YORK council bosses must automatically refund all drivers caught and fined during the Lendal Bridge closure, according to renowned traffic laywer Nick Freeman.

The lawyer, known as "Mr Loophole" has spoken out following City of York council's announcement that it will reimburse anyone who applies for a refund, as a "gesture of goodwill". He said that by not automatically handing back the cash the council is illegally retaining money it has no right to.

He said: “They still don’t get it! City of York Council has to be proactive in this. It is unlawfully retaining money that does not belong to it and legally does not have a right to keep."

“There is only one course of action the council must now take - and that is to write and apologise to everyone it fined and enclose a cheque.

Mr Freeman, who has become famous through representing a number of celebrity clients who were accused of traffic offences, has dubbed the trial bridge closure "farcical". It saw 60,000 drivers caught and £1.3 million of cash generated for the council through fines.

The bridge closure trial was ended abruptly in April after heavy opposition from the public, and a Traffic Adjudicator ruled the closure had always been illegal.

The council initially challenged that ruling, and a similar one on the Coppergate bus lane, but on Friday announced it was dropping the challenge on Lendal Bridge and would offer the "goodwill" refunds to anyone who contacted them.

But the council's ruling Labour group has rejected Mr Freeman's calls and said it is time to "move on" three months after the trial's end. A spokesman added: "We do not accept the finding of the Traffic Penalty Tribunal as regards the lawful ability to regulate traffic in this way, and are therefore continuing to pursue a review of the Tribunal’s decision in relation to the permanent Coppergate Order. This is not a reversal of that position."

Opposition councillors have called on council leader James Alexander to resign over the issue.

Now Mr Freeman has raised questions about the costs of the whole debacle, and council's legal advice.

He added: “Very serious questions now need to be levelled at the council. The city’s tax payers have a right to know how much this fiasco has cost. Nothing less than a full investigation will suffice.

“Furthermore, the council justifies its position by maintaining it has received affirmative legal advice. Who has provided this advice? May we see it? Will it sue those lawyers involved? And if not why not?

The Labour spokesman said the "simple but sufficient" application process for refunds was in place to stop fraud and protect the public purse.

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