Notorious self-styled 'ethical' parking company District Enforcement, who have been managing an unpopular and Draconian parking scheme at Staffordshire University, suffered a humiliating defeat in court to a lecturer who has spent more than a year arguing that he did nothing wrong when he parked at work. The verdict at Stoke-on-Trent County Court is an embarrassment to the university who are under fire from staff and trades unions for dealing with the company without a formal tendering process. There are reports of secret behind-the-scenes deals to keep parking cases out of court.
The legal advice to District Enforcement after their defeat might have come straight from the Prankster. Despite their director Danylo Kurpil saying 'it's not over yet' as they left court - and insisting they would appeal even as his solicitor Mr Perkins was muttering 'well done' to the successful driver - they have not filed an appeal within the required 21 days. It now looks like they are on the run, if recently-filed documents are anything to go by. A second of the three founders - who are Staffordshire University fast-track law graduates - has quit as a director , and they're changing their registered address from Stafford to Swadlincote - nearer to Kurpil's home.
Their defeat three weeks ago (November 17th) in District Enforcement Ltd v Gary Hudson (A3QK0123) included a series of put-downs from the judge. Deputy District Judge Evans, sitting at Stoke-on-Trent County Court, dismissed their claim for £160 (£70 parking charge plus recovery costs), but only after threatening to adjourn the case until District Enforcement's legal duo had produced a copy of the contract with Staffordshire University that allows them to charge for parking. The judge suggested they could try mediation during the adjournment, since they had not agreed a date in response to the defendant's offer to mediate at any time. They said it could take a couple of hours to get their own copy of the contract, and suggested the copy in the defendant's bundle would do. The judge said that copy (obtained after an FoI request) wasn't good enough because it was redacted. He asked why and they said the blacked out parts were commercially confidential. The judge said that might be their explanation but for all he knew, it may say 'Mr Hudson is exempt from paying and may gleefully park at any time.'
He said he would proceed without the contract. He noted that a POPLA appeal had been rejected and that this carried no weight in the County Court. He addressed instead the question of the signs on the University car parks. These referred to a parking permit system which was not introduced until more than eight months after the parking event, and said a charge was payable (among other things) for anyone who parked not wholly within a marked bay. There is a graphic of a car parked across a white line. Not Parked Wholly Within Bay (sic) was the reason given for issuing a Parking Charge Notice in March last year to Mr Hudson, a senior lecturer at the University in Stoke-on-Trent.
As the marked bay argument began to look weaker, District Enforcement's solicitor tried to claim the car was parked in a restricted use area because there was a fire assembly point sign on the building next to the car (even though this bore no relation to the reason given for issuing the ticket). The judge said there was no reason people couldn't assemble next to a parked car and there was nothing in the Highway Code to suggest parking wouldn't be allowed there. The defendant observed that government safety guidance says that fire assembly points should be far enough from buildings to avoid falling debris.
Under questioning from Mr Perkins, the defendant said he parked safely where he and others had parked many times before.
DDJ Evans was robust in his comments: "The signs are very misleading. It is settled law in relation to private parking that if there is clear and adequate signage a contract is formed. The first condition [displaying a valid permit] wasn’t in place – and wasn’t in place for several months. There are no yellow lines to prevent parking where Mr Hudson’s car was parked.
I don’t accept that the sign is clear and I cannot see that Mr Hudson is in breach of these particular parking conditions. I can completely understand that where there are marked bays anyone parking across the lines and taking up two bays would be causing a problem. But for that to apply, there must be a marked bay and all down that area there are no marked bays. There are no double yellow lines or hatched areas to indicate no parking. The claim is dismissed."
District Enforcement applied for leave to appeal, and the judge agreed, apologising to the defendant for the fact that he'd be dragged along in the process. On the judgment order, he gave his reasons for the decision and for allowing an appeal:
Judgment based upon interpretation of parking charges sign. Conditions say no parking in restricted use area – near fire assembly point alleged. My view no indication that a restricted use area and not an emergency exit.
Also “not parked wholly within a marked bay”. My view was to be wholly within a marked bay there must be a bay. None there, so no contravention.
These are not findings of fact but findings of interpretation.Since the judgment, the university's staff have continued to place tickets on cars parked other than across the white lines of the marked bays. At least half a dozen legal points which could completely invalidate District Enforcement's charges remain untested in court and so far the case has cost them many hours fruitless preparation, numerous solicitor's letters, a POPLA fee, court costs and the solicitor's court fee.
With absolutely no return on this investment of time and money, District Enforcement are beginning to look a little silly.
7.—(1) A seller or supplier shall ensure that any written term of a contract is expressed in plain, intelligible language.
(2) If there is doubt about the meaning of a written term, the interpretation which is most
favourable to the consumer shall prevail but this rule shall not apply in proceedings brought under regulation 12.
.As a judge has already ruled the contract is ambiguous, then 7(2) will apply, which means, in The Prankster's opinion, District Enforcement have no hope in enforcing tickets for parking completely outside marked bays. He suggests they either change the wording of the signs, or put markings such as hatchings, or both.
The Prankster's view is that the landowner has the right to enforce parking conditions, but that these should be fair and should not be used as a cash cow. If there are areas in the car park which the landowner wishes to keep clear, then these should be clearly marked as not for use, especially if cars regularly park there.
The Parking Prankster