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TX: 07.07.06 - Blue Badges

PRESENTER: CAROLYN ATKINSON
Downloaded from www.bbc.co.uk/radio4 
THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY. 

ATKINSON
The blue badges which allow some disabled people to park more easily in our towns and cities have a picture of the user on one side and an expiry date on the other. At the moment traffic wardens, parking attendants and the police have no legal right to check the picture on the badge to ensure it's being used by the correct person because the badge has to be left face down on the dashboard. But from September a new law will mean it can be checked and that anyone misusing the badge will face an on-the-spot penalty fine. Well in a minute we're hoping to speak to the transport minister but first of all we can speak to Douglas Campbell who's from Mobilise, which used to be called the Disabled Drivers Association. Douglas, first of all, you've been campaigning for this for about 15 years now what's your reaction to the fact that it has come in?

DOUGLAS
I suppose great joy and a bit of amusement that it's taken this long to get there. I mean we told the government way back in the early '90s that there was no point in having a photograph, in those days inside a folding badge, if enforcement officers couldn't ask to inspect it. Now of course the photograph and the signature are on the back of the badge, the side you don't display, and time has moved on, I mean it's not just police and traffic wardens it's also of course the civil enforcement officers. But the great thing is now that not only can they look at them to see whether the right person is using the badge but of course once they have them in their hand they can readily identify forged badges or more readily identify forgeries and hopefully are better able to check badges against list of stolen badges.

ATKINSON
Okay Douglas stay with us if you would. Gillian Merron is the transport minister. Gillian, we know this new law is coming in on September 29th how will it actually work?

MERRON
Well it will I know be very much welcomed because what it will mean, as you said in your introduction, is that the police and traffic wardens and local authority parking attendants and civil enforcement officers will now be able to inspect blue badges as part of their parking enforcement function. We, as you know, have had many complaints from people up and down the country about abuse of blue badges, it's a very good scheme but we do want to make sure it's used by the right people. And every time it's abused that is a problem I think for disabled people who won't have access to the parking that they need. So I'm very pleased that we are now bringing in this power to inspect them and basically to police something which hasn't been policed in the past.

ATKINSON
And what will the penalty be if someone is found to be misusing or with a forged badge for example?

MERRON
Well it will actually be an offence for a person to refuse, unless they've got a reasonable excuse, to produce a badge for inspection and that conviction - punishable on conviction by a fine of up to a thousand pounds. It is an important enforcement measure and we believe it will go very far to tackle abuse of the scheme and in particular use of badges by non badge holders. And we need to protect the genuine badge holders, that's what this is all about.

ATKINSON
Is it enough though, I mean people could see the traffic warden and drive off?

MERRON
Well I do think it will make a tremendous step forward, we are actually going to be keeping an eye on the new measures to see where we can move still further, this is only the beginning, we're actually looking into introducing smart cards which will be considered in the future as they are likely to be linked with the national database. So in fact this is only just the beginning but I hope it will make a major contribution to what I think is a very important matter.

ATKINSON
Okay Gillian Merron, transport minister, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

Well Blue Badge misuse has become such a problem, particularly in London, that a few councils have set up their own covert surveillance teams because as we've been hearing until now it's been the only way of checking for misuse. Well I went out under cover with surveillance officer Chris Green in the London Borough of Wandsworth where in the past year 299 people, including solicitors, teachers and care home managers, have been prosecuted for using stolen forged or someone else's blue badge.

GREEN
We certainly know that well over 50% of the disabled badges on vehicles in the streets in London are being misused, it's probably quite a bit higher than that.

ATKINSON
That's an extraordinary figure.

GREEN
Indeed yeah. With parking in London being such a problem and the expense of parking, the availability of parking spaces, it does mean that access to disabled badges is a very valuable item indeed.

ATKINSON
So we've pulled up here, on a side street, there's a primary school behind us, lots of mums and dads dropping people off. We're just off the high street with all the shops behind us.

GREEN
Yes we're just moving over to the other side of the road now, so that we're in a position where we can hopefully film our target vehicles if and when they arrive. My colleague is on the other side of the road further down, so as and when vehicles park up he'll get out and just give them a quick check just to see if they have a disabled badge on them.

ATKINSON
And you communicate just by mobile?

GREEN
Yes.

Phone ringing

Hi Keith. Yeah, yeah okay, right that's one of our target vehicles just pulled in now.

ATKINSON
So we can see the silver Golf, the guy's opening the boot, shutting the boot, walking round to the driver's door, locking the car, walking away. Keith's just by him.

GREEN
He's just crossing the road now.

ATKINSON
Looking very nonchalant and unofficial.

GREEN
The idea is we don't stand out, we're just in a normal car, just blending into the background.

ATKINSON
He's just looking like a regular member of the public who's popped out to buy a paper.

GREEN
I'll check with the office now.

ATKINSON
And Chris is just checking the blue badge.

GREEN
Hello Ashley, can you do a check on this badge number please?

ATKINSON
To check that the driver matches the person to whom it was issued.

GREEN
Have a check on the age. Right. Well the badge comes back to someone in their 70s, so he clearly wasn't in his 70s, so we need to take this one further.

ATKINSON
So 10.08, you've had your first target car arrive and we now know that you're on the case for them. What else do you have to do on patrol this morning?

GREEN
Keith will stay here because we are expecting at least a few of the other vehicles to arrive. What we're going to do now though is just go around to a side street around the corner from here, where we know there's a vehicle displaying a forged badge and we're going to try and get the vehicle impounded. The vehicle is outside the owner's address so it may well be that the owner comes out in which case we'll speak to him and hopefully we'll seize the badge from him.

I checked earlier on and it had the forged badge on it.

ATKINSON
And how did you know it was forged in the very first place, what was the tip off there?

GREEN
This one is just one that we happened to see as we've been patrolling the area. The badge itself is a known forgery to us, we've already prosecuted someone for a copy of the same badge. And we do know that someone else in the neighbouring borough's also been prosecuted for a copy of this badge.

ATKINSON
So not only are they forging a particular badge they're sort of doing a mass production of the same badge?

GREEN
These particular badges have been sold in shops in the area.

ATKINSON
The truck's coming. It's coming along the road.

GREEN
Yeah it's there, it's the silver Toyota.

OWNER PROTESTING

GREEN
No, no alright. Wandsworth Council.

OWNER
Yeah. I put the wrong one then, my friend was ...

GREEN
You put the wrong what?

OWNER
[Indistinct words]

GREEN
The badge in there is a forgery.

OWNER
[Indistinct words] my friend gave it to me but I left my own one.

GREEN
Right, so why have you got one that a friend gave to you in there?

OWNER
Well he was here for a while, he was staying with me for a while.

GREEN
Right, I need to take some details from you sir.

OWNER
I had an operation and [indistinct words]

GREEN
Why have you put that badge on there when you know that's not valid?

OWNER
I didn't know it wasn't valid, how would I know it's not valid.

GREEN
Well you said someone gave it to you.

OWNER
Yeah, yeah he got it off a friend.

GREEN
Well if a friend gave you a badge then it's not going to be valid for you is it?

OWNER
I put it on innocently. If I'd know it was forged then I would never - I've got one already. [Indistinct words]

ATKINSON
Is that your blue badge then?

OWNER
You see I've had an operation and all that and I can't really [indistinct words] because I'm not a very well man.

GREEN
Right what we're going to do, because you have got a genuine badge, the car's going to be put back, but you're very lucky, it's a criminal offence to use a forged badge.

OWNER
I didn't know.

GREEN
You could get a fine of £2,500.

ATKINSON
And this is a genuine blue badge that the gentleman has and has it got his picture on it?

GREEN
It has got his picture on so ... When did you get this?

OWNER
I only get it about 8-10 days ago.

GREEN
Yeah because when I checked there wasn't a badge issued to you, so.

ATKINSON
This is a very, very unusual situation.

GREEN
It is most unusual because the badge has only just been issued, when I checked there wasn't any badge, obviously ...

ATKINSON
But the fact remains it was an illegal forged badge in the car.

GREEN
So the parking ticket will stand, you'll have to pay the parking ticket because you were displaying the badge. But you got away lightly because you would have had to pay £150 to get the vehicle back out of the pound. But don't do that again, it's is a serious offence and you could be prosecuted for deception.

OWNER
That's alright.

GREEN
Okay, goodbye. Certainly wasn't expecting that but ...

ATKINSON
Yeah there's a few unanswered questions but he had a genuine badge.

GREEN
He did, he came out the house with that so he's just got away with just having a parking ticket today.

ATKINSON
The bottom line is you've got a forged badge back haven't you.

GREEN
Yeah we're taking it out of circulation because I'm sure that that badge would have appeared back again on another vehicle.

ATKINSON
Okay well Douglas Campbell is still here from Mobilise, it used to be called the Disabled Drivers Association. Douglas, that was obviously in London but the problem that we have is all over the country isn't it, can you give some examples of where particular problems have been highlighted?

CAMPBELL
Well yes I mean we've had great examples in Liverpool where for some years the council and the police have got together to blitz areas in Liverpool, checking every badge and of course the new powers mean that sort of checking is something we hope to see all over the country where teams will get together and blitz an area where there's thought to be a problem. And I know in Manchester they I think lifted six cars off the street one morning where every one of those vehicles had either a borrowed badge, a forged badge or stolen badge. There's been problems in East London with badges being used by - I think a couple of doctors were caught using relatives' badges. It is a great problem. And of course misusing the badges takes those spaces away from other disabled people, we all know that even if you're not disabled now tomorrow you could be in an accident, in a terrorist incident, whatever and could end up with a disability. So it isn't just somebody else's problem.

ATKINSON
Okay Douglas Campbell from Mobilise thank you very much indeed.

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