- Steve Kingston, 62, runs a river ferry company in King's Lynn, Norfolk
- Moored his boat in the heavy storms this winter - and told the council
- They officials then ordered him to leave his ship in the bad weather
- But he refused - so police officers pepper-sprayed and cuffed him
When a severe storm threatened his boat on a dark winter’s night, Steve Kingston refused to abandon ship.
Although council officials told him to get to safety, the captain feared his passenger ferry could be a danger to the public if she broke her moorings in the massive tidal surge while unattended.
But the council saw things differently – and when Mr Kingston, 62, would not take their advice and leave the boat, they responded by calling the police, who pepper-sprayed the grandfather of three and handcuffed him before throwing him in a cell.
Captain at the helm: Steve Kingston, 62, was pepper-sprayed and handcuffed by police when he refused to leave his boat
He is now demanding an apology after a charge of resisting arrest was dropped when a judge said police did not have ‘the power to force him off his boat’ and CCTV evidence showed he had not put up a fight.
Mr Kingston did not want to comment yesterday because his official complaint is being reviewed by Norfolk Police. But his wife Gail, 53, said: ‘We’ve got a complaint in but it is not about money or anything like that. My husband just wants an apology.’
After the court case was dropped, Mr Kingston said: ‘I am still bewildered about how the whole situation came about. What should have been a simple passing of high water with my presence, just in case it was needed to attend to any problem that could have arisen, instead turned into an unnecessarily traumatic night.
‘The whole thing was instigated by people who don’t understand the river or marine situations.
‘All other boats... at affected marinas up and down the country would have had crew standing watch on them that night. You can’t separate a boat from its owner. A boat without a person is a liability.’
Mr Kingston has been operating West Lynn Ferry on the River Great Ouse since 2000. His boat carries up to 15 passengers between the historic centre of King’s Lynn and West Lynn, a route that has been in operation since 1285.
Ancient crossing: A ferry route over the River Great Ouse, pictured, has been operating since 1285
He has also assisted with rescue operations on the river in the past at the request of emergency services.
On the night of December 5 last year, a high tide combined with the worst storms Britain had seen in 60 years led to flooding at South Quay and Purfleet Quay in King’s Lynn and caused severe damage to eastern coastlines.
Lifelong sailor Mr Kingston informed the council he planned to moor his ferry, which had no passengers on board, on the pontoon at South Quay.
An official said he could use the pontoon but ordered him to leave the boat. When he refused, police arrived, incapacitating him with pepper spray before manhandling him off the boat. He was taken to a police station and put in a cell to await an interview.
Afterwards, he made several appearances at West Norfolk Magistrates’ Court and a date had been set for his trial. Throughout the process he was refused legal aid, leaving him out of pocket.
It was only in April, four months after his ordeal began, that district judge Peter Veits said: ‘I don’t think the police had the power to force him off his boat. They could have said, “If you want to stay, fine, but we are not responsible for your safety” and walked away.’
The Crown Prosecution Service dropped the case, saying there was ‘no longer a realistic prospect of conviction’.
Mr Kingston, who lives in West Lynn, added at the time: ‘I was not aggressive or abusive to the three police officers and was within my legal rights to remain on my boat.’
A CPS spokesman said the case was dropped after CCTV footage of the incident was reviewed.
Norfolk Police said: ‘We have received a complaint from Mr Kingston and an investigation is ongoing.’