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Islington Tribune - by PETER GRUNER
Published: 12 June 2009

Oriel Hutchinson
80-hour ordeal of parking fine victim

Top Tory tries to enlist help of Lord Falconer

WHEN the chairwoman of Canonbury Conservatives had her car towed away, she turned for help to the man who was once the most senior legal figure in the land – near-neighbour Lord Falconer of Thoroton.

But the former Lord Chancellor was in Russia, so Oriel Hutchinson talked to his wife, also an eminent lawyer, who gave her advice, including suggesting she see a judge.
However, this did not stop mother-of-two Mrs Hutchinson experiencing what she described as the “worst 80 hours of my life”. She says she was “held to ransom” by bailiffs working for Islington Council after refusing to pay a ­disputed parking fine.
After her two-year-old Citroen car was clamped and removed by bailiffs, she had to travel to a court in Northampton by train (£40 return) and then to a car pound in Essex, where she finally retrieved her vehicle.
The saga began with a £50 parking fine she received from Islington Council last year and which she is hotly ­disputing.
Then, at 7.15am last Friday she found her car clamped and was presented with a £565 bill, which she refused to pay. At 4.30pm that day Newlyn bailiffs arrived and the bill had jumped to £765, excluding ­storage.
Mrs Hutchinson then spent several hours “fruitlessly arguing” with Islington’s parking officials over the release of her car on the grounds that it was ­subject to a parking fine appeal.
She said: “The following day, Saturday, I received a letter from the bailiffs, acting on behalf of the council. They told me that unless I paid the fine they would sell the car at auction, including the contents, within seven days. My daughter had no formal shoes to wear at school on Monday because they were inside the car.”
In desperation, Mrs Hutchinson knocked on Lord Falconer’s door. She added: “He was away in St Petersburg, but his wife kindly offered to help. She ­suggested going to the Citizens Advice Bureau. But Islington’s CAB office at Finsbury Park closed a few years ago and the CAB phone line was very, very busy.
“Lady Falconer ­suggested I could go to Northampton County Court, who had sanctioned the car’s removal, and see if a judge could set the case aside.”
First thing on Monday, Mrs Hutchinson got a train to Northampton.
She said: “I called in at Newlyn Bailiffs, who were not far from the court. A complaints worker told me they were ‘puppets of the councils’ and are instructed by them at every stage.”
Later, Mrs Hutchinson went to Northampton County Court traffic enforcement centre. But there was no judge in attendance.
She said: “I then had to wait around for a long time, while court staff had to contact Islington Council and, eventually, I was told my car would be released without charge. But I would have to launch a new appeal against the fine.”
She was then directed to a farm near Harlow, where the car was being held. But it was several hours before she finally got it back.
A council spokesperson said: “Ms Hutchinson did not pay or appeal the ticket at any stage and it progressed to the point when it was passed to a debt ­collection agency.
“At this point she tried to lodge a Statutory Declaration with the Traffic Enforcement Centre in Northampton stating she had not seen the ticket or any of the subsequent paperwork.
“In this case, a ­mistake at TEC meant the council was not made aware that Ms Hutchinson was making a declaration.
“A warrant for Ms Hutchinson’s vehicle was issued to the bailiffs on 28 May. This was more than eight months after the ticket was ­originally issued and remained unpaid.
“A Statutory Declaration has since been filed and the case will now be dealt with by the ­council.”

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