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TWO YEARS FOR CLAMPER; Boss admits cruel con on vulnerable drivers.

Byline: Neil Elkes

THE boss of one of Birmingham's most notorious car clamping companies is today behind bars after admitting being behind a ruthless and cruel scam which plagued vulnerable motorists.

Andrew Baker, who ran Inter Park UK, was sentenced to two years in prison after admitting to frauds against motorists across the West Midlands totalling more than pounds 12,000.

But his 36 victims, whose witness statements helped bring the 29-year-old to justice, are unlikely to ever see a penny refunded.

Baker, of Pithall Road, Shard End, who has previous convictions for robbery, obtaining property by deception, harassment and theft, showed no emotion as he was sentenced for the offences between March 2007 and March 2008.

His heavily pregnant wife looked down from the public gallery as he was jailed at Birmingham Crown Court yesterday. Sentencing him Judge Philip Parker QC said: "Your operation was con in which motorists were deprived of their cars by clamping them and towing them away. "They were held to ransom until they paid cash, and only cash, to get them back."

The judge said the scam included clamping and towing cars very soon after they had been parked.

He said Baker's firm watched motorists park without warning them of enforcement, used obscure, small warning signs, accusing motorists of parking over white lines when road markings were unclear and charged them even when they had not parked incorrectly.

"This did not just cause stress and inconvenience, but panic, people felt held to ransom. They felt they had been bullied and robbed, fleeced."

Judge Parker added that victims deprived of their cars included people with children, and those who needed cars to get to work or to collect children.

Several were left in tears. The clamper did not have the Security Industry Authority license required to run a clamping operation, because of his previous convictions between 1997 and 2001. And in three confirmed cases Inter Park UK did not even have the landowner's permission to enforce parking. The court had earlier been told that Baker was deeply sorry for his actions and offered to pay back every penny of the pounds 12,105 to his victims if he avoided prison. The Judge was also urged to show leniency as his wife Eloise was due to be induced to give birth to their second child following the court appearance. Two employees of Inter Park UK were also before the court. Gary Gwilliam, 54, of Mountbatten Road, Bentley Walsall, who is Baker's step father, and Mohammed Islam, 47, of Denville Crescent, Bordesley Green were each fined pounds 500 for making false representations while clamping. Gwilliam must also pay compensation of pounds 365 to his victim Natalie Lewis, while Islam must pay pounds 325 to Baldish Chopra. What do you think of the sentence handed to the clamping gang? Were you one of the victims? Email letters@birminghammail.net INTER Park UK clampers watched four-year-old Jasmine Henning crying while they winched up the Volkswagen Passat containing her favourite Dora the Explorer doll in front of her eyes. The heartless clampers, who were not wearing ID badges, targeted the new car claiming it was over the white line in a pay and display car park in New Canal Street, Digbeth. Jasmine's mum Ellen Henning, from Northampton, has now vowed never to come to Birmingham again after the ordeal. Ellen, her brother David Haynes and Jasmine, now six, were visiting Latifs for a Christmas shopping trip in December 2007 and had paid and displayed their ticket. The family returned to find the car blocked in by a tow truck and straps being attached to the wheels. Ellen was told the bumper had been two inches over a white line and the two clampers were not interested in her disputing this, nor willing to accept the lesser on the spot clamping charge.

"He started to lift the car and the alarm started going off. My daughter had become very upset, was crying and becoming hysterical. I asked the driver if he could let my daughter have her Dora toy, but he wouldn't." It was only when Ellen threatened to jump on his lorry that the clamper retrieved the toys. The family was told to get pounds 295 in cash and collect the car from a compound. They also had their shopping. "A taxi was called and took them to cashpoint. However, once at the compound the clampers demanded pounds 365 and the kind cab driver, who had seen how upset Jasmine was, loaned them the extra money. She said: "After all that, it was reassuring that a stranger could be so kind. "I said to one of the men 'you've ruined my Christmas,' he replied 'you've made mine'. "Those clampers need locking up, whatever sentence they get is not enough for all the distress they put us through. I will never go shopping in Birmingham again. I doubt I will see that pounds 365 again. " THE jailing of clamping firm boss Andrew Baker was today welcomed by Birmingham Trading Standards. They also thanked the brave witnesses who came forward to give evidence and secure the conviction. And vowed to keep up the pressure on the Government to enact new laws, passed just before the General Election, to further limit the clamping menace. Trading standards chief Councillor Neil Eustace said: "We will continue to put these people before the courts, especially as the courts are now backing us up.

"I must thank the people who came forward and were brave enough to give statements, we need them to get people like this behind bars. "He was a ruthless conman who bullied and intimidated law abiding motorists and justice has been done. "But we also urge the Government to bring in the new laws as soon as possible, and even put clamping in under the control of the City Council." Once enacted the new laws will allow the Security Industry Authority the power to set limits on fines, minimum times before clamping and towing can be applied, written agreements with land owners and force firms to accept credit and debit card payments. Trading chief calls for laws Work van targeted CLEANING company director Clive Rochelle had his company van taken by Inter Park's sister company Excel Security after he turned up to wash windows on the Burdett House office block in Wolverhampton city centre. He turned up one Saturday, ahead of his usual Monday round, cleaned the windows and when he returned to the van it was clamped. The Inter Park UK operatives accused him of shopping. He had to pay pounds 150 cash for release. He later found out from the site letting agents that they had not given permission to clampers, but Excel refused a refund. THE VICTIMS All-out ban demand CLAMPING victim Russell Williams, a surveyor from Moseley, welcomed the conviction and called for an all-out ban on towing vehilces. He found himself in a stand off with Inter Park UK clampers, including Mohammed Islam, as they called their tow truck while he was sat inside his VW Golf at the Woodbridge Road car park in Moseley. He said: "It's wrong to leave people high and dry for a minor parking infringement. "It was a week before Christmas, but I was lucky I could afford the pounds 325 and there was a cashpoint nearby." no rights INTER Park UK made a habit of clamping and towing cars from land for which they had not been given permission to enforce parking. It was proving this which helped Trading Standards officers compile the fraud case against them. Andrew Baker's key error was to clamp and tow a car belonging to Walsall's chief fire safety officer from a car park owned by Walsall Borough Council. Two other council officials, a press officer and environmental health officer, also had their vehicles taken from the Lyttleton Street car park in Walsall town centre. And the court heard it was only when Walsall officials faxed the title deeds to Inter Park, proving ownership of the land, that Baker returned the cars without charge. It proved beyond doubt that Baker's firm was clamping cars on land without the land owners' permission. Birmingham Trading Standards investigators found he used a similar tactic at Summer Row, in Wolverhampton, and at the former New Inns pub, in Coventry Road.

Over the latter, he had insisted that he had a verbal contract with the owner, but this was vehemently denied. The investigation came after Birmingham Trading Standards was inundated with more than 70 complaints about Inter Park UK during late 2007 and early 2008. They were charged an average of pounds 325 each, cash only, to get their cars back. Their written appeals, often on reasonable grounds, were automatically dismissed with a standard rejection letter. Prosecuting barrister Anthony Potter said: "This was not a way of legitimately enforcing parking regulations, but a money making operation for Baker and his cronies." Baker was also not a licensed clamper, but claimed that as the business owner he was not a frontline clamper. But the court heard that as the business manager he needs a licence. Gang on land with THE METHOD Shopper saw car vanish CLAMP victim Keith Bickerstaff today welcomed Baker's sentence. He had been forced to pay Inter Park pounds 445 because his BMW was not within faded white lines at the car park in New Canal Street, Digbeth. Mr Bickerstaff, of Wolverhampton, said: "I am not interested in compensation, I just wanted to see justice done. At least no one else has to suffer as I did." He had parked an equal distance between two vehicles and gone to shop at Latifs after paying and displaying. Looking from a top floor window of Latifs ten minutes later he saw that his car had vanished. He was pointed towards two clampers in a van who were rude, abusive and swearing at a crowd of motorists complaining about their cars being taken. THE VICTIMS

CAPTION(S):

Guilty: Andrew Baker was jailed for two years for running Inter Park UK. Gary Gwilliam, centre, and Mohammed Islam, right, were each fined pounds 500. Helpless: A driver looks on as her car is lowered on to a tow truck by the clampers.
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 27, 2010
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