Town hall threatens father with £2,500 fine for flying flag to welcome soldier sons home

Proud father Robert Smithson was determined to give his twin sons a suitably patriotic welcome when they returned home for the first time since joining the Coldstream Guards.

The 18-year-olds had been standing guard outside Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace after completing their training, so their father thought it fitting to fly the English national flag from the family home.

The local council, however, took a dim view of his gesture.
After receiving a complaint from a member of the public, an official at Sunderland City Council wrote to 42-year-old Mr Smithson threatening him with a fine of up to £2,500 for illegally flying the flag from his suburban house.

The letter said he was breaking planning rules by flying the Cross of St George at the wrong angle.

Because it was horizontal and not vertical it was said to be classed as a form of advertising and required a licence from the local authority. If he didn’t obtain one, he faced prosecution and a £2,500 fine.

‘I would have laughed had the whole thing not been so serious,’ he said. ‘It was ridiculous.’

Mr Smithson, a gas engineer, said the only way to erect the flag vertically would be to ‘wedge it in the drainpipe’ where it would be ‘less secure’ and might fall down.

In the past he has decorated his house in Sunderland with the cross of St George for some England international football matches, but this time it was purely to support
his sons Richard and Robert.

‘I’m very proud,’ he said. ‘They’ve been serving their country and standing outside Buckingham Palace guarding the Queen and they may soon be going to Afghanistan.

‘When the Queen is in residence she flies the flag so I thought I would do the same when the boys came back. For somebody to put a complaint in about the national
flag is bad enough, but the way the council has handled it is appalling.

‘Why did they send a threatening letter out first, when they could’ve just had a quiet word when they came out to look at the flag.’

Fortunately, further inquiries revealed the council officials had misinterpreted the rules and got it wrong. The latest Town and Country Planning Control of Advertisements
Regulations specifically excluded national flags, meaning Mr Smithson had no need to worry.

Phil Barrett, director of development and regeneration, said: ‘We have decided the flag can stay. We will be writing to Mr Smithson and apologising for any upset.

‘Sunderland City Council is very supportive of the Armed Forces and proud of the people from Sunderland who serve in them.’

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