Thousands of Westminster Council parking fines 'illegal'

Traffic warden
Image caption Almost 112,000 tickets were given out in the last 18 months

Millions of pounds worth of parking tickets may be illegal - because a London council has not secured the correct camera certification.

Fifteen drivers have successfully overturned tickets issued after being caught on Westminster Council's fixed cameras, the BBC has learned.

During the last 18 months the council's CCTV cameras issued almost 112,000 £65 penalty tickets - totalling £7.3m.

The council insists it has the right certification and the fines are legal.

The small cameras, mounted on lampposts, are intended to record evidence of drivers who are parking illegally.

However, the council's certification for them has been deemed technically incorrect, leading to the Parking and Traffic Appeals Service (Patas) to rule in favour of the drivers on the basis of the wrong certification being used.

At the first of a series of hearings, the Conservative-run Westminster authority insisted it had the right certification but simply needed more time to gather its evidence.

At the second set of hearings, a week later, the council argued that its 'DVTel 9840' certification was simply an "abbreviation" of 'DVTel 9840 A', the correct certification that Patas believes it should have.

But the adjudicator ruled the explanation was "weak and unconvincing".

"I find that there can be no reason why the full camera details cannot appear on the certification," he said.

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

"The appeal is allowed."

Barrie Segal, who helps drivers appeal against tickets, said the decision shows the council does not "have valid certification for their cameras".

"Westminster Council must stop using those cameras immediately and cancel all parking tickets issued as a result of their use," he said.

"They should also refund all parking tickets paid by motorists who were caught by these cameras and believed the cameras were legal."

Drivers who have already paid their tickets have no formal right of appeal because their payment closed the case.

'Grave misgivings'

However, Mr Segal said they could make the legal argument of "unjust enrichment", demanding the council makes restitution for the reasonable value unfairly received and retained.

The total issued by the disputed cameras could actually be higher than £7.3m because of penalty clauses mean that for people who do not pay within two weeks the amount they owe doubles to £130.

The dispute comes after Tory Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Liberal Democrat transport minister Norman Baker spoke out against the council's plan to charge for West End parking on Sundays and weekends.

The mayor has "grave misgivings" over the plans' impact on local businesses and is launching his own review.

The council claims it is not a money-making scheme, but merely intended to tackle late night congestion.

The council was also accused of its wardens being "incentivised" to suggest new places to catch drivers by offering store card points as a reward, which could be deemed an illegal financial incentive.

Further appeals

The authority describes the store card points as a reward for "good work and accuracy".

Another tranche of appeals about uncertified CCTV cameras is to come before Patas shortly.

The authority claims it only lost the second round of appeals because it did not have someone to argue the case in person.

Councillor Lee Rowley, cabinet member for parking and transport, said: "We remain fully confident that the council's CCTV equipment is fully certified.

"We believe that the evidence submitted in recent cases should have been taken into account by the Patas adjudicators.

"But we will ensure that on November 26, in the next round of cases, the council has a representative to argue its even case further in person."

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