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Saturday, October 06, 2012

I wrote yesterday's blog post on a park bench (not literally) in Palmeira Square, just down the road from Hove Crown Court, during a break in a heavy day's trialling. I felt like Samuel Pepys during the Great Fire of London. But with biros and a packed lunch.

The case which began on Wednesday is ongoing, and will enter its fourth day on Monday, but as we broke for lunch yesterday, the judge told us that before reconvening that afternoon, he had some other business to attend to, and invited us all to sit in on it. At the time, it sounded more like the kind of proposition that would land him on the other side of the courtroom, but we accepted, unsure of what to expect.

So having vented my anger about Ethical Parking Management into a notebook, I returned to court to find out what it was that the judge thought might be of interest to us.

It turned out to be a murder trial. Or at least a preliminary hearing for one. We were expecting some kind of dull legal meeting, but we were led into a highly charged courtroom complete with two defendants, three Queen's Counsel, three barristers, some solicitors, detectives, and a packed public gallery complete with burly policeman in body armour to keep the two sides apart. Intimidating doesn't even come close to it.

The hearing lasted less than twenty minutes, although must have cost thousands in lawyers' fees, and I've never experienced anything like it. Despite sitting in the jury box, we were there in an entirely unofficial capacity, with the same status as those in the public gallery, but quite what they thought we were doing there, I have no idea. One of my fellow jurors said afterwards that she felt like holding up a sign confirming that we're not the jury, just in case we started getting death threats.

Fortunately, when my jury service ends next week, I can't be forced to do it again for another two years, so I know I won't be trying that case. I've always thought I'd like to decide a murder trial, but having experienced one for a few minutes, I've completely changed my mind.

Going back to yesterday's other criminal act, I've located the minutes of the council meeting in 2010 when Brighton & Hove City Council decided to renew their contract with Ethical Parking Management. It reveals that the council pay EPM nothing for their service - they just allow them to keep all the fines. So it's in EPM's best interest to clamp as many people as possible, because it's their only way of getting paid. If no one contravenes the parking regulations, they don't make a penny.

It's interesting too, because it presents Ethical as a highly professional company, with impeccable standards, whose operatives are all "trained in social and communication skills". Which is odd, as the lady on the phone was rude, and the clamper didn't say a word to me, other than "Sign here".

I took Amelie over to see her Nanny this afternoon, and with spooky timing, Lisa's Mum handed me a letter she received this morning from the council. It says this:

"From 1st October 2012 the clamping of vehicles on private land became illegal following a change in the law introduced by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. As a result of this, Brighton & Hove City Council (BHCC) can no longer use clamping as a means of parking enforcement in off-street Housing car parks, as these are considered private land."

So September was the last month of clamping, and they got me. Four weeks later, and I'd have received a Penalty Charge Notice instead, with the ability to withhold payment while I lodged an appeal.

Unfortunately the letter goes on...

"Ethical Parking Management will continue to provide parking enforcement by the issue of PCNs in accordance with the terms of the existing contract that they currently hold with BHCC."

So the word on the street was wrong. Clamping might be going, but EPM are here to stay. At least until their contract comes up for renewal next year. That might be a council meeting worth attending...

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