Crackdown on illegal use of disabled parking badges in Plymouth
POLICE are cracking down on parking cheats who illegally use blue badges.
Five drivers have already been caught allegedly using the permits of dead disabled relatives to park free of charge, say officers.
The shocking find came about as police and council officers carried out patrols across the city in an attempt to combat blue badge fraud.
Plymouth City Council issues around 5,000 badges each year. Those who receive certain benefits are automatically entitled to a badge or people can qualify based on an independent medical assessment.
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However, in an attempt to beat rising parking charges, a lucrative black-market has grown, with dodgy blue badges now worth £46 million a year across the UK, say police. It is estimated that in some parts of the country, especially close to shopping centres, misuse runs at between 40 and 60 percent.
To crack down on the fraudsters police joined forces with Plymouth City Council's parking enforcement team to carry out blue badge checks. On Wednesday and yesterday the teams examined around 1,100 blue badged vehicles and spoke to around 500 badge owners in areas including the Mayflower Street car park, Cornwall Street, Colin Campbell Court, New George Street, the Guildhall car park, the Civic Centre car park, Princess Street as well as the Hoe and Barbican areas. In addition, the mobile units covered parking areas in Plympton and Plymstock during the operation.
PCSO Tony Brown, who was part of the team running Operation Dashboard, revealed officers had seized 16 badges which were allegedly being used fraudulently over the two days.
Five of the motorists have been reported for apparently using the blue badges which belonged to their now deceased disabled parents.
Another was reported for using the badge of their 97-year-old mother who is in a care home in East Devon.
He revealed that one motorist was reported after it was found they were a care home worker who had used the badge while they were out shopping on their own. The remainder of those reported had apparently bought or borrowed the cards from a family member, neighbour or friend.
PCSO Brown said: "We've offered advice to badge holders who are 'misusing' their badge and the parking division will be issuing fixed penalty notices for offences relating to the badge. The council's fraud team looked for anyone holding a blue badge illegally and we had traffic officers on hand to ensure that all was in order with vehicle documents."
PC Guy James, neighbourhood beat manager for the city centre, headed Operation Dashboard and said he was surprised at the level of blue badge fraud in the city.
He said: "This was just a snapshot of the users of blue badges in the city. We didn't realise what a large problem the fraud was and as a result of what we've discovered we will be running this operation again on a regular basis on any day of the week."
Plymouth city councillor Mark Coker, cabinet member for transport said: "We take fraudulent use of blue badges very seriously. Misuse of the badges deprives people with a genuine need of access to parking and limits their independence."
"We have a dedicated fraud team who work closely with the police and will prosecute blue badge misuse and fraud. It could mean at fine of up to £1,000 or a prison sentence.
"We will also be offering an amnesty for anyone whose badge is out of date or who has a badge that doesn't belong to them up until February 15."
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