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CLAMPER IMMOBILISED FOR TWO YEARS

27-05-2010

Congratulations to Birmingham Council's ferocious anti-clamping watchdog Neil Eustace and his colleagues at Trading Standards - they've claimed their biggest scalp yet with a two year jail sentence for Andrew Baker whose notorious Inter Park company bedevilled innocent motorists across the West Midlands with unfair penalties.

Inter Park operated in Brum at New Canal Street, Woodbridge Rd in Moseley, and Stratford Road, and also operated sites in Wolverhampton (at Summer Row) and Walsall.

Yesterday Baker was sentenced to two years in jail for conspiracy to defraud, while his colleagues Gary Gwilliam and Mohammed Islam were each fined £500 and ordered to pay £325 each in costs.

Trading Standards launched the investigation following numerous complaints furious motorists who felt they had been unreasonably clamped and/or towed by Inter Park UK during 2007 and early 2008.

At some sites poor signage led unsuspecting motorists to park without realising that there were restrictions, and Inter Park operatives were sometimes waiting to clamp the vehicle within minutes and often towed away shortly afterwards. Those whose vehicles were towed away actually initially thought their vehicles had been stolen, only to find out they had to find in excess of £325 cash to have their vehicles released.

In 2007 over 70 complaints were received by Trading Standards. The situation came to a head in late 2007 when Inter Park clamped and towed numerous Christmas shoppers at a site in New Canal Street. The reasons included parking merely inches over the line, even though the car park lines were not clearly painted.

At a site adjoining a grocery store on Woodbridge Road, Moseley, the parking signage was so high that many motorists did not notice it, or in the evening it was not lit, so motorists who parked to go into the grocers store or pop to a nearby cash point were unaware the clampers were ready to pounce within minutes of them leaving their vehicles.

There were similar complaints at Summer Row in Wolverhampton. Again signs were quite high on the wall or not well lit. The owner of Inter Park, Andrew Baker, claimed to have an agreement with a local retailer. The Trading Standards investigation revealed that neither the land owner nor the retailers had ever given authority for vehicles to be removed from the site.

Another pattern also emerged from some of the near 100 witness statement that were collected by Trading Standards. Inter Park would clamp vehicles within minutes, and often if the motorists returned to their vehicle they were told the tow truck had been called so they had to pay not just the £125 clamp release fee but £325 cash, even when their vehicle had not actually been towed. Motorists were told that if they did not pay £325 cash immediately the vehicle would be towed away and they would have to pay even more.

Trading Standards also found that Inter Park had written contractual agreement with the landowner at only a few sites. In some cases, the landowners preferred not to discuss these matters openly, stating it was a matter for the clamping company, even though Inter Park UK were acting on their behalf.

At a site at the New Inn on Edwards Road, Moseley, Inter Park removed vehicles in late 2007. However, Trading Standards enquiries with the pub owner indicated no authority had been given, whereas Andrew Baker claimed a verbal agreement had existed with someone who was now deceased.

On one occasion in February 2008, Inter Park UK removed several cars on what turned out be land owned by Walsall Council who had never entered into an agreement with Inter Park UK.

Initially Andrew Baker denied that the company had done anything wrong, he reiterated that there were no regulations stipulating how quickly vehicles could be clamped and/or towed, the wording or size or positions of the signs, or indeed what release fee could be charged.

Those conducting clamping and towing (also known as vehicle immobilisation) have to be licensed by the Security Industry Authority. While Gary Gwilliam and Mohammed Islam were licensed, Andrew Baker was never licensed. He claimed he did not need a licence as Gary Gwilliam ran the clamping side of the business and was a partner in the business, however, the evidence suggested otherwise.

In the November/December 2007 period, Inter Park were clamping/ towing sometimes up to ten cars per day which could yield them a gross of £2000 - £3000 per day. It is unclear how much in total Inter park accrued over this period, payment always had to be in cash and many motorists were so intimidated that they did not contact the authorities.

In February 2008, Trading Standards executed a warrant at the offices of Inter Park, and shortly afterwards Inter Park UK ceased clamping and towing. In March 2009 in a joint operation with West Midlands Police, the three were arrested, formally interviewed by Trading Standards and were subsequently charged.

Many of the motorists are still extremely upset when they recall the events, few, if any, ever got their money back from Andrew Baker.

Councillor Neil Eustace, Chair of the Public Protection Committee at Birmingham City Council, said:

“Birmingham City Council 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.”

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