Driver caught in 'Da Vinci' ticket con
A DRIVER removed a 40mph road sign and put it in a 30mph zone in a bid to dodge a speeding ticket.
John Hopwood moved the sign from a road in Manchester to one in Rochdale, in a plot so complex it was likened in court to the Da Vinci Code.
His bid to beat the motoring offence was foiled after lawyers drafted in a well-known academic to analyse photographs.
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Hopwood, 44, was caught by two different speed cameras on consecutive days - first travelling at 48 mph in a 40 zone on Princess Road, Manchester, then at 41 mph in a 30 zone on Albert Royd Street, Rochdale.
He tried to fool police that he was barely over the limit the second time by taking down the 40mph sign in Manchester and attaching it to a lamp post where he was caught in Rochdale.
He then took a photograph and presented it as "proof" that he had been close to what appeared to be the speed limit.
Now Hopwood, from Bean Leach Road, Hazel Grove, Stockport, has been warned that he faces jail for attempting to pervert the course of justice.
Manchester Crown Court heard that Hopwood only came clean about the sign switch, which happened in April 2005, after Manchester University expert Richard Neave was brought in to help.
'Upset and shocked'
Mr Neave is a medical artist who specialises in recreating faces from bare bone and worked on the case of "Lindow Pete" whose preserved remains were discovered in a peat bog after he was murdered around 50AD.
Hopwood had challenged both the Rochdale and Manchester speeding fines by sending two letters to the Central Ticketing Office, saying he was "angry, upset and shocked".
The court was told that a photograph of a 40mph speed restriction sign was attached to both letters. Detailed examination by Mr Neave showed both pictures showed the same sign in different locations.
After the case the expert said: 'It was very straightforward. The sign is made up of a series of reflective surfaces and, magnified, it looks like a honeycomb.
“Although where the colours meet may look like straight lines, the cells are, in fact, in a series of patterns which you can compare on the computer after scanning in his photographs. There was also a blemish on the white area and that was the same. It took four or five hours to do the work. "
"If there had been an expert in the field, I would have passed it on, but it seems that no-one else does it,” said Mr Neave, who has now retired.
Elizabeth Nicholls, prosecuting, told the court: “This story is rather like a jigsaw puzzle. It could be seen as exciting as the Da Vinci Code – or maybe not.”
She said suspicions were aroused when inquiries revealed that the sign which had been in place on Princess Road at the time Hopwood had been clocked, had later vanished, while a 40mph restriction sign which had not been there before, had “mysteriously appeared” on Albert Royd Street.
Hopwood, who works as a care assistant for Manchester council, initially denied being responsible, despite being warned that he risked any chance of a discount for a prompt guilty plea.
When the case came to court he changed his mind and pleaded guilty.Judge Anthony Ensor told him: “You have been very foolish. This is such a serious matter that a custodial sentence must be considered.
“You were endeavouring to pervert the course of justice, and unfortunately there was then a knock-on effect, because other people would have been driving along that road thinking they were in a 40mph limit, when it was in fact 30mph.
“It is not possible to know how long people were under this misapprehension, but it was at least 10 days.”
The court was told that the sign had been taken down by Rochdale council after another driver queried it.
Drivesafe, Greater Manchester’s speed camera partnership, said that its technician had noticed the bogus sign when he removed the film from the Rochdale camera and it was not processed to avoid unwitting drivers being prosecuted while thinking they were in a 40mph zone.
Mark Smith, defending, said Hopwood worked with displaced children, a job which was “difficult and tortuous”.
He also worked as a volunteer helping homeless people in Manchester.
Sentencing was adjourned for three weeks.
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