Comment Leyton

‘Waltham Forest Council seized my car over football – but I won the match’

Lorna Shaw on taking the council to court and winning after her car was towed last year
By Waltham Forest Echo

Lorna Shaw with her 2005 Toyota Corolla (credit: Penny Dampier)
Lorna Shaw with her 2005 Toyota Corolla (credit: Penny Dampier)

Last December, I walked out of my Leyton flat to find my car had been stolen. Given I drive a 2005 Toyota Corolla with the parcel shelf missing – hardly an attractive target – this revelation left me in a state of shock. Within minutes, a true-crime documentary started coming together in my mind. When did I last drive it? Had it already been sold for parts? Who has a vendetta against me? 

The truth, as it often is, was far less dramatic: I’d been towed. While I’m normally not one to get indignant about parking fines, this time it was different. I was in the bay, where I have a residents’ permit to park. No sheepish “I didn’t have time to read the signs” or “my wheels were only out of the bay a teeny bit”. Someone had to have made a mistake.

Little did I know that I didn’t live in a normal Leyton street, this was Brisbane Road, which backs onto the Leyton Orient football stadium. As I eventually learned, on match days a member of staff at the stadium creeps round the street and switches the signs like a mischievous elf-on-the-shelf brought to life by Waltham Forest Council, in order to keep the road clear for coaches and the emergency services.

I say “eventually”, mind, because there is absolutely no signage on the street indicating that this will happen. If you park your car legally and then leave it there, which I assume you will unless you’re on a stake-out, it could be towed within hours, costing you a hefty £200 plus the £65 parking ticket. It’s then £30 a night for the car to stay at The Pound Hotel.

Credit: Penny Dampier

Needless to say, I wasn’t willing to take this lying down, I was determined to take it all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary! For a second time, the crime documentary sprung to life in my mind: me on the stand, Waltham Forest Council in the docks with heads ducked in shame, photographers’ flashlights awaiting me on the steps of the court. 

Unfortunately, once again, the truth was far less exciting. It turns out a parking tribunal, like the one I eventually ended up at, takes place in a tiny room with a plain-clothes judge sat behind a Perspex screen. The council didn’t even bother to turn up. I was in and out within 15 minutes and the only person waiting for me outside was someone having a vape on their lunch break. 

But I won. The judge ruled that it’s “unusual” to delegate responsibility for parking enforcement to a football stadium, no matter how competent their staff, and that there was no way I could have known the signs would change when I parked my car.

I don’t think Netflix will be knocking my door just yet about making the documentary but of course I’ll tell all my friends that I had my day in court and justice was served. 

When contacted by the Echo to comment on Lorna Shaw’s piece, deputy council leader Clyde Loakes said: “Residents in streets surrounding Brisbane Road Stadium are notified of matchday parking changes both in writing ahead of the football season and via street signs 24 hours ahead of every match.

“We know that in some isolated incidents they may not be aware of upcoming changes to restrictions, although it is published in advanced of match days. This system has been in place for several years and worked successfully and without incident.

“Due to the advancement in technology and methods of enforcement residents were recently consulted on a new system of enforcing match days which was accepted and will be implemented in July this year.

“The new methods will ensure greater flexibility, future proofs our commitment to ensuring match days are well-run and works for both residents and the club.”

Find more of Penny Dampier’s photography at her website here