Tredegar mum slapped with a fine for 'offensive' number plate she bought to 'make people smile'
A mum from Tredegar in Blaenau Gwent has been fined and ordered to pay £344 after a police officer spotted her driving the white Volkswagen Scirocco with the number plate "SL11 THO".
The 47-year-old said she purchased the plate because she wanted to make people smile and believes "95% of the population" would not be offended by the joke and says the reaction from other drivers has been "amazing".
Toni Brand, who has twin sons aged 13 and a 16-year-old daughter, said she realised life is short when her son Ricky died by suicide at the age of 21.
She said: "Through his death I have learned to live and I have learned to smile and giggle."It's taught my family so much — to be strong, to live life, to smile and say hello to people, to spread cheer. And that's why I bought the plate. It brought me joy every time I walked out the the front door. Life is short and I'm not going to die unhappy."
The inspiration came after Toni saw a wedding car with a plate featuring the word "TART". She said: "I went on the DVLA website and was messing about, typing in loads of different things. When I saw the SLUT HO one, it was one of those things I had to have."
Toni says she spent around £487 on the SL11 THO plates on top of an £80 fee to register them. She said a garage charged her around £20 to fix an extra screw in the middle of the "11" on both plates, to give the appearance of a "U". Toni recalls the workers having a "giggle" when she made the request.
"I've had it since around last Christmas," she said. "Everyone has been smiling and beeping at me. My kids wave out the window. I'll be driving along and people will go, 'I love your number plate.' One woman said her daughter can't wait to see it on the school run each day."
Toni was driving along Nantgarw Hill on March 28 when a police officer stopped her.
"It is quite a scary thing," she said. "He asked if I knew why he pulled me over and I was like, 'I have no idea.' The plate was normal to me at that point. I'm at the side of the road panicking because I've never been in trouble before. I pay my bills and do as I'm told."He gave me a screwdriver and made me undo the screws at the front and back, which was hard to do. It was grown men who put the screws in, not me. I was struggling and crying. I said to the officer, 'Can you help me?' And he was like 'no'."I'm on my bum, my feet are under the car, I'm staring at his big black boots next to me. I'm crying my eyes out. He waited there for 40 minutes for me to finish."
Soon afterwards Toni moved home. Although she says she immediately notified the DVLA and her car insurance company, she claims a letter from Cardiff Magistrates' Court was sent to her old address. On July 25 she was found guilty of breaching vehicle regulations with the message, which the police officer described in his report as "offensive". Toni was sentenced to a £220 fine, £34 victim services surcharge and £90 in prosecution costs — but she says she only found this out through media coverage.
The Sun covered the case with the headline: "'Slut' driver fined." Toni said she "freaked out" when she saw the "awful" headline, adding: "I'm no slut. I am a hardworking mum. As much as I drive round with a number plate like that, I'm a very private person. I was very embarrassed, not about what I'd done, but because everyone knew before me. I'm not going to lie, I shed a few tears.
"But then I thought no, if people have got something bad to say they can get a life. My children were pretty proud actually. They were like, 'Mum, you're in the paper.' If it was bad publicity it would have knocked them but it's the fact I've made light of it and set out to be happy over it."Toni, who ran a nail salon before the Covid pandemic led to its closure, complained to the court that she had not known about the hearing. She understands a new hearing is set to be scheduled by November. "I am going to hold my hands up and say I did buy the plate, but I want to have my voice heard. I have a right to go to court and that right was taken from me."
Do people still remark on her plate following the removal of the screws? "Of course they do," she replied. "Especially now the Sun have shared it. The only ones offended by it were the police."Since Ricky's death, Toni has done a series of charity walks on routes such as Pen y Fan to raise money for men's mental health causes. "Men don't talk," she said. "I want to spread the message that it's OK to feel like c**p but people are here for you. When you're down, come to us and we'll be there for you."