A DISABLED motorist coping with her husband’s sudden fatal illness was threatened with bailiffs enforcing a parking fine – even though she had paid for a ticket.
Jackie Gough (59) was slapped with two £100 penalty notices from Bournemouth-based Britannia Parking after twice leaving her Ford Focus in New Milton’s Spencer Road car park behind the former Co-op store to shop at Bradbeers in Station Road.
The pay and display car park was taken over by Bradbeers following the closure of the Co-op, with Britannia employed to regulate its use.
Although she won an appeal against one of the notices as she still had the receipt from a £1.40 payment for up to two hours of parking, Mrs Gough, from Ashley, lost the other case.
She told the A&T she had since received repeated letters, emails and phone calls from Britannia demanding payment of the fine from February last year.
Since childhood, Mrs Gough has suffered from Dupuytren’s contracture, a hereditary degenerative condition that has left her without the full use of her left hand and with difficulty using her right, as well as her feet.
She explained that this made it particularly difficult to type her car’s registration into the parking machine on Spencer Road. As a result on both occasions she had mistyped the number.
“You put your registration in first and then put your money in, which I did, and it spat a ticket out at me. I didn’t even check it was right – you get a ticket, you pay your money and you just think, oh well,” she said.
“Then about seven days later I got the parking fines for both times through the post – £100 each.
“I appealed both of them, but the first one I appealed they rejected because I didn’t have any evidence. The second appeal they accepted, but they said they would accept £20 as a sign of good will because I had put the wrong number in.
“They kept pursuing the first one. They just kept on at me all the time.”
Despite phoning Britannia several times to explain the problems from her disability, Mrs Gough said she was simply told to appeal again.
The matter escalated in October, she said, when the parking company instructed a law firm to handle the matter. This led to further repeated contact from lawyers seeking payment of the penalty notice.
In January, Mrs Gough and her family suffered a heavy blow when her husband William was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given just weeks to live.
“They [the law firm] still kept phoning and emailing during this time,” Mrs Gough said.
“I explained the situation to them and they said they would leave me alone, but they didn’t. It was probably just a week or two weeks at the most that I didn’t hear from them.”
Mr Gough died on 2nd March, and last Wednesday – five days after his funeral – his widow received an email requesting she pay £262.98 within 14 days.
Failure to pay up would result in action being taken, it said, such as a county court referral and deduction of pay from salary.
It also threatened the possibility of a warrant of control, meaning a bailiff would be entitled to seize possessions.
In bold lettering, the email stated: “This is a serious matter and should not be ignored.”
Mrs Gough went on: “It’s just got so ridiculous. I know I wouldn’t have gone into that car park without paying. You just don’t do that because you will get caught.
“They were phoning me twice a day or every other day saying, ‘You need to pay this now’, and I would refuse and they were really harassing me.
“I just don’t believe a word that they say. I think they’re a law unto themselves and they think they can say what they like.”
Mrs Gough explained she had used the car park for many years, but the dispute had put her off parking there again.
Although she had never felt frightened by the communications Mrs Gough, who used to work at Lymington New Forest Hospital, said vulnerable and elderly people may feel pressured into paying up.
“I just wouldn’t want anyone to be put under as much pressure when in as difficult position as me,” she said.
“I think it’s disgusting. They’ve obviously bought my details from the DVLA, which I think costs £2.50, and that should be made illegal.
“It’s just ridiculous how these private companies make you punch in your registration. Why should you have to do that? Why can’t you just simply buy a ticket?
“I’ve never been in trouble with the police or anyone before, so to have the threat of bailiffs placed on me is ridiculous, especially in this time of bereavement and when I’ve had money to spend on the funeral.”
When the A&T contacted Britannia for a response to Mrs Gough’s complaints, it announced that in light of her circumstances it would waive the penalty and seek no further action.
“We very much appreciate this case being brought to our attention,” a spokesperson said.
“We are, of course, completely sympathetic to Mrs Gough’s situation and would not want to cause her distress at such an upsetting time.
“We will cancel all proceedings immediately without question or further review.”
The firm also confirmed it would refund the £20 “goodwill” payment Mrs Gough had made after winning the appeal against one of the penalties. However, it did not say why this was requested in the first place.
Overwhelmed with relief at the outcome, an emotional Mrs Gough expressed her gratitude that this particular ordeal had ended after over a year.
“I’m very relieved to hear that the penalty charge has been cancelled,” she said.
“It has caused me an awful lot of anxiety and stress in a time of bereavement and the period leading up to that.
“I can’t even find the words to describe what would have happened if I hadn’t come here to our wonderful local newspaper. Without your help this never would have happened.
“My whole family is just in gratitude like you wouldn’t believe.”