If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Good Riddance

I see from the BBC today that the Government is to outlaw wheel-clamping on private land. I heartily approve. I have every sympathy with a landowner who finds that strangers are parking on his or her land and depriving them of access to their own property, or taking spaces that were meant for the person's customers, or whatever. But the way in which it is done, and the grossly disproportionate 'fees' that have been, quite legally, charged by the clampers, have made a mockery of any justness of the activity. 'Release fees' of hundreds of pounds, towing away within hours of the offence, criminally-high charges for 'storage', and always the thought that your precious car is in the hands of people who don't care a toss about it, have made clampers into a kind of urban ogre.

The people who are wheeled out to represent the 'industry' are always well-dressed, clean, polite and reasonable. But those of us who have met the operators know that they are the other side of the coin - bullies who rely on most people's fear of confrontation and dislike of 'trouble' to ensure that they can grab the cash with ease.

Anna once parked behind a shop in our local town, in a place where she has parked many times before without incident. She knew the lady who owned the shop, and assumed that parking there for a few minutes was OK. Unfortunately, a lot of other people thought the same thing, and the shop's owner had put up a small 'No Parking' sign, and engaged a firm of clampers to enforce it. When Anna came back to the car, it was clamped. She went into the shop, but the owner said, effectively, that once the car had been clamped it was out of her hands and that Anna had to pay. She phoned the number on the ticket and after about half an hour a man appeared. She felt immediately intimidated (and that doesn't happen often). He was about 6'2", fat and dirty, and his manner was abusive and threatening. The charge was £100. Anna was willing to pay, as she realised that she had been caught out, and offered to write him a cheque. Nope, it had to be cash. In the end, she walked almost a mile to the nearest cashpoint, withdrew the money, and returned to the car. I ought to point out that Anna is registered disabled, and walking that sort of distance is something that leaves her in a lot of pain. She made that known to the man at the time, but no response.

She phoned me and I turned up a few minutes later. I had a stand-up row with the man, but he wasn't shifting. His answer to everything was that he had the keys to the clamp, and if we didn't pay up he would go back to Swansea (60 miles away) and we could call him tomorrow. I phoned the Police, who told me what was happening was completely legal, and even called a passing Traffic Warden, who confirmed it. So we paid up.

I felt a complete loathing for the man - his bullying of a lone female, his sweat, his arrogance, his filthy hygiene, even his ill-fitting and grubby clothes. This was despite my understanding that Anna had parked where she shouldn't, and that the man was 'only doing his job'. There was some kind of atavistic hatred there - defending your loved ones, defending the tribe from the 'other', and a feeling of injustice that a slug like that could effectively stop a disabled person from using their only vehicle until they had coughed up cash that they couldn't afford. I had real feelings of violence towards him, which is very rare for me.

If all clamping operators are thrown out of work by this measure, I will be delighted. If they all have to put their yellow triangles on eBay to try to recoup their investment, I will celebrate. No fate is too grotesque, humiliating or painful for these low-life reptiles.

We'll still need to find a way to stop people parking where they shouldn't, but I hope it will be one where ordinary people don't feel they need to have a wash afterwards.

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