Film fan Carolyn Rayner’s visit to the cinema turned out to be an epic courtroom drama.
Now the former lawyer has won an important judgement against the private parking firm which ticketed her car at the Mexican restaurant next door.
Carolyn, from Whittingham, claimed she missed signs alerting drivers to new parking charges at Chiquito on Preston’s Dock complex because they weren’t prominently displayed.
And, after a battle lasting 15 months, a judge has agreed, saying notices put up by ParkingEye on behalf of the restaurant were not sufficient.
Carolyn took her case all the way to Preston County Court after being hit with a £100 charge for leaving her vehicle for less than two hours on the restaurant side of the car park while she watched a movie at the adjacent Odeon cinema.
She claimed the area was free to park on her previous visits and she had not noticed signs saying charges had been introduced just weeks earlier.
ParkingEye rejected her appeal against the ticket and fought her all the way to court, employing a lawyer of their own to recover the money.
But Carolyn came out on top after presenting a passionate and meticulously-researched case to Deputy District Judge David Mackley
And after the full judgement was published, she said: “After this I have very little regard for ParkingEye and I would encourage anyone who receives a parking ticket from them to contest it.
“And the organisations who contract ParkingEye to manage their parking areas cannot escape responsibility.”
The company, which also took over the running of car parking at the Royal Preston and Chorley Hospitals earlier this year, declined to talk about the outcome.
A spokesman said: “Because it is a legal case we cannot comment on the ruling.”
The Restaurant Group, which owns the Chiquito eatery, was contacted for comment on Wednesday but had not replied before deadline.
A triumphant Carolyn declared: “In 2018 around 52,000 motorists received a parking fine from ParkingEye. The vast majority of those people didn’t have the time or the inclination to contest them.
“At a minimum of £60 per ticket that’s a potential return of £3,120,000 - a huge income for ParkingEye.”
Carolyn’s case hinged on signage at the entrance to the car park off Port Way. Traffic can turn left into the cinema spaces, right to nearby office buildings or straight on into the section owned by Chiquito.
The restaurant introduced charges to its car park just weeks before Carolyn’s cinema visit on April 16, 2018. But she insisted that when she arrived and parked in an area which had previously been free, she did not see the warning signs ParkingEye had put up around the restaurant.
Although the parking company argued there were 10 of these, Carolyn said none were visible to her when she drove in. It was dark and the car park was unlit.
She stayed just short of two hours and then drove out. But her car had been clocked by new number plate recognition cameras and she subsequently received a ticket through the post.
She told the court hearing in July that the British Parking Association Code of Conduct stated entrance signs “must tell drivers that the car park is managed and that there are terms and conditions that they must be aware of.”
“Signs should be readable and understandable at all times, including during the hours of darkness or at dusk,” she went on. “None of that applies. This is 24-hour parking. It isn’t lit.”
She said as she turned into the parking area she did not see a sign. She added: “Why would I choose to take the risk of parking there if I had any inclination that it was restricted?
“Had I been aware, had there been a proper sign, there would be no reason for me to run the risk of £100 parking, I’d have gone another five yards down the road. There’s hundreds of parking there. It was empty. It’s never full.
“The point I’m making here is that not only have they failed to provide the basic entrance sign, it is very natural for a person to conclude that parking spots nearer to the Odeon than to Chiquito’s belong to the Odeon and not Chiquito’s.”
The court also heard that large banners were later put up by ParkingEye in the restaurant car park, making the parking charges more clear.
In his written judgement, Deputy District Judge Mackley said: “On the balance of probabilities I find that the signs that were present were not, in my view, compliant with the guidance and that they were not reasonably or not easy to see, read and understand.”
He said he had seen a photograph which showed ParkingEye had erected large warning banners, but only after Carolyn had been ticketed.
“It seems to me that that suggests that there may well have been significant issues with people not realising that parking charges were in place, which meant that, with hindsight,they put up further notices.
“I find on the balance of probabilities that ParkingEye ought to have taken more steps to make it absolutely clear that there was a change to the monitoring of the car park and that charges were now going to be in place.
“I am satisfied that a person entering that car park may have missed the entry sign or been misled.”
Founder in Buckshaw Village, Chorley in 2004, ParkingEye has grown to become the largest supplier of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) systems in the UK.
It was acquired by Capita in October 2013 and currently employs more than 300 staff at its Buckshaw Village HQ and Blackburn offices.
In July 2018, ParkingEye was sold to investment firm MML Capital Partners which is owned by Macquarie.
It provides a watching eye on motorists over-staying or parking illegally at hospitals, pubs and restaurants, private car parks and other sites throughout the UK. Its customers include Aldi, Morrisons and The Range.
ParkingEye has come under fire earlier this year for the way it has been managing the car parks at both the Royal Preston and Chorley Hospitals.
In August, Chorley MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle even called on the local hospital trust to tear up its contract following a raft of complaints from angry motorists.
Since 2012 it is claimed the company has been issuing as many as 1,000 tickets a week and has an estimated annual turnover of £25m.
In a court hearing in 2017, with similarities to Carolyn Rayner’s case, ParkingEye unwittingly took on a driver called Nicholas Bowen for overstaying the two-hour time limit at a motorway service area.
Mr Bowen turned out to be a barrister and a QC and won his case against the £85 fine, leaving ParkingEye to pick up a £1,550 bill for his costs alone.