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The joy of the wheel-clamp

by Tanni Grey-Thompson

30th January 2005

"Oh no, not blue badge parking again!" I hear you moan. "Can't these people think of anything else to write about?"
Blue badge symbol
Well, I would usually agree with you, but a recent event has brought more joy to my life than most things I could ever think of.

I was at the Fort Shopping Centre in Birmingham last weekend, and for the first time ever I saw a car that had been clamped because it was illegally parked in a space for disabled people. To add to my amusement, it was a bright red sporty car, complete with alloy wheels and ugly spoilers. It's a shame that there wasn't a sun-visor stuck across the front windscreen naming the occupants, because then I could have told you who they were!

Now, I have seen a couple of shops make a valiant attempt at stamping out this illegal parking problem by placing a big sticker on the car, which tells the driver that they have been a very naughty person. Fine as far as it goes, but apart from being a bit irritating, it won't change their behaviour. This sports car, however, had been immobilised with a massive yellow irremovable clamp - oh yes, that's much better!

I drift between complete complacency and an occasional burning rage when it comes to people who park illegally in disabled spaces, although seeing someone suddenly limping when they have been spotted is enough to make my feelings boil over. Most of the time I am so used to seeing this behaviour that I think there must be worse things to worry about, like the trains and the buses and how so many disabled toilets are also baby changing rooms (which, ironically, you can't use if you're a disabled mother because that bit is generally inaccessible).

But there I was buying a sandwich when I was distracted by the sight of this car, with the beautiful yellow clamp on the front wheel and a parking ticket on the window.

My husband, Ian, is often less bothered about these things than I am, but he limped over (he does this all the time, he is not a cheat!) to look at the notice alongside the parking bays. It stated very clearly that by parking in these spaces the driver agreed to have their car clamped if they were not correctly displaying a badge, and they would incur a £75 fine.

To be honest, we were in a bit of a hurry to be somewhere else, but when I saw the young couple (oh so Chav-ish!) returning to the car, I told Ian to slow down, especially as the clamping company were approaching from the opposite direction. I knew that we would be in for a treat, and I wasn't disappointed.

The happy couple - holding hands, looking lovingly in to each others eyes - returned to the car with a couple of bags of shopping. The girl stood by the front passenger door, waiting to get in the car, while her boyfriend walked round to the driver's door. It was then that he noticed the clamp - and exploded.

"It's not fair!" he shouted, with a few other choice words mixed in. All I could do was to sit and smile, while his face went redder and redder - first with anger and then, as he noticed how many people were staring at him, with embarrassment. It was better than Grandstand, and I don't say that too often.
A yellow wheel-clamp fixed on a car's front wheel
After a few minutes, he had gathered quite a crowd of onlookers, and lots of people were shaking their heads at him. But how many of them had done the same, and there but for the grace of God ...?

We stayed and watched as he pleaded his case with the two patrol officers, one male and one female. He shouted that he hadn't seen that the parking spaces were disabled bays (not a strong case to argue on) and that he wasn't going to pay, but the male officer just pointed at the sign and told him that there was nothing he could do.

Ian was bored by then and decided that it was time to leave, but I made him drive around in a circle because I wanted to say something to the patrol officers.

It's probably not a job where too many people say nice things to you, so I thought that I should congratulate them, because this was one of the most important things that I had ever seen (even if that's slightly pathetic to admit).

We parked opposite the male officer and, when he looked up from his notes, I applauded and Ian put his thumbs up. At first, he looked bemused, but then his expression quickly turned to a smile. I'm glad that we took the time to do it.

I know that this is probably even sadder, but I'm now off to write a letter to the manager of the shopping centre, telling him how good it is to see their staff watching out for able-bodied drivers using disabled parking bays. Yes, they may just be doing it for the money, but if this is the only way that people are going to be made to change their behaviour, then charge them a hundred quid for doing it.

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