Wednesday, 17 August 2011

There's a photograph where you're dancing on your grave

So, we had the long-awaited response today from Haringey Council regarding our problem with their bailiffs. It came from someone called Gary Weston, who's not dealt with us before, but didn't see any need to introduce himself. He's also taken himself off for 2 1/2 weeks' leave, so any attempts to negotiate with him will prove rather fruitless. His email is deeply clinical and exceptionally badly written! I’ve enclosed it below, with my response. I think what upsets me most of all is that no one, throughout this entire process, has felt the need to say sorry to us, or even sympathise with us. It would have been no skin off Mr Weston’s nose to start the letter by simply saying; “I’m so sorry things went so badly wrong”, but, as discussed in previous blog entries, this really doesn’t seem to be the way of things these days.

I went to two more North London cemeteries today. Who’d’ve thought there were so many dead Londoners?! The first one, in East Finchley, is also known as Marylebone cemetery, one assumes because the (then) greenfield plot was originally purchased as a alternative to over-crowding in churchyards in that part of central London. It's an incredibly pleasant, peaceful graveyard, well-maintained and filled with beautiful flowers. Unfortunately a police helicopter was buzzing around overhead for at least 30 minutes, and the constant noise really started to irritate me, before beginning to freak me out. It was circling the cemetery at a very low level and I kept wondering if there was some kind of criminal rushing about with a gun. The cemetery was empty and I got most indignant at one stage that police on the ground hadn’t told me to vacate the place for my own safety. Just before it disappeared forever, I’d even started to wonder if it was me that they were observing! Stranger cases of mistaken identity have happened, although I'd have be a very useless criminal on the run, walking very slowly from grave to grave, armed with nothing but a cup of tea in a polystyrene cup and a camera.

The cemetery yielded many lovely gravstone quotes, my favourite of which was for a man who “loved London... and the cinema.” PC Blakelock was also there. He's the policeman who was murdered in Tottenham's last riot, the infamous Broadwater Farm business. It felt rather strange to stumble upon his grave, particularly in the light of recent news.
The second graveyard was up in Hendon, and was a great deal less inspiring. It's an uglier place and there were too many ill-conceived quasi-religious inscriptions, which left me feeling rather cold. Why do so many people go for the poem that goes; “it broke our hearts to lose you but you didn’t go alone, for part of us went with you when God called you home?” And why doesn't it scan properly? And why are graveyards littered with shockingly awful rhymes? Surely these dead people meant more to those they left behind than being forced to suffer the humiliation of having the same epitaph as the person next door for eternity? That’s like a ground hog day when you constantly attend a cocktail party in the same dress as someone better looking! Note to everyone reading this blog; think before you chose your epitaphs. When the stone mason shows you a book of poems, say thanks, but no thanks, because if it’s in there, however moving you find it, it’ll be on a million and one other gravestones. Write something original. Something about the person. It doesn't have to rhyme. It probably shouldn't rhyme. Choose something that makes that person more than a statistic; something that makes the millions of people who will pass their grave in  the years to come think; “oh I bet he was a nice bloke.” Rant over!

Here’s the council response...
Dear Mr Till

I am now in a position to be able to respond to you having looked into all of the issues that you have raised. As previously arranged a refund of the fees to the Bailiff was made previously. Please firstly accept my apologies for the delay in replying beyond our normal timelines.

We contacted DVLA via our secure electronic link to obtain vehicle keeper details on 2nd October 2009 and information was provided to us on 5th October 2009. For the other second notice we made a request on 14th April 2010 and information was provided on 15th April 2010.

For both of the Penalty Notices, we were provided with the address of 353a Archway Road.

Appeals were made and correspondence was received showing the correct address of 343a Archway Road. Unfortunately we are required to contact the DVLA to obtain details of the registered keeper and accordingly the information from DVLA (although the wrong address) was correctly used.

The DVLA have confirmed that their records with the correct address were updated in December 2010 and if Mr Gaitch requires copies of that correspondence he should write to them directly.

We do not have the resources to contact those individuals personally where payment of penalty notices is outstanding and we are not permitted to make use of Council Tax records in this way either.

No County Court Judgements were or have been sought in this matter and it will not be recorded in anyway against Mr Gaitch. Our Bailiffs, whilst undertaking their duties on our behalf, are expected to do so in an ethical and professional manner at all times. All parking debts are registered with the Traffic Enforcement Centre, which is based at Northampton. Equita have offices in a number of locations including Northampton and London.

The address for the warrant was different to that of the premises they visited and this should not have happened. We are taking this incident very seriously and it will be subject to a further review when I met with our Bailiffs, when I return from leave on 5th September 2011.

As explained previously, the address error was not something that we were directly responsible for.

I am satisfied that we could have done nothing different with the information received from the DVLA. I am however mindful of the actions of the Bailiff visiting an address different to that on the warrant and I am willing to refund the sums you have paid to us, in recognition of this error and the difficulties subsequently caused. These will be refunded in the next 14 days.

If you are unhappy with my response, you can get a senior manager to look at your complaint at the Service Investigation Stage (Stage 2) of our procedure.
If you would like us to arrange a Service Investigation, you should tell our Complaints Officer what you remain dissatisfied about and what you want us to do. This normally has to be done within 12 months of this response. The contact details are:

(...titty blah titty blah)

My response was sent to our local MP, Lynne Featherstone, who has been brilliant all along. I simply copied Mr Weston in on it, 'cus I had no idea who he was, and he hadn't bothered to introduce himself.

Hey there,

Unfortunately, I am still slightly unhappy with this response because no one has yet apologised for the extreme bother and upset that this business has caused. Or, for that matter, given us PROOF that Nathan's credit rating will not be affected by this court business. Mr Weston says that the council don't seek CCJs, but the fact remains that Mr Gaitch was taken to court. So exactly what court proceedings were undertaken and what are the possible implications for Mr Gaitch? Is it even legal to take someone to court without having proof that this person has received notification?

I am sceptical as to why the DVLA would have an incorrect address for us, and furthermore why this would have been changed in December 2010. What prompted them to change the address? I'm also not sure why it is the DVLA's responsibility to send us this information, and why Mr Weston feels it's appropriate for us to go further out of our way to ask that this information be sent to us. Mr Weston does not even provide us with a contact name at the DVLA. What are we to do? Just call the switch board and spend another full day trying to get to the bottom of things?
I am also unclear as to what Mr Weston means by compensation. In the light of the fact that we had a valid permit to park, are they planning to pay us back £100 for the original two fines as a gesture of good will? I think this would be acceptable, but need to know that this is the plan.
It's the apology, however, that I would love most of all. It doesn't take much to say "we're sorry you've been through all of this." There is, it seems, fault on all sides... except ours... and I don't think it would take a great deal to acknowledge this.
Following the press interest that this case has generated, we've been asked to take part in an ITV documentary which looks into the behaviour of bailiffs - and those who employ them - so I think it would do the council no harm at all to talk very sternly to the bailiffs it employs to make sure that they do, indeed, behave in an "ethical and professional manner." I am seriously concerned to see that Mr Weston thinks it's only necessary to rap their knuckles for getting our address wrong, and not for frightening us, using physical threats and extorting money from us in the full knowledge that we were a) innocent and b) trying to get to see Nathan's mother who had recently had a heart attack!
Mr Weston's letter will be handed to the documentary makers and I have left him a message to call me to discuss these remaining issues when he returns from his annual 2 1/2 weeks' leave.
I do not want to have to go to the bother of taking this issue to a higher level at the council and feel that all of these concerns can and should be addressed by Mr Weston. They are very small points in the scheme of things and I think it's the least we can expect after waiting the best part of a month for a response.
I remind everyone, once again, that this entire business has been costly, upsetting and hugely time consuming. A refund of the £100 we have paid to the council in those two parking fees would barely cover the cost of phone calls made to sort the matter out, but it's a gesture we would both appreciate. 

And what of Pepys? Well, 350 years ago, after a morning spent working at the Privy Seal office, he went to the newly refurbished St James’ Park with his distant cousin Ned Pickering from Northamptonshire. Pickering had been working in the royal palace, was a little holier than thou, and had become the source of much gossip - which would eventually see him disgraced. What he said upset Pepys. It sounded like Charles II’s court was completely out of control, and Pepys worried that it would lead to the ruin of the country. 

By the way... is this cute, or sinister?