Monday, August 29, 2011

Police ‘help bailiffs to seize cars over unpaid parking fines’

The Times
August 27th 2011
Mark Atherton
Police ‘help bailiffs to seize cars over unpaid parking fines’

(Rock music fans at the Reading Festival yesterday. Police forces earned almost £8 million in the past year providing security for events such as
music festivals)

The police have been accused of acting beyond their authority by helping bailiffs to collect disputed parking fines.

An investigation by The Times has discovered that forces across the UK, including the Metropolitan and Kent Police, have been regularly assisting bailiffs to seize the cars of motorists with outstanding penalties, even though campaigners say they do not have the legal authority because parking enforcement in most parts of the UK is a civil, not criminal matter.

In one case, the police helped Newlyn, a bailiff company that has been accused of adding extra costs to debts, cutting corners and aggressively chasing people for money that they say they do not owe. The Times has obtained video evidence of how the police confiscated the car keys of one driver and handed them to Newlyn even though the bailiff provided documentation of disputed authenticity and the driver denied that he owed any money.

In 2009 a district judge branded a director of Newlyn a liar in a hearing about the renewal of a bailiff’s licence. The driver who had his car confiscated has since taken his case to the Police Complaints Authority.

The law states that the police should assist bailiffs only if there is likely to be a breach of the peace, but officers appear to be routinely going on joint operations to stop motorists.
Ron Clark, of, a website that champions the cause of motorists, said: “The permission to engage in such activity was removed by the Enforcement of Road Traffic Debts Order of 1993. Police should no more be assisting bailiffs to chase up parking contraventions than they should be assisting utility companies in securing payment of their energy bills.”

Barrie Segal, of, which helps people fight unfair parking penalties, said: “Shouldn’t the police be concentrating on chasing people who break the criminal law? I’m all for police stopping motorists where they suspect a crime has occurred. I just don’t think they should team up with bailiffs because it misleads the public into thinking that bailiffs have greater powers than they do.”
Legal experts consulted by The Times said the police could be acting beyond their authority.

District Judge Stephen Gerlis, of Barnet County Court, said: “I am not aware of any protocol or authority that provides for the police to be involved in the enforcement of civil debts, unless there is a suggestion that a criminal offence may be committed.”

The joint operations came to light after The Times obtained a transcript of a court hearing about a bailiff’s licence renewal. In this hearing, Leonard Brailey, an employee of Marston’s, a leading bailiff company, admitted that the police had for the past seven years been assisting his company with roadside stopping operations in Kent and other areas on the outskirts of London. In the past six months, he had taken part in six to ten operations, he said.
He explained that police would flag down oncoming cars for a roadside check. Then, after completing the check, they would say to the motorist: “Here is a bailiff. He is going to carry out checks as well.” Mr Brailey agreed that the impression given was that this was some lawful stopping to which the motorist had no right to object.

Kent Police confirmed it had conducted roadside police operations with bailiffs. The Metropolitan Police said it also carried out roadside stop operations with bailiffs “on rare occasions”. Both forces said they were satisfied that their operations were legal.

According to Mr Brailey, after being introduced by the police, the bailiff phones his office to check whether there are any outstanding warrants for unpaid fines relating to the vehicle. But Mr Clark said: “The bailiff’s van is equipped with Automatic Number Plate Recognition technology and a database of vehicles on which there are outstanding parking contraventions. These are the vehicles the police stop.”

Malcolm Hurlston, of Credit Action, the national financial education charity, said: “The proposals for regulating bailiffs are already months overdue. The whole area of bailiff activity is confusing and complicated and urgently needs regulation.”
The Ministry of Justice said: “The majority of bailiffs are responsible, but too many are not and this cannot continue. We will publish our consultation as soon as we have exhausted our exploration of all the issues.”
Newlyn refused to comment but has previously denied any wrongdoing and has said that its director’s incorrect statement in court was “merely an administrative error”.

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