A PUB landlord jailed for not paying fines imposed for defying the smoking ban was free last night — after a briefcase of cash was handed over by “Guy Fawkes”.
The anonymous benefactor, wearing a mask and wig, marched into Forest Bank prison with the money and emerged less than two hours later, having secured the freedom of Nick Hogan, above, the first person in the country to be jailed in relation to the smoking ban.
Mr Hogan, the former landlord of The Swan and Barristers in Bradshawgate, was jailed for six months after failing to pay more than £10,000 in fines and costs.
The penalty was imposed by Bolton magistrates after he was found guilty of breaching the smoking ban in January, 2008, for allowing customers to smoke in his pub.
Freedom of choice campaigners were so outraged by Mr Hogan’s fate that they decided to raise the money to pay his fines — which they managed in five days with the help of the internet.
He had served only 12 days of his sentence when his release was secured.
The man with the money is an anonymous political blogger, known only as Old Holborn, who has a particular interest in humanitarian and libertarian issues.
He drove more than 200 miles from London to pay the cash directly to the custody officers at Forest Bank prison.
Prison visitors and freed inmates gasped and looked on in amazement as the costumed crusader opened his silver briefcase to reveal a neatly bundled pile of used banknotes.
Mr Hogan owed £8,445.15 after his fine was reduced by £103 for every day he spent in prison.
The 43-year-old, of Hollinshead Street, Chorley, hugged his wife, Denise, as he emerged from jail, saying he had no regrets.
“Absolutely, no. I’ve had hundreds of letters of support. The civil liberties in this country have been eroded so much by this government.
“I don’t regret anything. I didn’t fancy a two-week holiday at her majesty’s pleasure, but I still believe I’ve done the right thing.”
He thanked the people who raised the cash to release him and said he would celebrate with a cigarette and a bottle of beer.
He said: “I am gasping for a fag. Ironically, the first thing the prison gave me was a roll of baccy, a box of matches and some papers.
“I’ve smoked more here than I ever did outside.”
Mr Hogan’s experience in prison was not as terrifying as he expected, and he even thanked his new friends in B2 wing as he was released.
He said: “The staff and the people I have been in prison with have been fantastic.”
Guy Fawkes imitator Old Holborn became involved in Mr Hogan’s case after a fellow anonymous blogger, France-based Anna Raccoon, started a campaign to raise the money following reports of his plight in the media.
The campaign gained weight with a Facebook group set up by Freedom to Choose, publicity from another political blogger, Guido Fawkes, and the support of pro-choice lobby group Forest.
Old Holborn, whose costume is inspired by the movie and comic book V For Vendetta, about an idealist vigilante, said: “I am here to free a man imprisoned under an unjust law.
“His inability to pay due to being bankrupt has resulted in his incarceration.”
He went on to quote English political theorist Algernon Sydney: “That which is not just is not law, and that which is not law should not be obeyed.”
Simon Clark, from Forest, said the circumstances of Mr Hogan’s release were “Dickensian”.
He said: “I was absolutely amazed when they said we have to turn up with the cash. It does seem strange that in 21st century Britain we have had to travel 200 miles with a suitcase full of cash to get publican out of jail.”
A Court Service spokesman said the money had to be provided to the prison to secure Mr Hogan’s release, but stressed those circumstances were particular to the terms of his imprisonment.