Westminster City Council fail to defend £9 million CCTV parking fiasco

To follow up on our last post where we stated that all of Westminster City Councils fixed CCTV spy camera network was not fit for purpose for the issuing of parking penalty charge notices (PCNs), there was considerable interest from professional media outlets. Because all editors sit with a clutch of lawyers looking over their shoulders and in the interests of balance, the professional media are obliged to check with Westminster City Councils ropey communications department. Nutsville are denied the convenience of checking with the Councils communications department as Westminster City Council refuse to return our calls, so we no longer bother playing their game.

The question was, did Westminster City Council have a valid VCA certificate for its fixed CCTV spy cameras which are all the model number DVTel9840A the model clearly shown on their list of cameras (download here). The Council persuaded the media to go away, because they were going to provide the definitive evidence in their defence pack for an appeal this Saturday (12th November 2011) at the Parking and Traffic Appeals Service (PATAS).

The stakes were high, as Leith Penny, Strategic Director for City Management himself said “campaigners would of course like to establish that the City Council’s wireless CCTV cameras are uncertificated by the Secretary of State, as required by law. If they were to establish that, the consequences could potentially be far-reaching.” Well campaigners’ have established again and again and again and again that the councils cameras are indeed uncertified, just how many times does Leith Penny need to be told by PATAS judges that the councils CCTV system is not correctly certified and therefore is unfit for purpose? Or perhaps he cannot bear to switch off a very lucrative albeit illegal revenue stream. We have estimated “the far reaching consequences” means that Westminster City Council will need to repay a minimum of £9million in illegally obtained funds from past PCNs.

Therefore you would expect that Westminster City Council would dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s on this one, and wouldn’t want to be seen to have been brushing off the media a second time over this issue. So we waited to see if this time these officers would show us just why they are worthy of their high salaries and associated perks.

At this mornings (12th November 2011 ) PATAS offices Mr Barrie Segal founder of AppealNow.com and celebrated victor of many a high profile clash with parking departments all over London and the UK sat down to give evidence to a PATAS adjudicator. Mr Segal was first informed by the adjudicator that Westminster City Council had failed to provide any updated evidence for a disputed PCN issued by CCTV spy camera, not by post or by email. Yes it is incredulous to think with so much at stake the shear incompetence of Westminster Councils parking department. But of course Segal is an old hand at this and easily anticipated Westminster Councils tricks by producing a copy of Westminster Councils sparkly new defence which he had received. Through the incompetence of the council it was the appellants representative who had to produce Westminster Councils evidence on their behalf.

Considering Leith Penny had a whole month to produce new evidence, it’s rather surprising it is simply one A4 page on which Penny states like a stuck record that “The cameras certified are the DVTel9840A. The full DVTel9840A specification for the cameras was part of the City Councils submission to the VCA. Any reference to DVTel9840 on the VCA Certification is an abbreviation of DVTel9840A (there isn’t actually a model called DVTel9840”; it is not a variation).”  (Download Pennys big defence and the certificate)

What a let down, with his high salary and years of experience, that’s it, he is simply saying DVTel9840A is a variation, and the VCA certificate for DVTel9840 covers DVTel9840A because DVTel9840 does not exist.

Just to show how detailed and specific a VCA certificate should be, here is one issued to Southwark Council (download here).

Here is what PATAS adjudicator Carl Teper said about Penny ‘robust evidence’:

“The certificate states ‘Camera: DVTel 9840′. However, as the Appellant Company’s representative points out, the Schedule refers to camera model ’9840A’. “

“The authority has sent a further submission on this point. Unfortunately, the submission only consists of the first page indicating the case reference numbers and I have had to rely on a copy sent to Mr Segal.”

“I find the explanation that DVTel 9840 is merely an abbreviation of DVTel9840A to be weak and unconvincing. I find that there can be no reason why the full camera details cannot appear on the certification

“Having considered the evidence I am not satisfied that there is a VCA Approved Device Certificate for this particular camera.”

“The appeal is allowed.”

(Download todays appeal hearings, case one case two case three )

Needless to say all three of the cases regarding Westminster’s CCTV certification that Barrie Segal of AppealNow.com defended today were won, and the all to regular short shrift dismissal was given to Westminster City Councils ‘evidence’ by the PATAS adjudicators.

Thanks to the NoToMob and especially Nigel Wise, the VCA were warned ahead of these cases not to manufacture a back dated certificate, as they have done in the past, as the VCA would certainly be reported to the police to possibly face an investigation into fraud.

So no banana for you today Mr Penny!

To be clear anyone who has been issued a PCN by a fixed CCTV camera for a parking offence in Westminster since March 2010 are due a refund. Anybody issued with a PCN by these cameras since we first publicised this serious failing on 13th October 2011 may also wish to investigate reporting the Council to the police for fraud. Because instead of taking the fair and decent action and reviewing and suspending their revenue raising operation when this was brought to their attention, council officers vehemently defended their position and swore blind they had the correct certification, time and time again, not only to members of the public they supposedly serve but also to Westminster Councillors. We have very grave concerns as to just where these officers loyalties lie.

Just why did Kieran Fitsall mislead and misinform a judge at PATAS?

Serious questions also need to be asked of the officers charged with implementing the councils parking policy. Such as why did Kieran Fitsall, Westminster’s parking manager tell PATAS adjudicator Verity Jones in June 2011 that all the cameras used for static CCTV enforcement in Westminster were of the camera type DVTel 9840 and therefore are covered by the Certificate of 18 February 2010 when clearly they are camera type DVTel 9840A (download camera list here)? Yet even in that case Westminster City Council lost the appeal as Fitsall couldn’t produce any valid VCA certificate. ( download Fitsall hearing here )

It should be noted what PATAS say about their appeal hearings “Please remember that it is a judicial hearing like a court, not a meeting. The adjudicator is similar to a judge. You will not be asked to take an oath when giving evidence, but you must tell the truth. If you do not, you could be prosecuted.”

No need of a defence

A PATAS appeal hearing in Nov 2011 shows us that the adjudicators are now allowing appeals for PCNs issued by Westminster’s fixed CCTV cameras even if the motorist does not even question the certification of the camera equipment. ( download Concierge Cars hearing here )

A chauffeur for Concierge Cars defended his PCN by claiming he was hiring the car from Concierge Cars, but was not able to provide the evidence to the adjudicator.

Without prompting, the PATAS adjudicator still allowed the appeal stating that: “On reviewing the evidence, the PCN states that the alleged contravention was seen and recorded by a camera operator who was observing real time pictures from an approved device.   There is no evidence provided to support this statement which means that I cannot be satisfied that the pictures were recorded from an approved device.  I therefore find that the alleged contravention did not occur.”

This is a humiliating situation for Westminster Council officers to find themselves in, but they cannot expect any sympathy having spent their time denying their incompetence instead of addressing their failings.

If reading this you may think this is a mere technicality, we would say two things. Technicalities have merit in a court of law.  Secondly, anyone who has found they have received a PCN because unknown to them someone has moved the front wheel of their scooter 2 inches over a white line whilst they were away, then been viciously pursued to pay up by the full uncompromising extortion machine of Westminster City Councils parking department will know all about technicalities.

Verrus pay by phone is patently absurd

Westminster Council’s parking department often like to spout how their parking is firm, fair and excellent, it’s even in their mission statement. But the reality of this nasty department of jobsworth’s is all to frequently an experience of a vicious, rigid and arrogant regime designed to raise revenue at all costs, no matter what poorly designed technology they choose to force upon the public.  This is perfectly spotlighted by the case of Ms Raisa Tabrizi-Desmond who although having tried to do the right thing, ended up on her first visit to the black hearted borough of Westminster being hounded for cash by the councils notorious bailiffs. (download cases here )

Ms Tabrizi-Desmond had planned entertaining family visitors from abroad in a Westminster restaurant. It was New Year’s Eve and to her a very special occasion, and for this specific purpose she had previously registered her car under the Westminster pay by phone scheme operated by Verrus. The day she got the PCN she used the pay by phone service. This was her first time of parking with it. The Council’s Verrus system transacted a motorist request for three minutes. Ms Tabrizi-Desmond wanted to transact three hours.

Westminster Councils firm, fair and excellent parking department rejected her appeals deciding instead to set the bailiffs on her before she had even had her hearing with PATAS.

The PATAS adjudicator Mr Gerald Styles said of the case “Users of the Westminster system such as the appellant can well seek to argue how can it be that a system can be so user-unfriendly as to allow them to transact for only three minutes of parking? …At first blush a system that processes a transaction for  three minutes can be seen as so patently absurd that it raises the question whether it is just unacceptably tricky, so much so that it makes a Penalty Charge in consequence of error so inherently unjust that an Adjudicator may allow an appeal ….I have heard at first hand from the appellant when she attended in person at the Angel,  of her sincere distress and the bitter anguish that arose to her family outing in this case.” Yes the usual welcome to the City of Westminster Ms Tabrizi-Desmond, hand over your purse and enjoy your stay.

Another motorist caught out by the absurd Verrus pay by phone system was a Mr. Hoborough who paid for 4 hours parking by phone at 9.10 in a bay at Carlton Hill.  His omission was not checking the timings on the sign.  However, his payment was taken by Verrus but they failed to inform him that his paid for time only started at 10.00.  Moreover, he produced the text message that Westminster City Council had sent to his phone which stated that his paid for parking would expire at 13.10.  Mr. Hoborough made the not unreasonable point that if his paid for time only started at 10.00, then the expiry should have been 14.00.

Of course Westminster City Council failed to apply common sense and rejected his appeals forcing Mr. Hoborough to appeal to PATAS.  Adjudicator Alastair McFarlane said “The Enforcement Authority has not adduced any evidence as to their system for receiving payments for mobile phone bays or as to the messages they send out or how payment can be made before the operational hours or why he was told his parking expired at 13.10.  Further no Verrus print out of their system has been adduced.”

It the responsibility of the Enforcement Authority to ensure that there system in respect of mobile phone bays is clear and unambiguous.  This they have not done and they are therefore not entitled to enforce this penalty.”

The Verrus pay by phone system is clearly not up to the job and not even able to produce print outs from the system.

Pay up and the bailiffs are on their way

Westminster City Council’s use of bailiffs to demand money from motorists before they have even had their appeal hearing has become all too frequent in the rush to squeeze as much money from the public visiting the borough.

The council often all too eagerly throw on PCN cases to the mercenary clutches of their hired henchman, Phillips bailiffs. A company whose contract with Westminster City Council is still the subject of a European Commission investigation and subject to a District Auditor objection.

In two PATAS appeal hearings this year adjudicators did not hold back in their condemnation of Westminster City Council unlawful use of bailiffs. (download cases here )

PATAS adjudicator Henry Michael Greenslade said “The Appellant says that she has subsequently received letters from a bailiff company, one instructing that the ‘debt’ needed to be paid as soon able possible, another being a ‘debt recovery letter’, that were obviously issued to her after this appeal had been registered.”

“Issued as they were whilst the appeal was pending, these are entirely unlawful demands for money. For a public authority to issue such a document, whether by itself or by its servants or agents, is utterly unacceptable. It is possible that these documents were issued in error. That at least may be the explanation but it does not make it any the less unacceptable.”

In a second case PATAS adjudicator Michael Burke said “This Enforcement Authority has been reprimanded by Adjudicators on a number of occasions for the issue of unlawful demands for money in the shape of Charge Certificates issued despite appeals having been submitted to PATAS. In this case the Enforcement Authority appear to have gone one step further in the issue of a bailiff’s letter on 23.09.11. The Enforcement Authority say that a Charge Certificate was issued on 19.09.11 because notification of the appeal was not received until 20.09.11. Even if this is correct it does not explain or justify the sending of a bailiff’s letter on 23.09.11.
The bailiff’s letter amounts to a serious procedural impropriety and on this basis I allow the appeal without consideration of the evidence.”
“I expect an Enforcement Authority to have sufficiently robust systems in place that Appellants are not threatened with unlawful demands for money. I have drawn my concerns to the attention of the Chief Adjudicator.”

These are the Westminster City Council officers who come across as incompetent thugs driven in an unlawful quest for money, just highway men in suits. But all the officers below had a hand in creating the huge deficit the parking department now finds itself in. Incorrectly certified cameras in 2009, a disastrous parking re-let cooked up by them in a Scottish Hotel which resulted in pay off costs and reports costing you and me well over a million pounds.

Leith Penny

Leith Penny

Kevin Goad

Kevin Goad

Martin Low

Martin Low

Kieran Fitsall

Kieran Fitsall

All overseen by juvenile wannabe politician Cllr Lee Rowley, who speaks with a droning repetitiveness whenever council leader Colin Barrow pulls the string on Rowleys back repeating whatever Cllr Barrow wants him too. Rowley doesn’t even realise he has been stiffed by Barrow worse than a dockyard prostitute after the US Seventh fleet has docked. He needs to pack his clogs and peddle his way back up to the land of Hovis and stop annoying the good people who live work and play in the big city with his insincere words and loathsome taxes . Joining him has to be Colin Barrow, for who else will pull Rowley’s string.

"I don't have ginger hair" - "yes you do"

With all the incompetence going on at Westminster City Council it would be remiss of Nutsville not to pass on some advice:

Westminster City Council should lead by example and at the very least start being honest with the people of London.

You cocked up, you cocked up big style.

Well right now for once do the right thing and suspend the use of the fixed camera network for parking and get VCA certification, also write to every one of the motorists that Westminster City Council have unlawfully issued a PCN for parking via the un-certificated fixed cameras asking them all to apply for a refund, then Westminster City Council can return to fair and proportionate and legal parking enforcement.

Councillor Colin Barrow take responsibility for the actions of your councilors, take responsibility for the action of your officers and take responsibility as leader of your council and resign now!

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1 Comment

Mark SaundersNovember 13th, 2011 at 6:41 pm

So, let me get this straight: their case was to admit that they *knew* that the device that they apparently had certification for *doesn’t even exist*? The mind boggles.

I wonder (not really) if they’ll put the stolen money – plus interest in escrow until it’s all restored to its rightful owners.

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