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Traffic wardens' tales of the dangers and threats
I HAD an old man call me Hitler once,” traffic warden Lisa Hinman tells me.
Of all the things I heard spending a morning with Colchester’s civil enforcement officers, this was perhaps the least surprising.
Lisa, who works for the North Essex Parking Partnership, admits they have an “awful” reputation. But she believes it is largely down to the horror stories emanating from the actions of their London colleagues, where the smallest offence can lead to fines totalling hundreds of pounds.
In north Essex, officers say they take pride in their job, which they believe is crucial to helping keep the streets safe.
If you ask the average person on the street for the first word that springs to their lips when asked about traffic wardens, it is likely to be “targets”.
Lisa said: “People seem to hate people because they are traffic wardens. We get a lot of comments about targets. We don’t get set targets. We couldn’t set targets because I can’t issue tickets if there are no cars there.
“People are convinced if we give enough tickets, we get a holiday and all these ridiculous rumours.”
This reputation occasionally spreads to violence.
“One elderly gentleman drove up the path at me and clipped my arm with his 4x4,” Lisa said.
Another man who pulled up to get a takeaway ended up in the magistrates’ court with a fine.
“I was attaching the ticket to the windscreen wiper and as my finger was going in, he drove forward and it got trapped. His defence was he didn’t see me.
“That was an expensive Chinese takeaway for him, I know that much. It frustrates me because it was all concerning a £35 ticket.”
I spent a morning with Lisa and colleague Elizabeth Harrod-Wood.
Each wielding a handheld computer, printer and camera, we walked from their base in St Mary’s car park to Colchester High School. Many of the area’s 80 schools see high traffic levels at about 8.30am and again at 3.30pm as parents drop off and pick up their kids, ignoring regulations.
Before we go, Lisa explains: “Most schools you don’t do on your own because you get a certain amount of grief from the parents. But it’s purely a safety issue. The zigzags are there so children can cross, not so parents can stop and let Johnny get out of the car.”
Behind Colchester High School the sight of two traffic wardens is like the parting of the Red Sea, as a string of cars parked on double yellow lines move off in a hurry.
We make our way round to the school’s main entrance in Wellesley Road, to be greeted with barely organised chaos.
Elizabeth spots a black BMW parked on the zigzags with a young boy and mum jumping out.
For most parking offences, where the driver is in the car, the wardens will tell them to move on. But because of the safety issues, anyone pulling up on zigzags outside a school will immediately get a £35 fine.
As she tells the dad behind the wheel that he is being given a Penalty Charge Notice, another motorist backing out of the car park nearly knocks the child over.
Over the next 15 minutes, most mums and dads see the two wardens in their brightly-coloured visibility jackets and turn round at the end of the road.
But a pair of foolhardy drivers decide to pull up on the zigzags and both immediately get tickets.
After 20 minutes the school bell rings and the street is deserted again. All, that is, except for the mum in the black BMW, who returns to debate the ticket.
“He didn’t park, he literally stopped for, like, a minute. I’m sorry, but it’s not fair. There’s nowhere else to go,” she remonstrates.
Elizabeth’s reply – “It’s there to protect your children” – doesn’t appease them.
At any given time, there are half a dozen civil enforcement officers around Colchester and Tendring.
Sometimes they are called to hotspots, such as schools, other times they respond to complaints from the public, and for the rest of their shifts they try to cover as much of the patch as possible.
On their rounds, officers also get plenty of complaints about parking problems which they, due to regulations or sometimes the lack of, can do nothing about.
When they do issue tickets, Lisa wants them to know there are valid safety reasons why they are being hit in the pocket.
She added: “I want them to know what they’ve done and why they can’t do it. I think some people genuinely don’t know, but ignorance is no defence.”