Sean O'Grady: Time the boot was on the other foot

Wheel-clamping abuses cause untold distress. Action is needed
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The Independent Online

I will never forget it. I had parked outside the bank, nipped inside to pay a cheque in, and in the intervening few minutes some goon in a rusty old Ford Escort van had turned up, clamped my Honda and was demanding money with menaces. The fine was £125: bigger than the cheque.

It was no end of a lesson. The police were, understandably enough, not bothered, and whoever it was who did own the land was not contactable within the stressful few minutes during which I had to pay up or face days of hassle to get my vehicle free again.

My suspicion is that anyone can turn up at piece of non-public land, put up a "Warning" sign and start fining people, whether they have the permission of an absentee landlord or not. I have seen places where there are two or three different clamping notices up. It is, in other words, often a racket.

Anyway, my guy didn't have a pit bull with him, but that was all that was lacking from the knuckle-dragging stereotype of the private security industry's operatives. OK, I was "guilty" but the "punishment" was disproportionate, as these muggings always are – something that has, at last, caught the eye of ministers who want to, ahem, clamp down on the clampers.

If you park your car on a double yellow line or in a red route, of course you should take the consequences. And if you leave it there for days on end you ought to expect to be clamped or towed away. What is obviously against all notions of natural justice is the idea of being fined vast sums of money and left with no transport for leaving a car on someone else's tarmac for a few minutes. It is an abuse.

Naturally, like any law-abiding mug, I complained through the usual procedures to something called the Security Industry Authority, which runs training courses for bouncers and the like. A school for scoundrels if ever there was one. The SIA, needless to say, was useless – another one of those bodies set up by an industry with a dodgy reputation that pretends to "regulate" itself, produces futile codes of conduct and give its members a little, impressive-looking little crest to bung in their ad in the Yellow Pages and on their extortionate invoices, like the National Association of Estate Agents, any of those "guilds" of plumbers and builders, and the Law Society, of course.

The Home Office – which was responsible for legislation that let the private clampers have far too much leeway – has showed little concern in recent years. OK, it isn't the most glamorous arm of political action, but these wheel-clamping abuses must cause untold distress to many thousands of people.

So my heartfelt thanks to the RAC Foundation's barrister, Chris Elliot, for pointing out that private clamping could breach human rights. Of course it does. There is only one reliable way of ending this abuse; make clamping illegal (as it is in Scotland) and limit the fine to a standard parking ticket.

If Gordon Brown and Alan Johnson want some crowd-pleasers in the run-up to the next election ("listening government") I can think of none better. It's time to give the Denver Boot the boot.