Clampers blasted for 'underhand' tactics

Private clamping firms were today blasted by angry motorists who called their parking enforcement tactics “underhanded”.

IPSWICH: Private clamping firms were today blasted by angry motorists who called their parking enforcement tactics “underhanded”.

Another two drivers have been added to a growing list of those stunned by charges incurred for outstaying their welcome on private land in Ipswich.

Oliver Horsman was hit with a whopping �511.75 bill for not returning to his car in time, while Keith Thorby was forced to shell out �120 for a three-minute stay in a side street.

The clampers have defended the hefty fees, claiming they are proportionate to the cost of running their businesses.

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However, the AA has called their approach “gross, immoral and beyond the boundaries of reason”.

Mr Horsman, of Norwich Road, Claydon, intended to return to his car after parking overnight on private land owned by an acquaintance, but a tooth abscess prevented him from driving. When he did make it back to his car the next day it had been towed away by Ipswich-based clampers Proserve.

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“My dentist told my not to drive for 36 hours, so I wasn't able to go back and move my car. When I did go to pick it up, it wasn't there.” said the 29-year-old.

Mr Horsman contacted Proserve and was told he owed them �511.75 for releasing the clamp, towing the car away and storing it overnight.

He said: “I offered them a more reasonable �320 but they wouldn't accept it and I had to pay the full amount.”

Mr Thorby, 55, of King's Way, Ipswich, parked his Jeep Cherokee outside the Tesco Express store in Duke Street but ended up paying dearly for his short stay.

“I was on my way into town and needed change for the car parks so went to the Express store to buy something small,” he said.

“I was trying to park legally but there were only a limited amount of spaces available. I thought it wouldn't hurt to just nip round the corner into Tye Road and park for a couple of minutes.

“I wasn't hindering anyone there but when I left the store, after no more than a few minutes, I saw my car had been clamped. I went berserk.

“My jaw dropped when I was told it would be �120 to have it removed and if I didn't pay, it would cost me another �195 for it to be towed away.

Mr Thorby threw the money on to the bonnet of the unmarked grey Ford Fiesta driven by the parking enforcers.

“My objection isn't with being penalised, it's with the amount I was fined,” he said. “I wouldn't have complained if it was �30.

“I've got a funny feeling they were waiting there and watching for me to leave my car. They are not displaying their intent by travelling in an unmarked car. To me, it's underhanded.”

Your rights: Citizens Advice Bureau guidelines for motorists

- Wheel-clampers used by private landowners must have a licence from the Security Industry Authority (SIA) and should wear it where you can see it at all times when they are working.

- When you pay to have your vehicle released, the wheel-clamper must provide a receipt which includes the place where the vehicle was clamped, their name and signature, their 15 digit SIA licence number and the date.

- There must be notices up where you can clearly see them, warning that unauthorised vehicles will be clamped.

Currently, bailiffs can obtain a license to clamp by completing a short training course and being subject to a background check. But having a criminal record does not exclude an applicant from gaining a permit.

A spokeswoman for licensing body the Securities Industry Authority said: “A criminal record is not a complete bar.

“It depends on what the offence was, when it took place and the sentence given.

“Our remit for regulating license holders is set out by legislation through parliament. We have no basis in law to change it.

“If we receive a report from police that someone is unsuitable, we can suspend their license and go on to revoke it indefinitely.

“A license can also be suspended for things like not properly displaying a permit, but there is no regulation to say clampers have to operate in marked vehicles.”

Last month, London hosted the first ever parking summit to look at the rights of motorists and how they are treated by parking companies and local authorities.

The president of the AA, Edmund King, told transport minister Lord Adonis that there should be tougher controls in place for regulating fines on private land.

Under a suggested new system, wheel-clampers would be obliged to register with an approved trade association - to which neither Proserve nor Aspire belong - and agree to its code of practice before being awarded a licence to clamp and tow away vehicles.

Paula McNulty, spokeswoman for approved trade association the British Parking Association (BPA), said: “We have a voluntary approved operator scheme which firms can sign up to and operate within a code of practice.

“They don't have to be BPA members to operate but do need to be licensed by the Securities Industry Authority.

“One of the things addressed at last month's parking summit was the compulsory government licensing of businesses which would then be required to abide by the BPA code of practice.”

Paul Watters, head of public affairs at the AA, said the methods employed by some private clampers were “gross, immoral and beyond the boundaries of reason”.

“The public shouldn't ignore signage but our policy is that the penalty for doing so shouldn't be any worse that that issued by the council,” he said.

“This is highly dubious and quite shocking.

“Private car parking enforcement is completely out of control and the public don't seem to have any rights of appeal. All these firms need to do to operate is to pass a criminal record check and complete a short course.”

What the clampers say:

Steve Duff of Proserve, which operates on behalf of 76 private land owners in the region including Felixstowe port and several industrial estates in the Ipswich area, said: “Each individual case differs with regard to fees. We can deal with anything from a small van to a 40ft truck.

“The fees are big purely because our clients don't want people to park on their land. Our sites are very well signed. If motorists fall foul of those signs they will be immobilised.

“The people we work for are very happy with what we do and our work is not necessarily limited to just clamping. We maintain and patrol the areas we manage at our own cost. The fines are proportionate to the cost of running our business.

“Obviously this is a very controversial subject but there is nothing cloak and dagger about the nature of our business.”

He said Proserve had offered free parking at one of its sites to East Anglia's Children's Hospices (EACH) volunteers taking part in the upcoming Art Show at Ipswich's Corn Exchange this month, following the closure of Crown Street car park.

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