Rogue wheel clampers sent to prison

By on 26/11/2010 in News

Three of the operators behind a notorious Birmingham clamping operation were today sent to prison.

The sentences follow a lengthy investigation by Birmingham City Council's Trading Standards Department.

Gary SOUTHALL (49yrs) of Heather Dale, Moseley, Birmingham was jailed for four years. Wayne SOUTHALL (41yrs) of Tyseley Lane, Tyseley, Birmingham was jailed for two years. Phillip BENNETT (34yrs) of College Rd, Saltley, Birmingham was jailed for 18months. Victoria CHARLTON (44yrs) of Heather Dale, Moseley, Birmingham was given a 12 month custodial sentence, suspended for 12 months. All four individuals pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud on 28th October 2010.

Between early 2006, to the present date, the individuals operated under the names National Parking Control and more recently, Nationwide Parking Authority Limited, on patches of private land, predominantly in the Digbeth area of Birmingham.

Birmingham Trading Standards launched the investigation into the company after receiving scores of complaints from angry motorists who had had their cars clamped and/or towed away by the company and were then subjected to demands for hundreds of pounds in cash to have them released.

Complaints from motorists alleged, amongst other things:
– Signage warning of wheel clamping at sites was insufficient, misleading and unclear, and in some cases was deliberately hidden from view.
– Vehicles were clamped and towed within minutes of the motorist leaving the site.
– Extortionate release fees were demanded, with the only payment method being cash.
– Vehicles were towed to a secret location, which would not be revealed until payment had been made.
– Motorists were driven to cash points and banks to obtain the release fees.
– Motorists were charged a fee for a tow truck that never arrived on site.
– Motorists were told that if they did not pay the cash release fee immediately, their vehicle would be towed away and further fees incurred.

Following investigations by Trading Standards, it was also found that at some sites, the company had no permission from the landowner or managing agents to operate clamping activities on the land, and in two cases; they removed vehicles from the public highway.

It was also discovered that on some sites, the clampers would park their own cars, presumably in an attempt to lure hapless motorists on to the site, under the false impression that it was a safe place to park.

The individuals were arrested in July 2009 in dawn raids by officers from Birmingham Trading Standards' Wheel Clamping Investigation Team and West Midlands Police's Digbeth Neighbourhood Team.

In interview, one of the Defendants admitted that the company would clamp and/or tow up to 15 vehicles a week and on one particular Sunday, they removed 11 vehicles. At an average of £325 per vehicle, this would have netted over £4800 per week for the company and over £3,500 on that one Sunday.

Birmingham Trading Standards has over 330 recorded complaints against the company, which given an average release fee of £325, means they could have made in excess of £107,000 from their activities.

On a mobile phone seized from one of the defendants, an audio clip was recovered in which a clamper can be plainly heard demanding £325 in cash from a distraught motorist, threatening him that if the payment is not made, his vehicle will be removed and it will cost him £475. This is despite the company's own signage indicating a maximum fee of £375. That victim was never found.

One motorist, who was driven to a cash point to retrieve the £375 release fee, was followed across the city some months later by one of the clampers, after she bumped in to him near the clamping site where the original incident took place. She was so concerned about her safety that she drove to a police station.

One motorist, who was unable to source the £375 cash release fee immediately, ended up having to part with £575 to get his car back, after storage charges mounted up whilst he waited for pay day.

Another motorist, who requested his personal belongings from his vehicle after it had been towed away, was told he could not have access to his vehicle and had to hand over his keys to the clampers so that his personal effects could be retrieved. He was given back his belongings, but the clampers kept his car keys and the vehicle log book from the glove box, telling him he couldn't have them back until he had paid them their money.

One defendant, Wayne Southall, did not hold a Security Industry Authority licence to carry out wheel clamping activities and initially denied having any part in the clamping or towing of vehicles. However, several victims in the case picked out the Defendant in an ID Parade as being directly involved in their incident.

The trial was listed for 4 weeks, with over 50 witnesses, including motorists and landowners, set to give evidence.

Councillor Neil Eustace, Chair of the Public Protection Committee said: “This has been a particularly difficult and long drawn out investigation. Many motorists were left feeling scared and vulnerable by the actions of these individuals, who effectively held their cars to ransom in order to secure a totally unreasonable amount of money. This case sends out a clear message that using parking enforcement as a guise to extort money from people will not be tolerated.”

The Coalition Government announced in August 2010 that vehicle immobilisation is to be outlawed on private land, with a ban expected to come into place early next year. Birmingham Trading Standards, through its Public Protection Committee, has campaigned tirelessly for further legislation to tackle the problems associated with rogue wheel clampers and welcomed the outright ban.

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