ANPR cameras and parking pirates

Penalty163By David Cooper, a practising solicitor.

In November 2009, a friend (S) received a “Private Parking Ticket” through the post from OPC Parking, an Elstree parking enforcement company, seeking to charge her £100 for a purported overstay in a Wolverhampton retail park’s free car park four months earlier. Not an uncommon event these days.

S was adamant that she had not overstayed and decided to face them down. We suggested OPC should not assume the registered keeper was the driver, and that they had no statutory powers to demand that information. No joy. We warned them about demanding purported civil debts via distress and humiliation, and that their “charge” was an unenforceable penalty, not a genuine pre-estimate of loss. (One well known motoring correspondent, Honest John of the Telegraph, recommends sending cheques for £5 or £10 in full and final settlement in cases like this.)

Four months passed. A set of County Court papers arrived, seeking £50 plus interest and a £25 court fee. We filed a Defence, adding a nominal counterclaim for distress arising from harassment and invasion of privacy. The action was transferred to S’ local court in Wolverhampton. The court mediation service reported OPC’s position – S ought to give in “because they have CCTV footage and photos”. I disagreed and proposed that the claim and counterclaim were both dropped. The mediation failed and the case was listed for a small claims trial.

OPC then failed to pay the hearing fee, perhaps finally accepting they’d lose, and the case was struck out and dismissed without attendance. It still left S wondering how they could ever have thought she overstayed in the first place.

Light was unexpectedly thrown in early 2011, when Trading Standards prosecuted OPC for offences committed at that site. Over and above the main point – the wrongful issue of charge notices for drivers who had left within the free time limit and returned later on the same day, explaining how S was wrongfully threatened – there were related charges covering misleading signs, late request of DVLA details and use of a fake debt recovery firm. OPC and its director Douglas Harris, were convicted on 3 March 2011 and together fined £29,850 plus costs of £7,585 on 31 March.

The Big Brother Watch factor here?

Well, over and above the browbeating use of letters that give the impression that errant parkers have incurred a fine, to be collected via a legal department with further charges unless paid within 14 days, it is no less astonishing to note that the free car park was monitored not by the traditional man in a hut, nor by a patrolling warden, but by a battery of CCTV ANPR cameras. So with the presumed consent of the retailers, all of the car park users’ details were logged on this system. Over and above the scope that this provided for accessing the DVLA’s database purely on a say so, it would leave a justifiable suspicion that any bulk collection of data in this manner might be open to abuse, if its collector was anything other than scrupulously honest.

Tightening up on the DVLA’s apparent cavalier attitude to data requests, in the face of abuses such as those that led to this prosecution, is long overdue. But perhaps it is also high time to crack down on the widespread use of misleading correspondence by parking enforcement companies looking to bully motorists into paying exorbitant charges for trivial civil law misdemeanours that will usually involve no material loss or damage. Especially when there is no need for new law, only effective application of existing law. And indeed to ask out loud whether monitoring free car parks with ANPR cameras is either proportionate or desirable.

Posted by on Apr 11, 2011 in Home | 8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Tom
    11th April 2011

    PRIVATE PARKING TICKETS – DON’T PAY!
    IT IS NOT A FINE! YOU HAVE DONE NOTHING ILLEGAL!
    This is an information page for the thousands of people who receive “tickets” from private companies in the UK ever day at supermarkets, retail parks, and in any other privately-owned carpark.
    We are NOT encouraging anybody to openly flout parking restrictions on private land, or to refuse to pay reasonable charges for parking. Landowners have a right to make reasonable charges for the use of their land.
    For advice specific to your case, you should visit the forums at http://forums.pepipoo.com or http://www.consumeractiongroup.co.uk/forum/parking-traffic-offences.
    http://forums.moneysavingexpert.com/forumdisplay.php?f=163
    1. What you should know about these companies
    It is important to remember that private parking companies (or PPCs as they are often called) have NO OFFICIAL POWERS – that’s right, none at all! They give out their “tickets” on the basis that you have seen the signs in their car park and that you have therefore agreed to a contract obliging you to pay a certain sum of money.
    2. What happens to people who don’t pay?
    In 99.9% of cases, absolutely NOTHING! The company pays the DVLA £2.50 to get your address, and then sends lots of threatening letters. In the main, these letters can be safely IGNORED. The only way the company can actually force you to pay is by taking you to the small claims court, which costs them even more money. And they are by no means guaranteed to win! And they practically never do.
    The two main reasons for this (among others) are the following:
    – Only the person DRIVING the car could ever have agreed to any such parking contract. The company can only get the Registered Keeper’s address from the DVLA: you don’t have to tell them who was driving.
    -Many of these charges are so extortionately high that they constitute a penalty, which is unenforceable in a consumer contract.
    3. Can they affect my credit rating?
    NO! The only way your credit rating could be affected by ignoring private parking companies is if you were taken to court, lost, and then still refused to pay. But they will not take you to court.
    IN SHORT
    The vast majority of the time, you can safely IGNORE tickets from private parking companies, they are not official fines.
    The vast majority of the time, you can safely IGNORE the threatening letters, including those from debt collection agencies.
    You DO NOT have to pay a penny of your hard-earned money to these companies. Remember that the chances of being taken to court are very slim indeed.
    DO NOT IGNORE COURT PAPERS!
    If you receive real court papers from a private parking company (very rare) then you should go to http://forums.pepipoo.com or http://www.consumeractiongroup.co.uk/forum/parking-traffic-offences for help defending the claim. Do not be afraid to sign up and ask questions regarding any paperwork you are not sure about.
    Don’t believe the above? Watch a solicitor on Watchdog advising you what to do with the scam invoices.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAIcdi9niHA
    THEY ARE NOT FINES
    Only the Police, Courts or Council’s can fine you. NOT a private company, please remember that.

    Reply
  2. John Galt
    11th April 2011

    One of the great advantages of being a Manx resident is that when I do periodically venture ‘across the water’ (as we Manies say) to the UK, I don’t have to put up with all of this ANPR bullshit.
    Sure, they could try and persue me through the Manx courts, but I doubt very much if a Deemster (Manx judge) would have much truck with that.

    Reply
  3. David Cooper
    11th April 2011

    Thanks to BBW for publishing this article. For anyone interested, here are the links to the reports of the conviction and fine in the Wolverhampton Express & Star.

    Reply
  4. Deborah
    12th April 2011

    Questions that are relevant:
    Who do the ANPR cameras belong to?
    Who funds them?
    How are these funded (how much is this costing)?
    Are these cameras funded by public authorities?
    Is there any agreement between the owners of the cameras and the public authorities?
    Who is benefiting from such an agreement?
    Is this legitimate use of the ANPR cameras?
    Are private individuals benefiting from publically funded apparatus?
    Are members of public bodies financially benefitting from the use of ANPR cameras?
    If so, can the contracts be made public?
    There are questions of liberty and of public governance here. In my opinion

    Reply
  5. Purlieu
    12th April 2011

    Also
    Is the ANPR data being passed to / sold to any other body ?

    Reply
  6. Tom
    14th April 2011

    Deborah. The ANPR cameras in private car parks are funded by the private parking company purely to scam the public.
    They make millions per year from unknowledgable people who believe all the threatening letters they send out. The letters they send out are verging on illegalities and fraud. Have a look at the MSE thread and you will see a link to all the different PPC’s letters.
    It is a nationwide scam which needs outlawing. When you research them, you will not believe what they get away with.
    I have printed thousands of the top link off and leave them on cars when i park in places like supermarket car parks. The word is eventually getting out there as the PPC’s are now getting desperate.
    Shortly they will not be allowed to send out their blustering guff from the ANPR cameras.

    Reply
  7. Mercedes53vs
    18th March 2012

    Are disabled driver’s entitled to park for more than 2 hours, as normally applies to other car parks in the borough of Wolverhampton..  i.e.  if  you are in the disabled bay, displaying the blue badge on the windscreen…..      Jo…

    Reply

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