The Tale of Mrs DarkStar and Premier Parking
You know how some people put up websites to moan and bitch about some company or other that has really got them mad? Well, this page is one of those. It's a 'Daily Mail' moment, borne out of intense frustration and anger. Frankly, there's not an awful lot left to do than to air this incident publicly, and to help prevent some other poor fool falling into the clutches of these blood-suckers.
Last Saturday was like so many others. I went to work (debunkers take note - my book-writing about the Dark Star does not provide an actual living, contrary to what you might believe) and my wife, Mrs DarkStar, took one of our sons to a party at JDR Karting in Gloucester. This is located adjacent to a large shopping area in Gloucester called the Peel Centre. It contains a Cineworld cinema, a couple of restaurants, and a bunch of large retail sheds. You know the sort of thing - you likely have one or more of these aesthetic disaster areas in your town.
My son's party was 2 hours long, so my wife planned on taking our youngest son to Burger King (located in the Peel Centre) in the meantime, as well as a trip around the large Toys 'R' Us store there, next to Hobbycraft. So she parked next to Burger King, and walked 100 yards down the Bristol Road to JDR Karting.
On her return to the Peel Centre car park just 15 minutes later, with my youngest son in tow, Mrs DarkStar was surprised and appalled to discover that the DarkStar Mobile had been clamped!
Now, we have used this car park for years and years, and it has always been free to use - no restrictions. So, Mrs DarkStar looked around to see what possible parking restrictions she had fallen foul of. Sure enough, placed 10 feet up in the air, were signs in relatively small writing indicating that users of the car park who left the site would be fined £125. And hanging around in company vans were several nightclub bouncer-style gentlemen who were the enforcers of this new draconian policy.
My wife was instructed by a man in a van with a credit card machine that if she didn't cough up £125 sharpish (plus £5 to use a credit card (like she'd have the cash on her!!?)) then the car would end up being towed about 80 miles to Weston-super-Mare, and the fine would rise to, I believe, £380 to get it back.
Well, we aren't about to let our DarkStar Mobile get effectively scrapped, even though it's 9 years old (debunkers take note - ageing Honda, not shiny new Bentley), so my wife was forced to pay the fine.
It's a form of legal extortion, let's face it. There's a right of appeal available if you take the time to write to the company after the event, but there are no grounds for appeal if you actually break the rules, however sharply they are enforced. In those circumstances they won't even consider the appeal, so that's a complete waste of time. But Mrs DarkStar will send an appeal in, if for no other reason than it gives the local paper a chance to get some answers from Premier Parking Services Ltd further down the line. This alleged 'appeals process' is , in my opinion, only there to allow the company to obfuscate and divert attention when faced by the quite reasonable questions put to them by journalists.
Anyhow, it turns out that a lot of people have been stung by this operation. Allegations have been made that the car park operatives are lying in wait to pounce on cars as soon as punters walk out of the car park. This clearly happened to Mrs DarkStar. She was even a legitimate customer of the Peel Centre, because she ate at Burger King and bought a toy at Toys 'R' Us while waiting for our oldest son's party to finish. But that counted for nothing in the eyes of the car park clamping operatives. They just wanted the money.
When I heard about this I contacted Gloucestershire Police. Frankly, I was aghast at the supposed legitimacy of this predatory practice. The police officer I spoke with expressed concern about the behaviour taking place at the Peel Centre by the employees of Premier Parking, but the police are powerless to act because it is within the letter of the law (1). Next, I phoned up Paul James, our local Conservative councillor, and leader of Gloucester City Council. He returned my call today and listened to our case with interest. The site landlords are 'Peel Holdings'.
I read up about similar incidents on the local newspaper's website. I suspect the local newspaper has gone as far as it can with this. It's evidently happening so often that it's no longer news. A lot of the counter-comment about these incidents argues that people should be more careful to read the signs. Yep, that may be so, but if you've been using the same car park for years, and the new signs are 10 feet up in the air, rather than at eye-level, then how are you going to be aware that you are falling foul of the new regulations? The fines are draconian, and the behaviour of the car-clampers is obviously predatory, with no discretion shown whatsoever.
So, we have lost £130, and feel truly ripped off. There's not a whole bunch we can do about it, because the problem is with the law itself, which allows these extortionate practices to take place. In Scotland it is illegal. In England and Wales it is a legitimate business model. The remedy? Nothing short of a campaign to change the law will suffice. But that would take years, and stacks more people will be stung in the meantime.
I do have one suggestion, however.
It costs money to scrap a car. You have to take it to the local car graveyard and fork out £50 or so for them to scrap it. Some people dump cars, which is a disgraceful and deplorable practice. However, Premier Parking Services Ltd seem to be more than happy to take your conked-out old car off your hands. Here's how it works:
Get some mates to help you push your rusting old banger down to the Peel Centre in Gloucester on a Saturday morning.
Leave it within sight of the clamping bouncers' vans.
Walk off site, whistling innocently as you breeze 'unknowingly' past the small-print hoisted 10 feet into the sky.
Pause momentarily as you wander down Bristol Street. Turn to watch the knuckle-scraping henchmen gleefully descend on your delapidated wreck.
Watch the henchmen snigger as they clasp their yellow tin of misery to the front wheel of your rust-bucket.
Go and watch Gloucester play at Kingsholm for the afternoon, happy in the knowledge that, by the end of the rugby match, your disintegrating disgrace of an ex-motor will be loaded unceremoniously onto a shiny new PPS lorry, and hauled to its final resting place in Weston-super-Mare.
Ignore the plaintiff invitations to part with nearly £400 for the privilege of retrieving your banged-up pit of a car.
In the meantime, the Peel Centre becomes another sad chapter in the on-going story of retail misery in Gloucester. We shall be avoiding it now, naturally. Regrettably, it is not the only shed we boycott. Don't even get Mrs DarkStar started on the subject of Tesco....
Written by Andy Lloyd, 23rd February 2009, who is not remotely interested in discussing this matter further.
1) Wheel-clamping - "A new licensing regime" with thanks to Dave W.
2) 'Boycott the Peel Centre' campaign