargeant on how they planned to “achieve their weekly benchmarks.”
“I do not want a list of excuses,” railed the belligerent commander, “I require your plan as to how you will achieve this task.”
When police are required to issue unjust fines in the name of revenue generation, they will inevitably need to create unusual and often ridiculous justifications for those fines.
SAPOL: Wasting Taxpayer Money In Order to Extort More Taxpayer Money
When a garbage fine is successfully contested in court, the victim of SAPOL’s malfeasance will often be awarded costs that are a multiple of the original fine, as happened with the two fines issued to Anthony. Such fines also waste an inordinate amount of manpower and taxpayer funds, as SAPOL gleefully draws upon the public purse to fund its legal escapades.
The eminently corrupt South Australian government and SAPOL don’t care. They know most people won’t challenge unjust fines, because the entire system has been constructed in a manner which discourages motorists from doing so. While the SA government and SAPOL get to suckle (actually, it’s more like slurp) on the taxpayer bosom, innocent motorists enjoy no such luxury – they must fund their legal defense out of their own pockets.
As a result, the government and SAPOL know money lost on successful fine challenges will be more than offset by the revenue flooding in from uncontested fines.
When in South Australia, video record all your interactions with the police, take photos of the scene/your vehicle, etc., and get the officer/s name, rank and ID number. It is also recommended you install a quality dash cam with a GPS function, so when police falsely accuse you of speeding, you can use the GPS co-ordinates and time stamps to prove them wrong.
Yes – it’s a very sad state of affairs when you need to employ such measures to protect yourself from people who are supposed to be protecting the public. Unfortunately, SAPOL’s predatory antics make such precautionary measures necessary.
A Special Note to SAPOL
Dear SAPOL: If you really cared about road safety, you’d stop preying on innocent South Australian motorists and start lifting your own driving game. It is no secret that, despite raking in record amounts of fine revenue, you’ve cut back on driver training for SAPOL recruits. Which may well explain why your officers seem to be destroying police cars at an unprecedented rate. You also need to up the frequency of your in-house drug testing, because the driving behaviour of some SAPOL officers simply defies explanation.
As an example, here is some SAPOL maniac inexplicably swerving across three lanes on the Southern Expressway, colliding with an innocent motorist before destroying her police car against the concrete barrier:
And check the form on these geniuses, who rolled and destroyed a police car while hoon-driving in quiet suburban backstreets. SAPOL, who assumes we’re all idiots, laughably insisted the officers were travelling under 50 km/h.
Sure thing, SAPOL.
Meanwhile, this lunatic officer somehow avoided crashing his car (at least on camera) but did manage to break no fewer than 10 road rules in under a minute:
SAPOL … you’re a farce.