An unlicensed wheel-clamping firm boss who fleeced dozens of innocent motorists was jailed for two years today after his "business" was condemned as a ruthless scam.
Judge Philip Parker QC told Andrew Baker that his company, Inter Park UK, was nothing more than a simple con which had left its victims feeling robbed and bullied.
As Baker's heavily-pregnant wife watched from the public gallery at Birmingham Crown Court, the judge criticised the rogue clamper for leaving motorists stranded and distressed.
Baker, of Pithall Road, Shard End, Birmingham, pleaded guilty at a previous hearing to conspiracy to defraud drivers in Birmingham and other parts of the West Midlands between March 2007 and March 2008.
The 29-year-old father-of-one, who has previous convictions for robbery, obtaining property by deception, harassment and theft, showed no emotion as he was sentenced.
A previous hearing was told that Baker left 36 victims - including some who had paid and displayed - in a state of distress after conning them out of more than £12,000.
Passing sentence, Judge Parker told the convicted burglar that he accepted the clamping business had operated legitimately when it was set up in 2005.
But the judge added that operation then became a "con" in which motorists parked legitimately saw their vehicles clamped and towed away before being held to ransom for up to £445.
The judge told Baker: "You were not in fact licensed for this activity, as it is accepted you should have been.
"Your website was a travesty of the truth, suggesting as it did that you worked closely with Trading Standards and the police.
"It's plain by this fraud that in effect you illegally impounded people's cars, not just causing them distress and inconvenience, but naturally feelings of real loss and panic.
"People felt held to ransom - the victims felt they had been bullied, felt that they had been robbed in ordinary terms, or as the prosecution opened it, fleeced."
The business was operating as a simple scam with a false cloak of legitimacy, the judge said, ruling the offences to a confidence fraud.
"This to my mind is professional offending - there is a failure to respond to warnings... there is an abuse of power... there are multiple victims and in the end one can see this case as a ruthless exploitation of vulnerable persons," he added.
Two other men who worked for Inter Park UK were also before the court and were each fined £500 after admitting one count of fraud.
The prosecution followed an investigation by Birmingham City Council's Trading Standards department, which had received numerous complaints from furious motorists who felt they had been unfairly clamped or towed away by Inter Park UK.
Inter Park UK operated at numerous sites in Birmingham and Wolverhampton, where warning signs could not be seen easily, as well as clamping cars at three locations were it had no contractual right to do so.
Among those who fell victim to the firm were Christmas shoppers at a site in New Canal Street, Birmingham, who were told they had parked "inches over the line" even though the lines were not clearly painted.
On one occasion in February 2008, Inter Park UK removed several cars on what turned out to be land owned by Walsall Council, which had no agreement with the firm.
Birmingham City Council believes that Inter Park UK may have been netting up to £3,000 per day and that many motorists were so intimidated that they did not contact the authorities.
In a statement, Councillor Neil Eustace, Birmingham's Chair of Public Protection, called for greater powers to allow the authority to regulate the car-clamping sector.
Mr Eustace said: "Birmingham City Council's Public Protection Committee has made several representations to the government calling for further regulations to curb the excessive practices still engaged in by a number of clamping companies, and the misery that they ultimately cause to their victims."