Driver cleared of damaging car pound: Vehicle towed away without authorisation

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The Independent Online
A MOTORIST who rammed the gates of a car pound in an attempt to reclaim his vehicle was cleared of causing criminal damage yesterday after the company that towed it away was described as 'a shabby, money- grabbing outfit'.

Iain Hopkins, who needed the car to visit his critically ill baby, admitted driving it at the gates of the pound, but a jury at Hove Crown Court, East Sussex, took only 20 minutes to decide that the vehicle had been unlawfully towed away.

Mr Hopkins, 27, told the court he and his wife, Kate, had bought a parking voucher but accidentally parked their Ford Orion on a single yellow line in Brighton last year, shortly after their four-day-old baby, Holly, had been taken to hospital with breathing difficulties. The couple had been shopping for clothes for the child, but returned to find their car had been towed away by Arcade Motors, a private company engaged by Sussex police.

Judge John Gower QC was told that Mr Hopkins, a self-employed electrician, went to the car pound and offered to pay the pounds 95 fine with an American Express card, which the company would not accept. Finally, the court was told, he lost his temper when staff began laughing at him.

He jumped in his car and repeatedly drove it at the gates. When police arrived, he was standing on the bonnet trying to smash down the gates with a hammer he had found.

John Bishop, for Mr Hopkins, described the towaway firm as a 'shabby, money-grabbing' outfit. 'The stress of his new-born baby being a very sick child and the fact that in the car were some of the things he needed to take back to (her) added to his distress,' he said.

The jury accepted his argument that the traffic warden who authorised the towaway had failed to follow the correct procedure. He was supposed to get permission from a police officer before having the vehicle removed, but he had failed to.

After the hearing, Mr Hopkins said: 'I don't feel as if I've won the Cup Final. I just didn't think they should be allowed to get away with it.' He said his daughter was still receiving treatment at Guy's hospital, south London.