Car Wars: 'Traffic wardens from Hell' make life a misery for city's motorists: London drivers are angry at parking fines that they see as unfair and the often arbitrary enforcement of restrictions. Oliver Gillie reports

EACH DAY the battle for a parking space in London gets more difficult. Forced to park wherever it is possible, and sometimes in places where it is illegal, motorists are indignant when they believe they have been penalised unfairly. Someone must be blamed, and so bitter parkers mutter about 'the wardens from Hell'.

Jeremy Parr parked his Lancia Delta at a headless meter near Highbury Fields in north London one morning earlier this year. He returned after work to find that the meter head had been replaced and, along with a number of others, he had been given a ticket by the local authority warden.

'I had parked in the same place for weeks without problems and then, suddenly, with no warning I was penalised with a pounds 20 ticket,' Mr Parr, 30, a solicitor, said.

'I was very angry about it because I have paid for a residents' parking permit and I was doing no harm parking there.'

A second experience shortly afterwards convinced Mr Parr that he was dealing with 'traffic wardens from Hell'.

In July a friend, visiting from France, parked his black Peugeot 309 GTi on Highbury Crescent, in north London, in a place where the yellow lines had been blocked out by road repairs.

One morning, as he was going to work, Mr Parr watched in horror as workmen bumped his friend's Peugeot down the road on to a yellow line and painted in the missing section of yellow line where his car had been. A police traffic warden stood by while this was going on and, when the operation was completed, placed a pounds 30 ticket on the windscreen of the Peugeot.

'I challenged the warden. She pointed to the other side of the street and said there was a yellow line there. She argued that there was deemed to be a yellow line on the nearside as well since there was no marked parking bay,' Mr Parr said.

The strange circumstances in which parking restrictions were applied in these cases are by no means unique.

One woman, a finance administrator, was clamped when she parked her Peugeot 205 on church ground near Edgware Road, London. She took 36 photographs of the clamped car showing that it did not overlap the pavement and after long correspondence the authorities accepted her case and refunded her money.

Richard Dunn, 28, a corporate finance executive, has twice been towed away from the Sloane Square area of London, for dubious reasons.

He said: 'Parking offences seem to be unique among crimes in that you can commit the offence without even knowing that you have done it.'

Even when a person has committed an offence they experience an overwhelming feeling of injustice, because there seems may seem to be no good reason why their car was chosen and the penalty - pounds 125 in the case of a towaway - seems out of all proportion to the offence.

Contractors are paid a fixed sum for each vehicle they remove and so their profits depend upon keeping the numbers up. However, Chief Superintendent Kevin Delaney, the Metropolitan Police officer with responsibility for parking, denies that there is any pressure on officers to produce a certain number of removals or clampings per day.

'We are not operating under profit restraints or on a quota basis. If we were to make a profit we would be embarrassed,' he said.

'We're out to enforce laws. The officers are looking for more flagrant instances of illegally parked vehicles. We could legitimately clamp or tow five times as many as we are doing now - and it won't be many years before that is happening.'