The owner of a clamping company and four out of five of his employees have been sentenced at Worcester Crown Court today (21 February) by His Honour Judge John Cavell.
Andrew Minshull, owner of Midland Parking Contracts, his former partner Debbie Worton, who worked for the company in an administration role, and clampers Simon Barry, Christopher Cartwright, Lloyd Isherwood, and Faisal Qadeer were all accused of conspiracy to defraud between January 2006 and September 2009.
West Mercia Police, Worcestershire Regulatory Services’ trading standards team and the Security Industry Authority launched an investigation following around 200 complaints from motorists.
Most of the complaints were from people whose vehicles had been clamped and in many cases towed away in Bromsgrove and Redditch, although MPC operated across the Midlands.
Minshull, aged 38, of Hatfield Close, Redditch was sentenced to 32 months in prison, Worton, aged 43, of Longdon Close, Redditch was sentenced to 12 months in prison; Barry, aged 37, of Lilac Close, Evesham was sentenced to 21 months in prison; Cartwright, aged 31, of Maple Close, Kidderminster and Qadeer, aged 35, of Mount Pleasant, Redditch were both sentenced to 15 months in prison. All admitted the offence and were sentenced at Worcester Crown Court today (21 February). Isherwood, aged 39, of Groveley Lane, Birmingham has had his sentencing adjourned to a later date as pre-sentence reports were not ready.
Investigations revealed 1,500 incidents of vehicles being clamped or removed right across the Midlands, netting the company hundreds of thousands of pounds.
People who complained about the firm’s tactics were sometimes offered refunds, but in most cases did not get their money back.
Detective Sergeant Mark Roberts of West Mercia Police said: “Wheel clamping is legitimate but there are rules which need to be followed.
“Of course all drivers are going to be unhappy about having their vehicles clamped or towed, and the police do receive regular calls from angry and distressed motorists about it.
“However, the barrage of complaints we were receiving about MPC prompted us to launch an investigation, and it showed the company and its employees were effectively demanding money with menaces.
“Warning signs were placed high on walls, and often difficult or impossible to see, especially in the dark.
“The motorists also said they felt intimidated and threatened by the clampers due to their physical stature and aggressive manner.
“The clampers caused a great deal of distress to the motorists they targeted, many who were the most vulnerable members of our society, including the elderly and disabled.
“We hope other clamping companies will take note that the police are willing to pursue criminal prosecutions.”
One victim was Mrs Dorothy Webb, from Wolverhampton, who had been attending a leaving do at a restaurant in Birmingham Road, Bromsgrove, when her car was one of a number clamped.
She said: “I hadn’t realised I was doing anything wrong when I parked next to the restaurant. I was in a party of women and we felt intimidated.
“It was a cold, snowy night, and I paid the £297 demanded because I just wanted to get home.”
NHS worker Alison Overton was driving a van carrying drugs, patients’ notes and blood specimens when it was clamped on waste ground at the rear of the Slug and Lettuce pub in High Street, Bromsgrove. She was in uniform and had only parked there for a minute to make a delivery. When she returned to the vehicle the clampers had not started to clamp it, but demanded she pay up. She telephoned her manager who tried to reason with them but she ended up paying £150.
Miss Overton, from Redditch, said: “I felt intimidated and was also aware of the inconvenience it would cause to patients if there were any delays.
“These people were just making money out of causing misery. I am so grateful for the effort put in by the police to bring this case to court, and I hope it stops other firms from doing the same.”
Helen May, from Malvern, was clamped in Farrier Street, Worcester, and had to pay £125 to get her vehicle released.
She said: “There were no obvious signs warning us not to park there. Three of us actively looked for restrictions on parking, and none of us saw any. When the clampers arrived back to release the car they pointed to a sign more than 15 feet up which was unreadable even in daylight, let alone at night.
“A friend had to go back into the city centre to withdraw the cash. By this time it was late at night and she had to go down a dark alley. I was outraged that she had to take the risk of being mugged to do this.
“I felt that if the clampers had held a gun to my head and taken the money I couldn’t have felt any worse. I felt angry, traumatised and emotional. I felt I had been robbed.
“I took them to court and although I won the case I did not get my money back as their head office address in Birmingham turned out to be in fact just a mailbox address.”
Another victim, who does not want to be named, was clamped on Bates Hill, Bromsgrove, after she parked on waste land, with one wheel just three inches on to private land.
She said: “I had only left my car for a few minutes when it was clamped, and I had to pay £330 to get it released.
“The warning sign was obscured so I couldn’t see it. I was absolutely furious and very frustrated.”
MPC is no longer operating.
The Security Industry Authority is the organisation responsible for regulating the private security industry in the UK.
SIA Head of Investigation Paul Cartlidge said: “This case demonstrates the commitment of West Mercia Police and the SIA to ensuring that those working in the wheel clamping sector do so legally.
“During this police-led investigation, SIA investigators assisted by carrying out site visits, conducting interviews, and providing intelligence and witness statements.
“We worked closely together to bring this case forward and we are very pleased with the outcome.”
Trading Standards Senior Practitioner Peter Holmes said: “It was obvious that these clampers only had one motive and that was to make as much money as possible from victims.
“The volume of complaints we received about MCP was unprecedented and that led us to believe that serious criminal offences were being committed.
“I am pleased that the work we undertook and the evidence we collected assisted the police in their investigation and brought the offenders before the courts. The victims will now see some justice.”