The curious case of the exploding parking meters

Council offers reward for finding the culprit behind a bizarre bombing campaign
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The Independent Online

There is little love lost anywhere in the world between drivers and parking meters. But nowhere has this relationship become more explosively dysfunctional than in Lewes, the independently minded market town nestling picturesquely in the Sussex Downs.

Yesterday a reward of £1,250 was put up for information which could lead to the arrest of whoever is responsible for the latest in a series of blasts targeted against what locals call the "blue meanies". Concerns are mounting over the safety of the public following the stepping-up a long-running campaign against parking charges.

Since September, 14 machines have been destroyed in 15 attacks thought to involve the placing of an industrial firework in the change tray of the privately-run meters which stand sentinel over the town's ruthlessly monitored stopping spaces. More than 200 meters have been destroyed since the introduction of the machines in 2004 in a bombing campaign which has cost the local council more than £300,000.

Police said the attacks have become an annual feature of Lewes life. No money is stolen and the authorities are convinced the attacks are "politically motivated" with the former mayor describing it as a "form of terrorism". The latest attack was on Monday night.

They coincide with the huge Guy Fawkes celebrations enacted by the town's seven bonfire societies which culminates in the burning of an effigy of the Pope in remembrance of Protestant martyrs burnt at the stake.

It is thought that more than 65,000 people cram into the town's narrow winding streets each November to witness the fiery festivities which this year resulted in 170 injuries and 22 people taken to hospital.

But while the former home of revolutionary pamphleteer Thomas Paine, author of Rights of Man, is proud of its fireworks tradition, the authorities are determined to stamp out the attacks before someone gets hurt or worse.

Chief Inspector Natalie Moloney, Lewes district policing commander, described the planting of devices as "reckless". She said: "This is a serious spree of costly vandalism and we're determined to find who is responsible. Someone knows who is doing this and it's important they help us put a stop to it before someone is seriously injured."

Despite the long-running nature of the campaign and the previous offer of a £5,000 reward, police have never charged anyone in connection with the explosions. Detectives have been met with a wall of silence.

There has been no claim of responsibility and the ubiquity of explosives at this time of year makes solving the crimes difficult.

It is believed that the latest explosions are caused by rook-scarers – a device used by farmers to protect crops from birds which can be purchased legally from agricultural suppliers.

East Sussex Council has insisted it will not be blasted into removing the machines and stressed that the cost of repairing them is passed on to the local taxpayer. Carl Maynard, the county council's economy, transport and environment spokesman, said: "Repairs will cost at least £20,000, which means we are £20,000 further away from being able to put any surplus from the scheme toward transport improvements in the town."