Sean O'Grady: Who will rid us of these greedy highway hyenas?

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Indy Lifestyle Online

You might have thought that those cowboy clampers had gone away. Well, you're wrong. They're still with us, only now they've been issued with a licence to extort. I discovered this at my cost.

I should have known better, but I parked my car on a little bit of private land while I popped into the bank. I was gone for about five minutes, but it was sufficient time for the clamper to turn up. I was held to ransom - or £125, to be exact. I appealed to the clamper in person, to no avail. I was met with a mantra: "private land, private land, private land, private land", as if he'd been taught it at some clamping finishing school. He dared me to call the police, which I did, to no avail. I called the company concerned, Controlled Parking Services, and they were predictably unsympathetic. I paid up and then appealed. After a week, I've yet to hear back.

Apparently, these modern-day pirates on private land are regulated by something called the Security Industry Authority, but again, this body, which might expect to want to "clamp down" on unreasonable, disproportionate and excessive charging, could provide neither help nor sympathy.

A Robert Buxton told me that neither he nor his authority had a view on what had befallen me and that he had "no control over that" and " no comment on that". Thanks, Robert, for being so helpful and forthcoming.

Interestingly, when the law was changed and this body was set up a couple of years ago, its chairman, Peter Hermitage said:

"The licensing of vehicle immobilisers provides the opportunity to set standards and drive out bad practice."

Yeah, right.

Ought I to be looking for sympathy? I think so. If the aim is to deter people from parking on private land, then these agents can issue tickets that can be pursued in the courts. Clamping cars immediately does no one any good, except for the greedy clamping firms, lying in wait like the hyenas of the highways they are. It seems all too obvious to me that this sort of action is purely motivated by greed.

Catch as many unsuspecting motorists as possible and you just about cover your overheads, the cost of employing a goon and an old van or two. It is not, I suspect, much to do with controlling traffic flow and access.

What's wrong with making some cash out of a few dumb motorists? Well, nothing, I suppose, but I can't help thinking that this is not what Parliament intended when it changed the law to outlaw "cowboy clampers". I think our legislators envisaged a penalty of £125 to be issued as a maximum amount in last resort, rather than used as a way to milk drivers. At any rate, you would be well advised to keep well away from any pieces of private land, or what appears to be private land.

What I would love to do is take the clamping company to court and claim that its charge was disproportionate and amounting to extortion and, crucially, far removed from what Parliament intended in the first place. Courtrooms are normally the forum to settle that kind of thing, so it seems. Courts are always saying that they knew what Parliament wanted, even when Parliament does not seem to know what it wanted when it made the law.

Of course, sadly, I lack the funds to launch a serious legal assault: however, if there are any clever, public-spirited and sympathetic lawyers out there willing to help me in this cause, I would be grateful. We need one of those test-case rulings to put these clamping companies in their place.

We need to go all the way with this one, the House of Lords, Europe, wherever the fight for justice takes us. After all, you lawyers could be next for a (legal) cowboy clamp....

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