MOTORISTS will not be able to claim refunds for wrongly paid fines even though West Yorkshire Police issued thousands of invalid parking tickets, it emerged today.
Police Community Support Officers handed out 16,000 parking fines to members of the public between 2006 and March this year, despite having no legal power to do so.
Motorists paid more than £485,000 to the courts, into public funds, after receiving the fines.
But police have today said they would not be entitled to refunds as they “chose to pay the fine at the time” and did not challenge the validity of the tickets.
The force’s stance was described as ‘utterly disgraceful’ by a drivers’ organisation, who said the refusal to refund the money would “drive a bigger wedge” between themselves and motorists.
A West Yorkshire Polcie spokesperson said: “We assured the public at the time that we would look into the matter, particularly around whether any potentially affected motorists might be due recompense.
“We also said that we would publish our findings as soon as possible.
“We have sought examples of similar issues elsewhere and have also taken legal advice on the matter.
“As a result of this we are now satisfied that there is no basis in law that would entitle anyone to such a refund, which would in any case have had to come from the public purse.
“At the heart of this assessment is that motorists had opportunity to challenge the validity of the process in court at the time, and only those found guilty in these circumstances were penalised.
“If however motorists elected to pay the penalty they effectively accepted having committed the offence and opted out of the court process, thereby waiving their right to contest the matter.”
Hugh Bladen, founder member of The Association of British Drivers, said: “It is utterly disgraceful that the police are acting that you are guilty unless you can prove you are innocent.
“That is quite contrary to the way we are supposed to behave in this country.
“The mere fact that they have been lobbing out fines, which are totally incorrect, is fraudulent.
“I am shocked that police should behave in this manner, they should take it upon themselves to refund this money.
“The reason people have paid these fines is because they are threatened with all sorts of things if they don’t pay and most people don’t have the time to take these matters to court or have the wherewithal to do so.
“If the police wanted to drive a bigger wedge between themselves and the motorist they are are going the right way about it.”
Paul Watters of the AA questioned why parking in West Yorkshire was being enforced by PCSOs with traffic warden powers rather than by local council civil enforcement officers.
He said that unlike with parking tickets issued under the civil system, rather than the criminal system, there is no independent adjudicator where motorists can appeal.
He said: “With fixed penalty notices the only appeal opportunity you get is to go to Magistrates’ Court, which people are reluctant to do.
“The police must accept that many people would have paid up only because they didn’t want to go to court.”
He added: “I wouldn’t go as far as to say they mus refund everyone, it is tricky once you have accepted the ticket and paid it.”
Assistant Chief Constable Andy Battle said last month that the force carried out a review of its PCSO powers in March, and realised that PCSOs had “not been correctly granted powers” to issue the penalty notices.
He said it had appointed PCSOs and granted them traffic warden powers to issue tickets to illegally parked vehicles.
But when it reviewed the powers, it realised road traffic legislation meant the force should instead have appointed traffic wardens and granted them PCSO powers so they could give the fines.
The force spokesperson today said: “This anomaly has since been corrected and our PCSOs now have the full range of powers available to them, as was always intended to be the case.
“Whilst we now consider this matter closed, we would like to reassure the public that at the time these tickets were issued, the force and the PCSOs believed that they were acting correctly and in good faith, and that the force has acted promptly to consider and rectify the position as soon at the issue came to light.”