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Bexley council - beaten but unrepentant

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One of my correspondents told me about the problems his octogenarian mother-in-law had last year with Bexley’s parking gestapo and the consequential disgraceful behaviour of council officials and councillor Peter Craske - yes, that one again, the one who put his signature to the plan to make Abbey Road dangerous for pedestrians, motorists and nearby residents for no reason other than to improve the lot of cyclists which his side-kick, councillor John Davey said he had never seen on Abbey Road.

The elderly mother-in-law is a church warden and attends her church every Tuesday morning to help with the mothers and toddlers group. The church is in a Controlled Parking Zone (CPZ) intended to stop commuters parking all day at the railway station. As with CPZs elsewhere in Bexley it restricts parking for two hours in the middle of the day, in this case from 10 a.m. until noon. The only people allowed to park there are residents who have to pay £35 a year for the privilege plus 70 pence a day for guests.

Fortunately the church has its own off-road parking so our church warden has no real problem, until that is one of the mothers blocked the entrance to the church’s car-park with her 4x4. No problem; nip over to the 4x4 and ask the mother to move along a bit. Problem solved inside 30 seconds. Well not quite. Half a minute is more than long enough for two gestapo members to emerge from their hiding place and pounce on the bemused old lady, penalty notice in hand.

The ticket confirms that the time between observation and penalty was no more than a minute thereby admitting no attempt to check for permitted unloading activity. The old lady was never out of the gestapo’s view or more than ten metres from her car. From reports received from other sources it seems that hiding and pouncing is Bexley’s standard procedure; they deny it but too many reports confirm it is standard practice.

The lady explains the circumstances to the gestapo and commonsense would suggest that this unavoidable momentary infringement should not result in a hefty fine but the parking gestapo are not often people with a social conscience and they are working for people who are far far worse. Bexley council has given many people the impression that it encourages the issue of as many tickets as possible by any devious technique necessary. Fortunately this particular traffic warden (badge number BL343) agrees to make a note of the extenuating circumstances in her pocket book to the effect that an appeal should be favourably considered. An informal appeal is lodged within the hour but four days later it is rejected. Either no note was made in the pocket book or it was ignored.

A complaint was sent by email to the Parking Manager, Mrs. Tina Brooks, requesting the name of the appeals adjudicator as neither it nor the job title on the rejection notice was legible. Without that how is anyone to know if the appeal had reached a properly authorised person? The email, in line with Bexley’s usual practice, was ignored. A copy was sent to Graham Ward, Deputy Director of Public Relations. He replied to some of the points made. It revealed that Bexley has 25 traffic wardens, one Parking Manager, three Parking Officers and 13 Parking Assistants, nearly a 1:1 ratio of officers to foot soldiers! Some of the staff were claimed to have City & Guilds qualifications but in what there was no clue.

Further emails were sent to Tina Brooks and Mr. Ward asking for the traffic warden and the adjudicator involved in this case to be identified and to ask if the warden actually submitted the promised pocket book report and, if so, why it was ignored by the adjudicator. Both emails were ignored by our caring “listening” council. Eventually a Notice to Owner was issued and the options were to pay the fine or make a formal representation. The seven valid reasons given for lodging an appeal did not allow for cases of traffic wardens lying or misleading the parking management team so the only option was to appeal to the independent adjudicator appointed by the Parking and Traffic Appeals Service. 28 days are allowed to make the formal representation and this one was submitted with 25 days to spare.

The next communication from Bexley council was a Charge Certificate issued on the grounds that no formal representation had been received by the council. Strange! It had been returned well within the 28 day limit in the supplied pre-printed envelope. Probably Bexley don’t bother observing the niceties of the law, after all we know for a fact they don’t when introducing new CPZs.

Another email of complaint followed with the original scanned representation attached but this too was rejected, the council conveniently ignoring the fact that appeals are permissible on various grounds and they are obliged to take the evidence into consideration.

The council responded parrot fashion with the options available at this stage: pay the inflated fine, wait for them to obtain an Order for Recovery, or write another letter containing the representations. Another letter immediately went into the recorded delivery post. A copy was sent by email for good measure. The very next day came a Notice of Rejection of Formal Representation together with a supposed photocopy of two pages from the parking attendant’s notebook plus black and white photographs of the ‘crime’ scene. The notes did not include any reference to the promise made by the traffic warden. They did however contain allegations of ill-temper by the church warden which would have been totally out of character.

One of the photographs was extremely useful because it showed a discontinuous yellow line and the other taken by the second traffic warden showed the issuing attendant not wearing full uniform; it and the broken line both being breaches of the regulations. An email from the Parking Manager also revealed that the original adjudication was by a Parking Assistant - the lowest level in the parking hierarchy but once again the name was withheld. Why are public servants allowed to hide behind anonymity?

Bexley council refused to communicate on the issues in the photographs, presumably they prefer to profit from their many mistakes with yellow lines and possibly even the uniforms. So the appeal went to the Parking and Traffic Appeals Service. While awaiting developments two local councillors were made aware of the case. Only one answered, Simon Windle who represents Barnehurst ward. He tried to opt out because he said councillors are not allowed to intervene in parking infringement cases. When it was pointed out that the issue was being raised not to seek help in overturning the ticket but to ask general questions relating to illegal punishment of motorists (viz. inadequate lines and signs), he passed the matter to Bexley’s cabinet member for transport - councillor Peter Craske. Craske made it clear he didn’t like attempts to expose dubious council practises. Corrupt and dishonest councils revel in their ability to snoop and interfere in almost every aspect of our lives but they don’t like to hear the truth about themselves. Craske got into a wild rage instead of taking the complaint seriously.

Councillor Windle then passed the case and requests for more information to Bexley’s Communications Officer, Mr. John Ferry under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI). The request appeared to be ignored despite the law calling for a response within 20 working days, however 76 working days later came a response; a Public Interest Refusal Notice under Section 22 of the Act - the grounds being that the council was not compelled to provide any information prior to the appeal submission. It was suggested that any request for information was sent to councillor Peter Craske - the useless individual who had refused to answer questions in the first place.

The appeal hearing was eventually set for 8th September 2008, some six months after the incident and defence papers were submitted at the beginning of May with copies to Bexley council. Councils are supposed to send a copy of their own case to the appellant within three weeks but despite repeated requests Bexley were more than three months late and posted them five days before the hearing. Once again Bexley council showing their total disregard for the law. The contemptible use of second class post ensured delivery on the Saturday before the Monday morning hearing.

Almost needless to say, Bexley’s defence was primarily an attempt at character assassination and allegations of submission of representations etc. outside of time limits. The usual lame excuse of vexatious correspondence was trotted out several times, one of Bexley’s favourite escape hatches when faced with difficult questions. They also alleged a failure to follow procedure relating to advice given under the F.O.I., neatly ignoring the fact that both the council and councillor Craske refused to answer questions.

The adjudicator at the hearing was Mr. Carl Teper (†) and he decided that it was probable that Bexley’s CPZ did not meet statutory requirements. i.e. it was illegal. It wasdisappointing that Mr. Teper was not interested in the state of the yellow lines and their missing terminations etc. nor in traffic wardens who lie, but I suppose that once a reason is found to dismiss a dishonest council’s case there is pressure to get on with the next one rather than pursue every facet of the council’s dishonesty. Understandable perhaps but it is how people like Tina Brooks and councillor Craske get away with things unscathed.

November 2009

† I have been informed by the founder of the website appealnow.com that Mr. Teper was not only taking the simplest practical course in terminating the appeal at the earliest opportunity but he was also correct in law. Once an adjudicator has established that a C.P.Z. is in effect illegal that is apparently the end of the matter irrespective of any malpractice by Bexley council and their various petty bureaucrats.

January 2010
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