Exploding meters, parking vigilantes and a suspicious silence in a sleepy Sussex town

The respectable looking lady at the tea shop in the Sussex market town of Lewes was an unlikely advocate of urban terrorism. "Everyone I know is secretly pleased about the attacks. No one would mind if every last one was blown to pieces," she confided in a hushed tone.

"If I knew who was carrying out the explosions I wouldn't tell the police. Good luck to them, I say," she added.

So what is the object of such passion and hatred in a town usually associated with literature, music, antiques, and good taste? It is the parking meter.

Since new parking restrictions were introduced - some say imposed - in Lewes in September 2004, there has been a remarkable backlash in which a group of vigilantes and vandals have been blowing up the newly installed meters.

So far there have been more than 200 attacks in which 35 of the town's 96 meters have been written off, while repairs have been needed on a further 170 machines at a total cost of £300,000. The covert bombers have used a variety of devices ranging from simple bangers and powerful crow scarers, to a mix of firework explosives that have scrambled the innards of the meters.

In the latest incident, which happened in the past month, two machines were blown up.

In response to the attacks the local county and district councils are offering a joint £5,000 reward to catch the culprits, and this week launched a publicity campaign called "exploding parking meters - a threat to your safety".

Sussex Police are also using undercover street patrols as part of their investigation, known as Operation Magee, amid fears that someone will be maimed by shrapnel from a blast.

For many outsiders these bombings will seem completely out of character for such a sophisticated town. Facing the rolling South Downs from the banks of the river Ouse, Lewes has long prided itself on its proximity to the Glyndebourne opera festival; Charleston Farmhouse, focal point for the Bloomsbury Group; and Monk's House, home of Leonard and Virginia Woolf.

But Lewes is not all high art, it also has a long history of radical protests and dissent. One of the town's most famous former residents is Thomas Paine, the champion of the oppressed. Paine is said to have drawn on the town's dissenting tradition when it came to formulating his own ideas, leaving Lewes in 1774 and going on to write his famous Rights of Man.

The town also continues to ignore religious sensibilities by annually burning an effigy of the Pope on bonfire night, in remembrance of the 17 Protestant martyrs burnt at the stake from 1555 to 1557. This fascination with fireworks is thought to be linked to the current meter bombings.

Many of the businesses in the town blame the introduction of the meters for driving away customers. Merlin Milner, the mayor of Lewes, believes the new pay-and-display machines, backed by over-zealous private traffic wardens, are unnecessary.

"Lewes is a small market town of 16,500 people, it's not meant to be a police state. These parking measures are a sledge hammer to crack a small nut," he said.

He was quick, however, to condemn the meter bombings. "It is a form of terrorism - there are better, more democratic ways of making your point," he said.

David Quinn, the president of Lewes' Chamber of Commerce, added: "Everyone I have spoken to about the exploding meters immediately thinks it's funny because they don't like the parking scheme, but they also realise there is a potential danger." He added: "There's an old saying: that people in Lewes will not be druv - not pushed or told what to do."

In response to criticism of the parking scheme East Sussex County Council has changed the traffic wardens' red uniforms, partly because it was considered to be an aggressive colour that had earned them the nickname the "red devils". Their new outfit is blue. And the new term of abuse for them? The "blue meanies".

But this form of vigilantism is not unique. In August last year Craig Moore blew up a speed camera in an attempt to escape a fine. Mr Moore, 28, returned to the roadside machine in the Manchester area and used explosive material, once used to make bombs and now common in the welding industry, to destroy the device. But he did not realise that his actions were being recorded by the camera itself.

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
booksJK Rowling to publish new story set in wizard's world for Halloween
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites those Star Wars rumours
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

News
i100
Life and Style
tech

Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into conflicts
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker