Man who puts the Denver Boot in

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TONY PHILLIPS sees himself as the legitimate face of wheel clamping. His firm, Southern Car Clamping, covers 70 to 80 sites stretching from Southampton to High Wycombe, and he reckons to put the Denver Boot in about 30 times a week.

At pounds 50 each release fee it is a nice little earner, but Mr Phillips points out that there are considerable expenses. Each clamp costs pounds 220 and he has 30 of them in the vans that tour the sites where he has contracts. There are half a dozen staff on the road, fitting clamps and responding to calls when the horrified drivers return to their vehicles.

Yesterday, it was a quiet day at a car park off North Street, Guildford, where Mr Phillips has just been employed to keep out shoppers who are unwilling to pay pounds 1.20 at a nearby multi-storey car park and who ignore the large warning notices.

The legitimate users of the 20- space car park sport bright green stickers but a Ford Sierra without one had taken up residence in a bay allocated to Bryan Rae Partnership, a local architectural practice. Mr Rae was on hand to supervise the clamping. He said: 'That's my wife's space and she's not going to be pleased when she comes.' Indeed she was not when she arrived 10 minutes later, but managed to find another space.

Mr Phillips says people can be aggressive but he has only been physically attacked once, by a man considerably shorter than him: 'He tried to climb up on me to thump me. In the end he still had to pay the release fee and he got charged with assault.

'Many people start off angry but calm down and admit that it's fair enough. One guy I clamped even gave me a contract to guard his car park after he thought about it.'

Not all of his 'victims' are as satisfied with Southern Car Clamping's service. Patrick Cullinam said his Escort van was clamped at a dentist's car park in Slough last month and he was told that if he did not pay up, in cash, within half an hour, 'the car would be towed to Fleet in Hampshire'.

Mr Phillips denies that the threat was made: 'It's too much hassle towing cars away unnecessarily but what we do say is that if they don't pay, the fee goes up by pounds 50 per day. And we do tow away if the landowner asks us to or if we are worried the car owner is going to steal the clamp.' He also says he accepts cheques and credit cards.

Other victims try to wriggle out of the clamp. The favourite trick is to deflate the tyre and try to drive away but if the clamp is damaged, Mr Phillips will sue. There are other risks, too. 'We clamped a group of five cars of people who had been to a christening in Aldershot.

'One of them thought he could get out with a flat tyre and punctured it by stabbing a screwdriver into the side wall, rather than the tread, which meant he would need a new tyre. Then when he tried to drive, the clamp reversed and ripped his wing off. Even then he didn't get free and had to pay. The other four had been waiting to see if he was successful but they all quickly paid up.'

He does not deny that there is a vested interest in clamping people: 'For the first year of the contract, we don't charge the landowner anything because there is always a good income from the clamping as people have often used the spaces illegally for years. After the first year, however, we charge an annual fee as mostly the problem has been solved.'

He would welcome the suggestion put forward yesterday to license the business: 'I would welcome things like a maximum clamp fee, uniforms, licences, minimum sizes for signs and so on,' he said.

(Photograph omitted)