By Eric White
FOUR Thurrock men received suspended prison sentences when they appeared at Basildon Crown Court on Thursday (26 May) in a prosecution brought by Thurrock Council.
Earlier in the month the four admitted charges and Thursday’s appearance was for sentence alone.
Edward Blundell, aged 75, of Berwick Pond Road Rainham, had admitted one count of fraudulent trading; 54-year-old John Challinor, of Romford Road Aveley. pleaded guilty to a similar charge; while Darren Donoghue, 30, of Rosemary Close South Ockendon, and Lee Prescott, 30, of Comfrey Court Grays, both admitted a charge of blackmail.
The court had heard the case was about a group of wheel-clampers who clamped cars, vans and lorries in a number of different locations where they were contracted to provide parking enforcement services.
Having fixed the clamps, they would request payment from the motorist to release the vehicle, or alternatively they would tow away the infringing vehicle, which the motorist could collect from a pound for payment of an additional fee.
There were questions over the ownership of the company running the operation, its failure to put up large signs warning about the clamping process, clamping vehicles illegally on the public highway, the clamping of vehicles at night, blocking in of cars, and demanding hundreds of pounds to release a clamp, or upwards of Â£2,000 to release a lorry.
The court was also told there were bogus charges for cancelling tow trucks, the threat of dogs at a car pound, threats to crush cars if payment was not made, and a meaningless appeals process.
Evidence to the court showed that in one January 2012 week they took in more than Â£9,000, fitting 23 clamps.
Following a series of complaints Thurrock Council’s trading standards agreed to act and warrants of entry were executed in October 2013.
Blundell was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, suspended for two years with a curfew condition for six months between the hours of 8pm and 6am. He was disqualified from acting as a company director for five years.
Challinor was also sentenced to two years’ in prison, suspended for two years with a similar curfew condition. He was also disqualified from acting as a company director for a five years.
Donoghue received a one year prison sentence suspended for 18 months with a condition to undertake 200 hours of unpaid work. He was ordered to pay a contribution towards costs of Â£500 and to pay Â£400 compensation to one victim; both sums to be paid within six months.
Prescott was also give a 12 month sentence suspended for 18 months and ordered to do 200 hours unpaid work. He was also ordered to pay a contribution towards costs of Â£500 and to pay compensation to another victim of Â£400, both to be paid within six months.
Thurrock Council’s counter fraud team, with the permission of the judge, has now started Proceeds of Crime Act confiscation action against Blundell and Challinor.
Lucy Magill, Thurrock Council’s Head of Residents Services, said: “This successful prosecution has involved a great deal of work from several Thurrock Council teams, including trading standards, as well as the National Trading Standards Board’s Tri-Region Scambuster team and the police.
“This highlights how local authorities and other public organisations can work together for the good of the community.
“A lot of time and effort over some years has gone into ensuring Thurrock is a better and safer place.”