Police use anti-terror kit to chase parking fines

Police are conspiring with bailiffs to use number plate – reading technology originally developed to track terrorists to pull over motorists and make them settle parking debts.

Officers have been running joint operations with debt collectors who use unmarked vans fitted with automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras to check whether passing vehicles have any unpaid council parking tickets.

A Metropolitan police operation has helped to catch nearly 250 drivers in one London borough alone- despite concerns about the legality of such actions.

The Bailiffs’ equipment allows them to cross-reference vehicle licensing records with council databases of outstanding parking fines. When they discover a match, the debt collectors alert police at a road block a few hundred yards further on.

The motorist is stopped without suspecting they have committed an offence. Police do their normal vehicle checks and then pass the driver onto another team of bailiffs who demand payment by credit card for the unpaid parking charges. In some cases if the driver refuses, or is unable to pay, the vehicle may be impounded.

The practice has come to light following a series of Freedom of Information Act requests to local authorities by a former bailiff for Philips Collection Services.

Westminster city council is one of Philip’s clients and last week it admitted that debt collectors and MET officers do staff road blocks in the West End of London about once a fortnight and have collected £41,000 from 237 unpaid tickets.

The MET has also worked alongside parking debt collectors in Barnet, north London, and Hackney, east London. When ANPR technology was first deployed more than 20 years ago, it was meant to be used by police to combat terrorism and serious crime. But police forces have massively expanded its use since 2007.

Greater Manchester police took part in “multi-agency” operations to help collect parking debts in 2008 but abruptly stopped when members of the public complained about their personal details being shared between the council, bailiffs and police.

Lee Rowley, a Conservative councilor at Westminster responsible for parking, defended bailiffs’ use of ANPR and joint operations with police. He said the tactics were used mainly to enforce fines for more serious offences, such as disabled badge fraud and illegal minicab driving.

“Law-abiding motorists have nothing to be concerned about” he said.  The MET denied that its involvement in such operations was “inappropriate”.

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