The call went out just after 7.30am. Taxi dispatcher Maureen Lansley’s car had been clamped and the clamper van was blocking her in until she coughed up the fine. But the drivers at AC Cabs knew exactly what to do. They sent in the taxi-cab cavalry.
Within minutes, every available car in the area was racing to the aid of poor Maureen, the voice of the airwaves behind a thousand assignments.
Two cabs went into the car park and made sure the van was going nowhere. Others blockaded the exit while black cabs, minicabs and people-carriers encircled the site and kept the van corralled.
Oh, what a glorious moment for the ordinary driver against the curse of the clampers. For what followed was a nine-hour siege (‘ongoing dispute’ was the police’s phrase) involving more than 20 taxis and up to 40 drivers at its peak.
Last night Maureen’s ancient blue Renault was triumphantly freed after cab boss Ian Saxton gallantly paid an £80 fine to prevent his drivers facing arrest.
To cheers and applause from onlookers – and shouts of ‘power to the people’ from spectators in nearby flats – Keith the unfortunate clamper produced the key to the heavy duty padlock, took off the clamp… and finally got to go home.
Meanwhile Maureen was hailed as a heroine for refusing to bow to the clampers. Not to mention avoiding the £150 penalty she would further have incurred if a tow truck had been called out.
The drama began yesterday as Maureen, 53, was setting off for work at the cab company, where she assigns jobs over the radio to a fleet of local drivers.
Her car was parked in her own numbered space outside the flat where she lives in Southend-on-Sea, Essex. According to the clampers, it was not displaying a permit. According to Maureen, who does have a valid permit, it had simply slipped down behind the tax disc.
Even when she produced it, however, the clampers would not budge. They refused to remove the clamp until she paid £80, parked their white van in front of her car, and sat in it with their arms folded
‘I don’t see why I should have to pay £80 to park in my own space,’ Maureen said. ‘I already pay £1,000 a year in service charges and ground rent for that privilege. I called work to say I would be late. The next thing I know, all these drivers turned up.’
Paul Sutton, 60, blocked in the clamper van with his cab. ‘I came off duty and headed here as soon as I heard it over the radio,’ he said. ‘We are a brotherhood. We back each other up. I parked up to stop the clampers’ van from leaving.
‘Then the police turned up. The way I see it, the police are there to act on everyone’s behalf. But unfortunately, it always seems to be for the benefit of the clampers.’
The private car park is overlooked by several blocks of flats, some owned by Southend United footballers. Residents joined passers by to witness the stand-off and congratulate the cabbies.
The two clampers work for Preston-based National Clamps (motto: ‘We care!’) which is a member of the Parking Enforcement Trade Association. Its website boasts that ‘tried and tested management methods have proven to be almost 100 per cent effective in solving most parking related problems’. Safe to assume that being held captive by taxi drivers, however, is a problem previously untested.
Cowboy clampers who demand release fees after immobilising cars on private land are to be outlawed under new legislation, being introduced in the wake of a long-running campaign by the Daily Mail.
‘We clamped the lady’s car because she had no permit on display,’ Keith the clamper explained.
A photograph showed two tax disc holders on the windscreen but no permit, which is a green roundel the same size as a tax disc.
‘I saw her come out, sit in her car and put the permit in. She has accused me of getting into her car but I would not do that. It’s nothing personal, I do not know whose car it is when I clamp it. The rules are the rules. If she had a permit on show she would not have been clamped.’
Looking around him he added: ‘I have never had anything like this before, people blocking us in. It is not right and it is not fair.’
The siege of Southend was quelled after police warned the taxi drivers they could face arrest for threatening behaviour and public order offences.
Mr Saxton, the cab firm’s 58-year-old managing director, arranged to pay Maureen’s fine. ‘We came to support her because it was a complete injustice,’ he said. ‘And taxi drivers will always rally round when there’s an injustice being done.’