VCS v Ms O C8DP9D8C Birmingham 1/8/2017
Ms O parked her car in Albert Street, Birmingham in 2014, entered her registration and paid the correct amount. She was certain this was done properly. As the car was a hire car she had taken special care to enter the registration correctly.
Vehicle Control Services disagreed, and issued a parking charge. Ms O contested this at POPLA and sadly the POPLA assessors believed VCS over Ms O and the appeal was declined. At this point Ms O contacted The Prankster for help. The Prankster checked the POPLA evidence pack and noticed that the signage at this car park was in the name of Excel Parking, and not VCS.
Sadly, the incompetent assessors at POPLA had not noticed this.
This of course meant that VCS had no contract with Ms O and therefore no right to pursue any parking charge.
The Prankster helped Ms O point this out to VCS, and also over the course of a few years to their debt collectors Rossendales and BW Legal.
The Prankster also helped Ms O file a complaint with the Credit Services Association, complaining about the bullying and misleading letters she had been sent by BW Legal.
BW Legal filed a claim anyway, and Ms O filed a counterclaim for misuse of her personal data.
VCS had a long history of filing court claims regarding this car park, but pulling out if the defendant raises the defence that the signage was not in their name, such as VCS v Zozulya, claim A8QZ6666 and VCS v Ms M, claim 3QZ53955.
It is therefore clear to The Prankster that they were fully aware they had no valid claim, and that this was therefore a speculative claim and an attempt at bullying Ms O into paying up.
Despite this, BW Legal got their 'Litigation Executive' Rohan Krishnarao to file a reply to defence stating that he felt the defence was embarrassing for its lack of particularity. He asked for the defence and the counterclaim to be struck out.
This is a standard trick by BW Legal and as far as The Prankster can tell, dear Rohan puts this on all his cases regardless of merit. Perhaps this is a trick he learned while studying law at Cardiff University.
The first hearing was an allocation hearing on Monday 23 Jan 2017. Interestingly, the week before the hearing, the Prankster got hold of a document from the BW Legal dated 18 November stating that VCS had ordered BW Legal to stop pursuing Ms O. As BW Legal were still pursuing Ms O, The Prankster wondered what was going on.
Prior to the hearing The Prankster tried to give this document to BW Legal's solicitor, a bad tempered older gentleman. He refused to accept this and started ranting that Ms O had no legitimate counterclaim as her details had been validly obtained from the DVLA. Obviously he had not read the case notes - as this was a hire car, the DVLA would not have had her details to give out. The Prankster decided to leave him to his own devices.
Immediately the hearing started, the solicitor announced that VCS were discontinuing the claim. This left only the counterclaim. The judge ordered Ms O to file more detailed particulars. The solicitor asked if they could have a directions hearing once these were filed.
Despite asking for a directions hearing, VCS had no directions they wished to ask for. Neither did Ms O. The judge therefore gave the only direction he could, which was to set a date for the next hearing.
In passing he mentioned that he heard most of the parking cases in Birmingham and initially thought this was another run-of-the-mill case until he realised that the claim was discontinued and only the counterclaim was valid. He was now sad that he would not be hearing it, as it looked rather interesting.
He did mention that the particulars looked overly long, at which the Prankster had to smile a wry smile, as they had been asked to lengthen them at the previous hearing.
After the hearing the BW Legal representative, a younger chap, confided that he had no idea why the directions hearing had been asked for. He speculated it might have been an attempt to discourage Ms O from continuing by introducing extra hearings.
There was some confusion over the hearing fee for the counterclam hearing. Ms O attempted to pay it, but the incompetents at BW Legal had for some reason already paid the £25.
VCS engaged Ms Empson, who introduced herself as a barrister.
Ms O was represented for the third time by The Prankster.
There was a pre-hearing discussion. It turned out BW Legal had given Ms Empson the wrong paperwork and the old particulars of claim. The Prankster allowed her to photocopy his copy. She said a counterclaimant witness statement had not been filed. The Prankster replied they were relying on the particulars, which were also a statement of truth signed by the counterclaimant.
BW Legal had also not filed a witness statement. However, after some discussion it turned out they had, but for some unaccountable reason had sent it to the wrong address, despite no other claim paperwork going there. Ms Empson showed The Prankster the witness statement which turned out to be the same as their defence. As it was not introducing new material, The Prankster was happy to continue.
Ms Empson explained she would be attacking the defence for not showing any loss. The Prankster explained he would rely on Vidal-Hall v Google on that point.
In the hearing the DDJ got immediately stuck into the minutia of the Data Protection Act and quizzed The Prankster fiercely on what the personal data was and what the exact breach was. There was quick agreement that the issue was around principle 1 - was data processed fairly and lawfully.
The DDJ then dived off down subclauses (a) and (b). The Prankster explained he was not claiming non-conformance with the subclauses; only the 'fair and lawful' provision.
There was then some argument on when the breach occurred. The Prankster explained that in principle VCS could start the process of asking for a parking charge. However the breach occurred once they had been informed that their claim was not valid and they continued for several years to press on anyway, causing distress and harassment.
The Prankster could see the DDJ was in two minds. At this point the hearing still had not got into why the parking charge was not valid, so The Prankster asked the DDJ if he might explain this, as he thought this would help. He read the first line of the sign from the bundle. "By parking here you are entering into a contract with Excel Parking". He stated it was basic contract law that a third party could not sue on a contract between two other parties. He asked what VCS were doing bringing a court claim in the first place as only Excel had the right to do this.
The judge had a light bulb moment.
He said VCS could act as agents for Excel, and collect money on their behalf, but only Excel could bring a claim. He asked Ms Empson if she had anything to add. Unsurprisingly she did not.
The hearing then went through the letters to Rossendales and BW Legal explaining to them that the charge was not valid because VCS were not a party to the claim, and their template replies totally ignoring the issue. The hearing also went through the other claims VCS had filed and then discontinued.
The hearing examined quantum of damages. Ms Empson stated Ms O had never listed her costs. The Prankster explained the costs were trivial; postage and printing, and not worth individually listing. Instead, he was relying on Vidal-Hall v Google and the costs took into account the distress caused by 2 years of letters which were all template replies never addressing the issues raised. The amount was set both to reflect this distress, taking into account the level of the parking charge and the need to set an amount to stop parking companies claiming money they were not allowed.
The judgment was then made.
The judge found that the data processed was personal data.
The judge found that it had been processed unfairly and unlawfully.
However, for technical reasons he found that in this particular case, there was no breach.
However, despite that, he said that the court had other methods whereby he could deal with claimants who abused the court process. He then went on to costs. He explained that although the counterclaim failed, the courts themselves had discretion to address the matter.
He stated that VCS had behaved unreasonably in bringing the claim after such a long time; when they had been informed of the reason for failing; when they had brought and discontinued other claims.
He then quizzed the defence on the time spent over the case, allowing this at the litigant in person rate. He then discounted this by 50% to take into account that the counterclaim failed, arriving at the figure of £222 - not a million miles from the £250 claimed. This was awarded under the unreasonableness rule, 27.14(2)g
Ms Empson contested that the claim was not unreasonable but the DDJ disagreed.. Costs to be paid within 14 days.
Although this case was lost on a technical reason, this applied only to this case. The Prankster believes that other similar cases would succeed, and also that if Ms O appealed, she would have had a good chance of success. However, for obvious reasons, she chose not to.
What is good news is that Simon Renshaw Smith's greed and utter lack of morals in pursuing this case has led to his comeuppance and a substantial loss for his company.
This will have cost;
£27 POPLA fee
£54 BW Legal costs
£50 BW Legal filing fee
£50 two hearing fees
£700 3 sets of representation costs, including 1 barrister
All told, this is well over £1,000. Perhaps Simon has a valid claim against POPLA. After all, if they had done their job properly in the first place, the appeal would have been upheld then.
It also means that if Simon brings any more cases for Albert Street, Birmingham using the wrong claimant he would likely be facing another substantial costs ruling.
The Parking Prankster