Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Don't worry. None of this blood is mine.

A Court Summons

So, today, I got a summons to court, to defend against the charge of watching TV without a license.

For the foreigners among you, a TV license is something in the UK that’s essentially a product of the Dark Ages. It’s a £120 a year mandatory fee, paid by everyone who watches TV. It funds the BBC, because they’re not funded by commercials. That’s pretty much it.

Now, I don’t watch TV. Literally, no TV in this house is even hooked up to an aerial, and can’t receive TV channels. There’s no way of watching TV in the house without connecting X to Y, or whatever. I checked the exact legal wording, and you only need a TV license if you’re able to watch TV programmes live, or concurrent to them being broadcast. I can’t do that, not even on my computer (like iPlayer or other TV sites like that). They’re always shown about a day later. Either way, I checked this – and word for word – I wasn’t breaking the law.

A while ago, we got a visit from an investigator. He sat in his car the whole time, and asked questions. I answered them. I made it clear that if we were ever going to watch TV, we’d get a license. I wasn’t dodging the law. I just didn’t watch TV. No TVs in the house were set up to receive TV – they were all for DVD players and consoles – and I’ve read the legalese for iPlayer. Using that doesn’t make needing a TV license mandatory.

In answering all of this, I assumed that, well, they’d get the idea.

Apparently not. Today, I get a summons to go to court to defend myself, because – according to the form the investigator submitted – I said I was watching TV illegally. Okay…? I didn’t say that, but whatever. It also says “May I come in and inspect the set?” with the answer “No” written after it. That’s another intriguing thing, because he never asked that. Better still, I said twice “You’re more than welcome to come in and check” and he said “No, that’s not necessary.”

I called the TV Licensing Agency this morning, to ask, well, why the fuck I’d been summoned to court. The woman on the other end of the phone informed me that obviously the TV License Agency had to go with the words of their investigators, and that my opportunity to defend myself and set the record straight would be in court. When I said that this made zero sense, that they had no actual evidence, and that I literally hadn’t ever watched TV in this house and that it was actually impossible to do so,  she again said that they’d need to go with their investigator’s words over mine.

Understandable. But now, because he lied, I have to go to court.

I asked exactly what would happen if the judge decided he didn’t believe me. And the answer was that I’ll be fined up to £1000, and have to cover the legal fees.

We don’t need one by law (trust me, I’ve checked a million times), and we’ve done nothing illegal. Does that matter? Apparently not.


September 10, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. At least, Mr. D-B, you’ll get the chance to put across your own version of events. Particularly if you have proof and back-up of what you say here in this blog.

    State your case simply, firmly, and concisely. If it was just a conversation between you and he with no other witnesses I believe it’ll be a case of 6 of one and half a dozen of the other. If you are to be ‘innocent until proven guilty’ it is the responsibility of the TV Licensing agency to prove you wrong. Provided you can answer every claim they make with logical argument and (where possible) proof you’ll be fine.

    I’d strongly urge at this time to take the other two warm bodies in your house to further substantiate your case – or at least moral support.

    If I can be of any further service please feel free to ask. If I’m merely stating the obvious please feel free to tell me to shove my head up my arse.

    Comment by Tim Kenyon | September 10, 2010 | Reply

    • Also, you should also be able to claim for damages/legal costs. Certainly you could claim back travel and subsistence expenses and the loss of two day’s income and perhaps the day’s income of your support group.

      Comment by Tim Kenyon | September 10, 2010 | Reply

  2. You never know Aaron, you might be lucky and discover that the judge is a W40K fan. ^_^

    But I sympathize. Having grown up in the Province of Quebec (Canada), which is more fascist than Vichy France ever was, I’ve had my share of government sticking their bureaucratic noses where they don’t belong.

    Good luck!

    Comment by turkeyspit | September 10, 2010 | Reply

  3. I’m very sorry to hear this Aaron unfortunately you ended up meeting one of those investigators that likes to make a name for him/herself by being an a**hole and pretending to have his/her way all the time. Prolly expects a promotion after all his “hard” work finding a large number of citizen who weren’t “paying” their tv license.

    That being said, I feel confident that you’ll win the court case because of the lack of solid proof that you have tv sets which are receiving tv.

    I would consider taking photos of your household where the supposed tv sets receving tv are & take them with you to court and emphasise on the matter that they’re free to come and take a look for themselves.

    Comment by Sam Spiteri | September 10, 2010 | Reply

    • Totally what Sam said about the photos. Maybe take it a step further and grab a video recorder and go through your house with it, recording everything with extreme detail.

      And add some neighbors/friends/people you know to them, so you have witnesses that can testify on your behalf about the assholery of this fraudulent investigator.

      Comment by Lord of Insanity | September 10, 2010 | Reply

  4. TV Licenses are a fucking joke. I can’t believe that you’re actually getting a court summons because of this farce, and not only that, but the investigator is LYING.

    I know they tried to pull that one on us when we were students, because we had computers but no license.

    It’s a load of old cock. That sucks.

    Comment by Raye Raye | September 10, 2010 | Reply

  5. What a bloody farce. Well, best of luck mate, it really is galling that the BBC can swan around like sort of legal authority and force people into going to court. It’s a shame that some of the inspectors can be like this, and either way even if you had said no I fail to see how that can land you in court. After all, they have no right to enter your home anyway.

    Must be extra off-pissing when you were so reasonable towards them in the first place. Hope it goes well dude.

    Comment by raziel4707 | September 10, 2010 | Reply

  6. They tried to bring in TV licensing in Australia once. Everyone said poke it. End of.

    No to TV Licensing starts here!

    Seriously though why do we pay it?

    Comment by Andrew Reilly | September 10, 2010 | Reply

  7. holy crap that’s retarded…

    i love the US. we’re allowed to steal tv. lol

    besides. i have the government living next door… how do you think i feel… the MAN is right there man. it doesn’t even have to drive over, it can just walk! and i have a cop across the street! no fun…


    Comment by Commissar Ploss | September 10, 2010 | Reply

  8. Wow that seems really ass-backward. Different country, different laws I guess. I wasn’t aware there was anything to watch on UK television anyway (aside from Torchwood and Flying Circus reruns). Good luck at court though, if it makes you feel any better the God of Television will probably strike down the investigator for his pretense…unfortunately you will more than likely also be stricken down for blasphemy.

    Comment by Nick Sharps | September 10, 2010 | Reply

  9. Just ran this past a barrister friend of mine who’s over for beers…

    It’s his initial opinion that if they’re trying to introduce this evidence as a statement from you then you should have been asked to sign to indicate that it accurately reflects what you said. If not then it’s a statement from him.

    In this case you’re best of drafting a statement of your own which reflects your best recollection of the conversation to introduce into evidence.

    The other thing to be aware of is that in some cases, courts aren’t too good on technology so you may want to prepare something in simple terms which descibes the set-up you actually have in your home.

    Finally, see if you can search out any existing case law based on a similar situation.

    Comment by Tom | September 10, 2010 | Reply

    • The plot thickens. As I said to a friend earlier:

      The problem has arisen from the fact I did sign his form. The issue on the day was that – well, I as at work. We’d already spent 20 minutes talking, and I’d said nothing to incriminate myself. I didn’t realise, when this really nice guy said “Can you just sign this to show I was here?” that I’d be signing to a bunch of stuff I hadn’t actually said.

      Now, I know it’s my fault for not reading it, but let’s be honest, most people don’t read 2 pages of long forms at the best of times. The only defences I have are that a) I was at work, and therefore busy, trying to get back to work, and b) I had no idea that this long-ass form would contain blatant lies. It simply never occurred to me that it would say anything but what I’d said.

      That’s how they’ve got the court date allowed, and I’m as furious with myself for being naive as I am with them for being dickwads. But even so, I could be fined all that money just because he lied.

      I was retarded, yeah, but I had no reason to believe he’d write down lies. I mean, Jesus Christ. The stuff there is the exact opposite of what I said. “Can I see the set? No.” He never even asked. I invited him in – twice. He chuckled and said it wasn’t necessary.

      I’m hoping the judge will take that into account when I explain it all clearly. I’ve already registered a complaint with the TVLA tonight.


      Comment by aarondembskibowden | September 10, 2010 | Reply

      • Ok, he’s gone but i’ll ask when I next see him.

        Based on earlier conversation with him i’d say you’re going to need to do a few things.

        Seek some advice [CAB are free but often none to brilliant]

        Find some existing case law with a similar setup at home AND where a statement has been contested [successfully] despite being signed. [I got the impression that if the statement could be used as evidence, he should have told you this before you signed it…IE so you’d bloody well check it. Because; yes, people don’t check if someone indicates it’ just a formality.]

        See if you can speak to a decision maker within the TV liscencing place, to go with your complaint… they may be able to arrange an inspection or something to validate what you’re saying.

        In short though, good luck dude. It is a total fucker when you try to be an honest and straight up guy and someone takes advantage to fuck you over.

        Comment by Tom | September 10, 2010

      • Oh, a quick search found this, contains some examples of douchbaggery on the part of their inspectors: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/review_report_research/tvl/tvl_cab.pdf

        Further reading suggests that if he believed than an offence had been detected, the inspector should have officially cautioned you [at which point i’m assuming you’d have read the bloody thing and invited him in.]

        Also, they have no right to access, so saying no doesn’t consitute any kind of proof. Really in this case all they have is saying that you admitted it, in which case you could argue he hadn’t understood your explanation [oh noes, the technoloy] but again we’re back to whatever is on the signed statement… again this seems like something they do quite commonly from the CAB log.

        Comment by Tom | September 11, 2010

      • Sorry dude, me again, but i’ve had a few beers and got my anti-establishment hat on 😉

        Anyway, this is the best summary of what is SUPPOSED to happen that i’ve found:


        Television Enquiry Officers must interview you under caution, if they are to use their visit as evidence against you in court. The caution says: You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence. Do you understand? So, if you answer questions, those answers can be read out in court, but:

        This means “anything”. You do not have to tell the enquiry officer your name, you do not have to tell him whether or not you have a television, or if you live at the address, or if you have a licence.

        No surprises here. Television Licensing officers are not paid to think for themselves, they have a list of questions to ask in every case. They are:

        * Name:
        * Address:
        * Post Code:
        * Are you the occupier?
        * Do you have a television on the premises?
        * Do you have a licence? If no administer caution.
        * May I inspect the set?
        * Was there a video recorder?
        * When was the set installed?
        * When did you first use the set without an appropriate licence?
        * When did you last use the set?
        * Do you have satellite or cable?
        * What is your date of birth?
        * What is your occupation or status?
        * I have to tell you that you may be prosecuted for an offence under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949. Is there anything you want to say?

        You will than be asked to buy a television licence, “without prejudice”, or in other words pay for a licence and still run the risk of being prosecuted. They will then ask you to sign the interview record as accurate, but you don’t have to do so.

        You are being asked questions because they know you don’t have a licence, but they don’t know who you are, or if you are using a television. If you tell them who you are and you say you are using a television, they will usually take you to court. If you don’t tell them you stand a better chance of not being taken to court as they don’t know who you are, or if you have a television. If they knew that in the first place there would be no need for them to call.

        They can only come into your home if you let them in (Can I inspect the set?), or if a magistrate grants them a search warrant. They will only get a search warrant if they can satisfy the magistrate there are reasonable grounds to suspect you have a television for use on the premises.

        Every one is entitled to receive a public funding certificate to cover magistrates’ court proceedings free of charge, even if they are a millionaire. If you want advice, you need to see a solicitor who deals in criminal law. Details of solicitors offering legal help can be found from the Legal Services.

        Commission, using their call centre number 0845 608 1122, or using the web site http://www.justask.org.uk. Alternatively look in yellow pages for any solicitor displaying the Criminal Defence Service logo. If you are on income support, income based job seekers allowance, or working families’ tax credit, you will qualify for free legal help before you go to court. You may also qualify for this help of you are on a low income. Many solicitors will offer you a free first interview anyway. Ask a solicitor for details.

        The Magistrates’ Courts’ Act 1980 allows the TV Licence authority 6 months to tell the magistrates’ clerk they want a summons issuing. If they are too late its just too bad; they cannot prosecute you.

        There are two ways of pleading guilty. You will have received a form with your summons that you can return to the court, saying that you want to plead guilty, or you can attend the hearing.

        Television licensing courts expect get through 60 – 70 cases in a court session. They do not expect many people to turn up and they expect most of those who do not come to plead guilty by letter. If they don’t do that, and don’t attend, the TV Licensing officers will ask to have the case “proved in absence”. This means that the statement that the TV Enquiry officer made when he visited you and his “interview” will be read out. The magistrates will then find you guilty, and you will normally be fined £150 to £200 and ordered to pay the TV Licensing officers costs (currently £45.00). If you turn up and plead guilty, the magistrates must listen to what you have to say. They will probably fine you about the same amount and order you to pay the costs, but it will take them longer and they will have to consider your case in greater depth.

        Yes; you can either use the form to tell the court you are “not guilty”, in which case the magistrates will adjourn the case to a trial date, when you must attend, and the trial will take place. You should plead “not guilty” if you do not have television receiving equipment installed, or if you had a licence when the enquiry officer called. If you were promised you wouldn’t be prosecuted, or if you have any doubts what to do, you should see a solicitor.

        You are supposed to be given a discount if you plead guilty, but the magistrates will still fine you, and they will fine you more for not having a television licence than they would have fined you if you had stolen something or hit someone in most cases.

        The power of the TV Licence agency to prosecute people is being challenged in a number of test cases, which are based on European law. The result will not be known for some time. A solicitor can advise you how you can have your case challenged in the same way.

        P.S. You came up page one of a google search on the subject… yet another level of fame for you. ;p

        Comment by Tom | September 11, 2010

  10. Thankfully, innocent until proven guilty.


    Is non-payment of a tv licence still a criminal offence or did they switch it to civil?

    Comment by Rob | September 10, 2010 | Reply

  11. Wow, that’s all kinds of bullshit. I think you have a pretty strong case but I can’t believe they’re demanding you show up for something as trivial as “Watching TV without a license!”

    This is all the more frustrating by the fact you don’t even have a TV. :/ This really bites, I’m sorry man.

    Comment by John the Great | September 10, 2010 | Reply

  12. While the funding of the BBC is important (else everything on TV would either be run by a Murdoch or the shite they show on ITV,) licence enforcement is a joke.

    Firstly, there is no way in hell he could’ve got a detector van up your drive.

    Secondly, there is no way in hell he could’ve got a signal. When we visit, we’re over about four different mobile networks and no one gets a clear signal in the same place, even if they’re on the same network as someone else. Did he do anything like this: http://www.tvlicensing.co.uk/faqs/FAQ74/ ? If not, see point three…

    Thirdly, he’s going to be top of the redundancy list when you make a complaint against him for misconduct, which you should do. And this is nothing less than misconduct if the report he filed is not accurate and will become something like perjury if he takes the statement to court as evidence.

    Either way, you need to make a complaint against the inspector for providing a false account, perhaps even inviting a second inspector out for a decent report.

    Still, it’s a good excuse for not going to Games Day: “Sorry I can’t make it, I’m in jail.”

    Comment by G | September 10, 2010 | Reply

    • Just FYI, there is no such thing as a detector van.

      Mainly because there is no way to check if something is receiving a broadcast signal.

      What they do have are those directional mikes so they can listen for if you’re watching eastenders or some shit.

      What they really rely on though is eventually visiting addresses which their computer says don’t have a liscence on the assumption that everyone has a TV.

      Comment by Tom | September 10, 2010 | Reply

      • So all these years their whole information campaign was a lie?

        It’s astonishing to think that it’s just a parabolic mic, what if you’re watching a DVD on computer? “I can hear Jonathan Creek; Let’s roll!” Or the fun and games when they get to Ross Kemp’s house- “It’s either an old Eastenders or On Gangs; we’ve got them either way!”

        Comment by G | September 11, 2010

  13. And people think the American Revolution was about tea. No, George Washington was a prophet who foresaw a world where such a thing as “tv licensing” exists and knew what had to be done to save his people from that doom.

    Comment by Khestra the Unbeheld | September 11, 2010 | Reply

    • Amen to that brother. Here’s to throwing the proverbial television into the metaphorical harbor.

      Comment by Nick Sharps | September 11, 2010 | Reply

  14. “Bastard’s the name, but call me Right Bleedin’, all my friends do. Well, did.”

    “Why’s that?”

    “I killed him. Where’s your telly?”

    Hope it all gets properly sorted.

    Comment by Matthew F. | September 11, 2010 | Reply

  15. What a douchebag… good luck and keep us informed.


    Comment by Jonathon | September 12, 2010 | Reply

  16. We have something similar in Poland, we have to pay a fee to watch national TV and listen to national radio. You have to pay if you own a TV or a radio.
    Still, about 95% of people are not paying it.

    Comment by Artein | September 14, 2010 | Reply

  17. The lack of a free market causes quality shows like Black Adder and The Office to have 6 shows a season to leave budget space for another Agatha Christie adaptation. This is why the oppressed thespian community is unjustly forced to move to LA and speak with an American tongue if they want to drive a Ferrari and get all up in the Paris Hiltons of the world.

    And we all thought Abe Lincoln freed the slaves.

    Comment by Jimmy | September 18, 2010 | Reply

  18. Hi

    It is hard to believe that in this day and age a person can kill with drink and get less of a fine that a person who doesnt have a tv licence, but unfortunately true….

    P.S. You can tell the TV licence inspector you refuse to answer any questions, any question he asks you, just say I cannot answer that question, like the post above if he doesnt know who you are he cannot prosecute you, and yes, there is no such thing as a detector van, this is a myth to scare people into buying a licence, I myself do have a licence as my kids do watch tv a lot, but myself I do not watch tv,

    Comment by Teresa | October 26, 2010 | Reply

  19. Can you please give an update? I assume you pleaded not guilty?

    I am in exactly the same situation as you where I signed the form and have now recieved summons. What did the magistrates say?

    Comment by Bananafish | February 24, 2011 | Reply

    • The magistrate dismissed the case, because there was no evidence of TV usage beyond the form. So don’t sweat it, you’ll walk out of there after a few boring hours.

      Comment by aarondembskibowden | February 24, 2011 | Reply

      • OK. Thanks for your reply. I hope they dismiss the case too!

        Comment by Bananafish | February 24, 2011

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