Duke of Norfolk who organised Queen's funeral is banned from driving for using phone at wheel

  • Tap above to watch video report by Rags Martel

The peer who organised the Queen’s funeral has been banned from driving for six months for using his mobile phone behind the wheel.

The Earl Marshal, the Duke of Norfolk, 65, pleaded guilty to the offence at Lavender Hill Magistrates’ Court in south-west London on Monday.

Edward Fitzalan-Howard, the highest-ranking duke in England, claimed he would suffer "exceptional hardship" without his licence, because he needs his car to arrange the King’s upcoming coronation.

He also told the court of his conservation work to prevent “nature’s complete collapse” and “the end of mankind”.

The Duke of Norfolk (far right) watches the Prince of Wales sign the Proclamation of Accession of King Charles III, earlier this month Credit: PA

But a bench of magistrates said his circumstances didn't qualify as enough of a hardship to escape a ban.

Mr Fitzalan-Howard was stopped by police on Thursday 7 April after driving his BMW through a red light in Battersea, south-west London, said prosecutor Jonathan Bryan.

The peer, who is also responsible for organising the State Opening of Parliament, told officers he had “not been aware of going through the red light but accepted this was because he was using his mobile phone” to communicate with his wife.

The duke has already totted up nine penalty points on his driving licence from two previous speeding offences in 2019, the court heard.

A bench of magistrates, chaired by Judith Way endorsed his licence with six points and banned him from driving for six months.

“We accept that this a unique case because of the defendant’s role in society and in particular in relation to the King’s coronation,” said Ms Way.

“The hardship needs to be exceptional and although we find inconvenience may be caused, we don’t find it exceptional hardship.

“We consider alternative means of hardship are available.”

Mr Fitzalan-Howard was also fined £800 and ordered to pay another £400 in other costs.

Ms Way said that the duke had the means to employ drivers, although they would need security clearance, adding: “We do not accept employees on your estate are in danger of losing their jobs.”

Sensitivity surrounding the King's Coronation

The peer, who is the most senior lay member of the Roman Catholic Church in Britain and a crossbench peer in the House of Lords, was allowed to give evidence for more than 30 minutes in secret for reasons of “national security”.

Magistrates ruled the media and public should be excluded from court following an application from his lawyer Natasha Dardashti, who said details of the coronation, which had not yet been discussed with the King, Prime Minister Liz Truss or Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, should remain private until after the event.

“Very few people have been made aware of the date, the more sensitive the material the fewer people are yet to be involved in that,” Ms Way said.

The Duke of Norfolk pleaded guilty to using his mobile phone while driving at Lavender Hill Magistrates Court in south-west London Credit: PA

“In relation to the exceptional hardship argument, his Grace will need to provide some detail and information about the preparation of the coronation of His Royal Highness King Charles III.

“It would be unacceptable for these details to be made public or made known to risk the escape of that information of a very sensitive nature,” she added.

In open court, the duke told magistrates his office and the local railway station are four miles away from his Arundel Castle home, in West Sussex.

He said he employs some 150 people, needs to travel to his other estates in Norfolk and Yorkshire, and spends a lot of time on the South Downs, where he funds a conservation project to protect “near extinct” bird life.

Arundel Castle in Sussex Credit: PA

'Unpompous' Duke with an 'old BMW'

“The most pressing problem, what’s going to bring about the end of mankind, it is not global warming per se, it is nature’s complete collapse,” he said.

“I spend an enormous amount of my time, my spare hours, because it’s my passion, going onto the Downs, witnessing the revival of nature and managing the detail needed to bring this change in nature about.”

The duke also told the court he has borrowed some £45 million to buy back land from other side of his family to restore the dukedom in what he described as his “life’s work”.

He said the loss of his licence could be “very, very serious”, leading to the loss of jobs for up to 20 or 30 employees, such as tractor driver “Gary”, which he said, “would mortify me”.

The Oxford-educated father-of-five, who is a descendant of Elizabeth I and reported to be worth more than £100 million, said he drives an “old BMW” because he likes “being simple” and tries to be “unpompous”.

The 18th Duke of Norfolk, who inherited the position upon the death of his father in 2002, said: “Obviously, I have got the financial means to hire a driver.”

But he said, although he could be driven from 9am to 5pm or at 4am “to get out to see the curlew or lapwing”, “it is almost impossible to have enough drivers to carry out this task of getting me to the right place.”

Asked about his ceremonial duties, the duke said: “These last two weeks have been really full on, with not only the rehearsals in Windsor and London in the early hours, but that of course has been exceptional.

“I get into the office at 7 to 7.30am… It is very, very important I lead the team, react to the problems, take the right decisions and motivate.”

Two thousand people including world leaders and foreign royals gathered inside Westminster Abbey in London last Monday for the final farewell to the nation’s longest reigning monarch, in an event watched around the globe.

The duke, who previously described organising the funeral as “both humbling and daunting”, is now in charge of arranging the King’s coronation.

After the media were allowed to return to court, Ms Dardashti said: “He has given quite a bit of information about what is going to be involved in this coronation.

“He must be mobile to achieve what he needs to achieve in this regard.”

She continued: “His Grace needs to be able to organise what is a huge event.

“He needs to travel to all of the jurisdictions of the UK, to located venues, speak to people and encourage people to become involved in what is going to be another world spectacular.”

The lawyer added: “It is an extremely peculiar set of circumstances at a really crucial point in the history of this nation with the one man who was responsible for not only the funeral last week but the coronation of King Charles III.

“It is a huge undertaking and it is the responsibility of this one man at this time.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...