On 15 Sep 2009 at 10:57am sashimi wrote:
Here's what Norman wrote, in case anyone wants to read and comment on it.
Every Sunday morning I see evidence of the cowboy clampers in my own East Sussex constituency. For years, people have enjoyed the car boot sale behind the supermarket in the middle of Lewes. And for years, they have parked free in neatly-marked bays on what looks like a public highway. But this is, in fact, private land --and now the clampers have arrived. Motorists are lured into these convenient bays only to find themselves clamped by the private firm that makes a point of being there before 8am to capture its innocent prey.
The truth is that the majority of car clamping has nothing to do with preventing traffic obstructions As a result, people coming along to look for a bargain end up having to pay a fine of hundreds of pounds if they want their car back. What possible justification can there be for enforcing parking controls at such a time on a Sunday morning? And when the State's penalty for illegally parking on a double-yellow line is just £30, how can a grasping private company warrant imposing a penalty up to 15 times greater when no obstruction or harm is being caused?
The truth is that the majority of car clamping has nothing to do with preventing traffic obstructions - after all, if a car is genuinely in the way, why on Earth would you immobilise it? No, car clamping is now just an end in itself, an easy way to rake in cash from motorists who have to pay whatever outrageous sum is demanded of them. I examined the material produced by the car clamping companies themselves.
Typical is Enforcement UK, which writes to potential customers: 'Credit crunch-busting incentives now being offered. Instead of paying a contractor to provide you with car park management, WE DO IT FOR FREE AND PAY YOU FOR IT.' On the face of it, such offers are attractive to landowners. But how do the companies do it? By clamping as many cars as possible and charging us all a fortune to release them, of course. Stories of absurd and indiscriminate clamping are commonplace.
At the Broadwater Medical Centre in Worthing, for example, a delivery driver dropping off medication found his van clamped during the two minutes he was inside the building. In Walsall, Lydia Dykes, a student nurse, paid 1 for an 'all-day' ticket to park on private land, only to return after her hospital shift to find her vehicle clamped. She had to pay 390 in cash to get it back. Because in a novel redefinition of the word 'day', the clamping company said: 'All day is 12 hours. If it was any longer, it would say day and night.' I know of a case in Bath where someone was clamped within 60 seconds when he parked on private land next to the Comet store he was visiting. When he protested, he was charged a further 100 for 'swearing in disbelief'. He asked for the company address and contact details to dispute the charge but was given only a mobile phone number, which turned out to have been disconnected. The victim of this outrage called the police, but they said they could do nothing and advised him to pay up and dispute it with the company later --even though it was uncontactable.
But if the police are powerless, just who is supposed to be regulating these cowboy clampers? The answer, it turns out, is a useless body called the Security Industry Authority, which in this case told the motorist that 'neither the speed of the clamping nor the fee charged are areas that fall within the remit of the SIA'. The unacceptable fact is that these cowboy clampers are able to act in a lawless way - and get away with it. The police are unwilling to act, the regulatory body is utterly toothless, and the Government wrings its hands and mouths platitudes.
In Scotland, the courts concluded that the practice amounted to ' extortion'. And the sky has not fallen in. So why won't the Government do the same south of the border? The cowboy clampers must be run out of town. I hope some brave motorist will challenge the legality of their activities in court, although, of course, this would not be necessary if the Government would just grasp the nettle and ban it completely. For now, however, Labour seems to be siding with the cowboys.
At least we can take some comfort from the actions of police in Birmingham, who in July arrested four men from a car clamping company on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud - and towed away their vehicle. For those caught out by this vile scam, that must have been a truly delicious sight.