Clamping con exposed
Katie Davies A SINISTER parking con in Hampstead is robbing businesses of hundreds of pounds, the Ham&High can reveal. Frognal Court in Finchley Road is at the centre of a mafia-style scam in which businesses are called out on bogus collections and deli
A SINISTER parking con in Hampstead is robbing businesses of hundreds of pounds, the Ham&High can reveal.
Frognal Court in Finchley Road is at the centre of a "mafia-style" scam in which businesses are called out on bogus collections and deliveries to non-existent "Flat 131".
The caller tells drivers to park in his resident's bay in the estate's car park but as soon as the engine stops, clampers swoop on the vehicle, immobilising it and demanding �300 for its release. The phantom customer is never heard from again.
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Meanwhile clampers continue to net hundreds of pounds a day by clamping anyone who parks for a short amount of time.
Michael Tanna, from Lords Dry Cleaners, told how he was called to make a collection of clothes from the flat by a man called "David".
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He said: "I got to Frognal Court and saw the signs saying it was illegal to park there so I parked at the O2 centre and walked over.
"When I rang he said I should get my car because the clothes were heavy and he had a resident's bay I could park in.
"[After parking] I walked around trying to find flat 131 and when I came back they were clamping my car.
"�300 is a lot of money. There must be dozens of people drawn into this place and clamped."
The clamping firm is Direct Parking Solutions Ltd, appointed by the landlord RFYC Ltd this year. Two clampers have been seen sitting in a van in the car park from Monday to Sunday apparently waiting for drivers to stray into their lair.
During a Ham&High investigation, we witnessed the clampers in action first hand when a number of people were caught out. Three people were charged �300 for illegally parking in the courtyard on the day we visited - �150 to remove the clamps and �150 for calling out a tow truck, according to the firm.
A similar taking every day would net the company close to �300,000 a year and it would have been higher had we not warned one businessman about the sting.
We saw Derek Gwardowski park his house-cleaning van in a bay which had just been vacated by the clampers. He had been told it was safe to park there by a caller from the mysterious flat 131.
The Ham&High alerted him and he escaped seconds before the clampers descended. Like Mr Tanna, he had been offered an irresistible job - this time by a "Tom". "It's a little mafia - these people should be arrested," said Mr Gwardowski.
"He said he wanted me to clean a flat and it had to be done today. I thought it was strange because I gave him a high price and he said it was ok without negotiating." Residents later observed the clampers working until 1am.
The car park has a controversial history and the appointment of Direct Parking Solutions is the latest twist in the tale.
In March, RFYC Ltd sent a letter to residents saying the company had "zero tolerance instructions" to manage the car park. Those tactics have driven several firms to boycott the estate including Parcelforce and Addison Lee.
The neighbouring Holiday Inn has even set up a loud speaker system to warn motorists.
The two clampers witnessed in action by the Ham&High denied any involvement in the calls. One, Keith Harrison, said: "We have never made calls. That is not our cup of tea at all."
The men said the scam could have been down to two clampers who were sacked earlier this month. However, when the Ham&High pointed out Mr Gwardowski was called while they were working they had no explanation. Chris Barham defended the rest of their work on the site.
"Our instructions are that anyone stopping should be clamped," he said. "The rules are harsh here but they are the rules which the owner tells the company he wants."
No one at Direct Parking Solutions' head office was available for comment.