Thursday, 16 June 2016
Burgess Hill shoppers threatened with arrest by the Police!
A couple of days ago I was driving into the car park for Waitrose in Burgess Hill, when I saw something new. A notice. Something about the Police. It seemed a bit terse.
Having parked, and bought a ticket - and having had a brief conversation with a lady who had also made sure that she'd bought a ticket too, in case the notice was a warning that a draconian parking crackdown was now in force - I walked back to the notice, and had a closer look.
For goodness sake. It was terse! It was absolutely intimidating! Surely not the work of Waitrose?
An even closer look revealed the logo of the shopping centre management company in the bottom right-hand corner. Hmm. There was some purpose or design behind this - but what? What ordinary person, myself included, would ever have heard of the Police Reform Act 2002, let alone specifically Section 59? Who was being targeted here? Presumably not innocent shoppers. But it seemed to be a blanket warning to all, shoppers along with everyone else. It was clearly a very blunt instrument. I wanted to find out more - and, yes, I would ask the management company in person if the normal parking regulations didn't give me the clue.
Well, this was the regular notice about parking. I'd never studied it before. Why indeed would anyone?
In fact I'd assumed that the car park either belonged to Waitrose, or to the local council. But I now saw that it belonged to the shopping centre management company, who had in turn passed on all their parking rights and responsibilities to a specialist Brighton-based car parking company. The terms of public use were perfectly clear, although set out at menacing length. They might well frighten any person who was prone to worrying, and not good at getting things into their proper perspective.
There was no mention of the Police Reform Act 2002 in these ordinary terms and conditions. I would definitely have to enquire - as a concerned and perplexed shopper.
So I found the shopping centre management company's office (or suite, rather, for it was a bit plush) on the first floor inside, walked in, and saw a middle-aged man working inside, in an inner room. He definitely looked like a man one could speak to without getting wrong-footed or rudely dismissed. And so it proved. I projected 'slightly worried shopping person' at him, and was very polite. He in turn treated me very kindly, with a distinct hint of apology. He seemed pleased that I'd asked, glad to explain, but sorry that he could do nothing to change the wording on that intimidating notice that was threatening Police action.
It was all about a group of young drivers from Crawley - lads in flash cars, who had recently taken to meeting in the Burgess Hill car park on certain evenings, after sending each other a 'let's get together' message on social media, and presumably racing down on the motorway-standard A23. They would drive in, line up, rev their very noisy engines, possibly do skilful but naughty things involving spins and skids and tyre marks, and generally behave like loud young men will when trying to impress each other. All this while Waitrose and other shops and food outlets were still open in mid-evening.
The management company wanted to nip it in the bud, and move them on, by giving them a no-nonsense legal notice at the car park entrance. They had taken advice on what the notice had to say in order to be legally effective, so that the Police (who had their local HQ close by) could pop over and intervene. Section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002 gave them powers to seize offending vehicles. I'll be boring and set out the entire Section:
59 Vehicles used in manner causing alarm, distress or annoyance
(1) Where a constable in uniform has reasonable grounds for believing that a motor vehicle is being used on any occasion in a manner which—
(a) contravenes section 3 or 34 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) (careless and inconsiderate driving and prohibition of off-road driving), and
(b) is causing, or is likely to cause, alarm, distress or annoyance to members of the public,
he shall have the powers set out in subsection (3).
(2) A constable in uniform shall also have the powers set out in subsection (3) where he has reasonable grounds for believing that a motor vehicle has been used on any occasion in a manner falling within subsection (1).
(3) Those powers are—
(a) power, if the motor vehicle is moving, to order the person driving it to stop the vehicle;
(b) power to seize and remove the motor vehicle;
(c) power, for the purposes of exercising a power falling within paragraph (a) or (b), to enter any premises on which he has reasonable grounds for believing the motor vehicle to be;
(d) power to use reasonable force, if necessary, in the exercise of any power conferred by any of paragraphs to (a) to (c).
(4) A constable shall not seize a motor vehicle in the exercise of the powers conferred on him by this section unless—
(a) he has warned the person appearing to him to be the person whose use falls within subsection (1) that he will seize it, if that use continues or is repeated; and
(b) it appears to him that the use has continued or been repeated after the the warning.
(5) Subsection (4) does not require a warning to be given by a constable on any occasion on which he would otherwise have the power to seize a motor vehicle under this section if—
(a) the circumstances make it impracticable for him to give the warning;
(b) the constable has already on that occasion given a warning under that subsection in respect of any use of that motor vehicle or of another motor vehicle by that person or any other person;
(c) the constable has reasonable grounds for believing that such a warning has been given on that occasion otherwise than by him; or
(d) the constable has reasonable grounds for believing that the person whose use of that motor vehicle on that occasion would justify the seizure is a person to whom a warning under that subsection has been given (whether or not by that constable or in respect the same vehicle or the same or a similar use) on a previous occasion in the previous twelve months.
(6) A person who fails to comply with an order under subsection (3)(a) is guilty of an offence and shall be liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.
(7) Subsection (3)(c) does not authorise entry into a private dwelling house.
(8) The powers conferred on a constable by this section shall be exercisable only at a time when regulations under section 60 are in force.
(9) In this section—
“driving” has the same meaning as in the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52);
“motor vehicle” means any mechanically propelled vehicle, whether or not it is intended or adapted for use on roads; and
“private dwelling house” does not include any garage or other structure occupied with the dwelling house, or any land appurtenant to the dwelling house.
I have to say, it seems to me that the bobby on the beat has to carry an awful lot of legal stuff in his or her head! I wonder how these feats of memory are managed, because obviously if the officer puts a foot wrong - by forgetting a step in the procedure, or exceeding his or her legal powers - the defence in court can yawn at them, and probably demand compensation for wrongful intervention. A policeperson's lot has never been a happy one.
Still, the mere possibility that the Police could turn up and make an example of some cocky lad in a old Subaru WRX with a paint job and a booming exhaust, might do the trick and force these miscreants to move elsewhere.
I'm assuming he had this kind of thing chiefly in mind as he spoke to me:
Vroom, vroom! If you had one of these, and were young, you would certainly want to show it off, wouldn't you? A pity that it can't be done without disturbing quiet neighbourhoods.
He gave me plenty of time, and much more explanation than I expected. Maybe my casual mention of being a long-term Waitrose customer, of being a Volvo driver, and a caravanner to boot, might all have promoted the image of a 'middle-class woman, very reasonable; a solid local citizen.' If so, it got me a great reception, a polite hearing, a proper explanation, and a cordial parting.
He did tell me - off the record - that once the Top Gear wannabes had moved off, the notice was coming down. But meanwhile they wouldn't - couldn't - change the wording, in order to soften it and make it clear that ordinary shoppers were excluded from the implied threat of arrest and incarceration. So quite a number of people would be made unnecessarily uncomfortable.
And they might stay away.
It doesn't take much nowadays to make people switch to another shopping place. Whether frightened off - or just offended - they might think it was all Waitrose's doing, and boycott the store.
I hoped that wouldn't happen. But then not everyone likes to ask what really lies behind something they don't understand. Not many would like to seem fussy and pernickety at the Waitrose Customer Services counter. Even fewer would be brave enough to seek out and tackle the staff in a management company office, tucked away behind the scenes - people who might well turn out to be unsavoury bullet-headed thugs: very much a Daniel-in-the-lion's-den sort of thing!
No, the British Way is to hazard a guess and act on that. Just like voting in the Brexit Referendum, in fact.