Motor Vehicles - Wheel Clamping of Motor Vehicles on Private Land
1. Police officers are frequently called to deal with disputes between motorists and private contractors arising from the wheel clamping of motor vehicles, which have been parked without permission on private land. The primary concern of a police officer called to such an incident should be to prevent a breach of the peace.
2. Where there are adequate signs clearly displayed on private land to the effect that vehicles parked without consent will be clamped, and stating the fee required for the clamp to be removed, then the act of clamping the vehicle will probably be lawful.
3. Where damage is caused to the clamp, deliberately or recklessly, by a motorist attempting to remove it, this may render the person doing so liable in civil law for any damage caused. This may also amount to an offence of criminal damage. However, if the person took the action because they genuinely thought they had a right to do so, as opposed merely to trying to avoid the fee, then it is likely that such a criminal prosecution would not succeed.
4. Where damage is caused to the clamp, any removal of the clamp in a situation where signs are adequately displayed could amount to theft. However, to prove an offence of theft requires evidence as to the intention of the accused.
5. Possible criminal offences committed by the clamper may include damage to the vehicle, if achieved through any reckless or deliberate act, or Blackmail, where the demands are extortionate and menacing.
6. In a situation where signs are adequately displayed, police action in respect of criminal damage, or theft, should normally be managed by way of reporting for process, rather than arrest and charge.
7. This will allow consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service, before making a decision as to the most appropriate method of disposal.
8. Only where evidence of a criminal offence is clear and unambiguous, should a police officer proceed by way of arrest and charge.
9. Where clamping has taken place on private land where signs are not clearly displayed, then the act of clamping a vehicle may be unlawful, leaving the clamping company liable in civil law.
10. In such a situation, legal action to recover the unclamping fee may not be successful. Any action taken by a person who uses reasonable force to remove the clamp would not render that person liable in civil or criminal law.
11. Police officers attending an incident of this nature should not become involved in disputes about payment of clamping fees. Officers should make a note of the circumstances and any allegations made.
12. Where police officers are attempting to resolve a dispute, the following code of practice should be followed. The 'implied acceptance of risk' by the clamped driver may not apply if any of the following exist:
The warning notice is missing, or is not clearly displayed. (Whether a notice is poorly displayed will be a matter of degree decided by the courts)
Where the warning notice is not for clamping, but warning for some other course of action, which could damage the car (this may include warning notices that vehicles parked on this private land will be towed away)
Where a demand is made for an unreasonable or exorbitant charge to release the car
Where the clamper is detaining the vehicle, or has delayed its release after the owner has indicated a willingness to pay, or comply with whatever conditions are relevant
Where there are no means for the vehicle driver/owner to communicate an offer of payment (such as no telephone number on the clamping notices).
If the clamped driver and passengers would be vulnerable whilst left without a car, further practical help may be necessary to ensure their immediate safety.
Voluntary Code of Practice for Private Car Parking Enforcement