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The great parking ticket scandal

Millions hit by 'unlawful' parking fines

One council insisted that council traffic wardens must issue tickets even at locations where the officers themselves had warned that signs were incorrect 

Traffic signs on the High St in Exeter
T he contradictory swivelling sign on Exeter High St Photo: SWNS

The Department for Transport gives local authorities clear instructions on all parking “signs and lines” which have to be displayed or painted correctly before tickets can be issued.

But documents seen by The Sunday Telegraph show that managers at one council insisted that civil enforcement officers — council traffic wardens — must issue tickets even at locations where the officers themselves had warned that signs were incorrect and that fining motorists would be unfair. The managers ruled that the tickets should be cancelled only if they were challenged by drivers.

“Local authorities should not be enforcing parking controls where they are aware that the signs and lines do not meet regulations. If they do, appeals against penalty charges issued in these circumstances are likely to be upheld by the independent appeals adjudicator.”

At an employment tribunal in Taunton last week, three Exeter parking attendants claimed constructive dismissal, alleging that they were told by managers at the city council to issue £70 fines where restrictions signs were unclear.

Jo Pengilley, 42, and Tony Lewis and Sylvia Watts, both in their fifties, were employed originally as police traffic wardens and became civil officers employed by the city council when the authority took over parking enforcement in May 2008.

The three said that as police-trained wardens, they knew which parking signs complied and which ones did not. They said they had alerted their bosses to defective signs including one in Exeter High Street that allowed lorries and vans to enter if they were loading. The sign carried no time restriction but at 10am it “swivelled” to reveal a sign that indicated vans and lorries were prohibited from entering. The wardens said it was wrong to issue parking tickets after the sign changed, but they were nevertheless told to continue to do so.

According to the Sunday Telegraph it has  obtained emails that appear to confirm the parking attendants’ claims. On May 21 last year, Steve Carnell, Exeter’s parking services manager, wrote to Gary Powell at Devon county council, copying in Paul Mackie, the line manager of the “Exeter Three”, asking for advice on the signs in the High Street.

“CEOs report that the restriction signage … isn’t clear as it is a variable message sign and only displays the full details once the loading restrictions come into effect at 10am. Anyone driving past it before this time isn’t aware what time the restriction commences,” he wrote.

“Do you wish to suspend enforcement where signage could be considered inappropriate or unclear?”

Mr Powell replied on the same day: “I am reluctant to suspend enforcement in the High St … I am not sure they are illegal and until they are successfully challenged I think we should continue to enforce.” The tribunal, in Taunton, heard that parking officers were told to let the “back office” decide if the tickets should stand in the event of appeals. Miss Pengilley, who in April 2008 had alerted her police bosses by email to numerous incorrect signs, including those in the High Street, said: “It was not something that I wished to do, or was happy about doing, but I did do it.” She said she considered it to be deception, as most motorists would be unaware the ticket should not have been issued and would pay up.

Miss Pengilley told this newspaper: “We were trying to be fair to the motorists but we were told to give out tickets even though from our police training we knew it was wrong because the signs were not compliant. It was very demoralising.” The tribunal, which is expected to reach a verdict next week, was told that 3,000 tickets, about 10 per cent of those issued in Exeter, had been cancelled since May 2008.

The three wardens said the conflicts at work and the managers’ incompetence had led them to hand in their notice. Mr Mackie denied the allegations. Complaints about the trio by other staff led to an audit being carried out, and malpractice was also suspected, he said. A spokesman for Exeter city council said: “If there is an issue about the legality of the signage then this question must be addressed by the county council, as the highway authority.”

A Devon county council spokesman said: “District councils are instructed to enforce where the intent of the signs and lines clearly communicates the relevant restrictions.”


Barrie's Comments: "This illegality occurs all the time and the great story illustrated by the Sunday Telegraph is just the tip of the iceberg!"


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