A PARKING firm is charging cash-strapped police forces across the country up to £75 a time to release possible evidence, The Northern Echo can reveal.
North-East MP Alex Cunningham has branded ParkingEye ‘a disgrace’ after learning of the company’s policy to charge forces for each query received.
Calling for the proper regulation of car parking management firms, he criticised the business – which monitors more than 3,500 sites in the UK – for “demanding money before releasing video footage that could be vital to ongoing police investigations”.
A Freedom of Information request by The Northern Echo found that police forces in the region were among those who have paid the company for the release of information including footage captured on cameras at their sites.
ParkingEye, described as “the leading ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) car park management company in the UK”, describes the fees as small admin charges.
An online statement says: “Sometimes our ANPR cameras are in the vicinity of criminal acts.
“Due to data protection laws we are unable to provide information to the general public.
“However, we are able to release information to the police, once the relevant forms and procedures are followed.
“There may be a small admin charge for this depending on the crime and the level of information required.”
The company charges up to £75 plus VAT per police enquiry, with the cost rising further “if the request is found to be substantial”.
A spokesman for Northumbria Police – which paid the company £1,351 between 2015/16 and May this year – said forces could seize footage but that it was sometimes necessary to pay.
He said: “Officers have the power to seize CCTV footage from private firms when the material in question helps with the investigation and detection of crime or aids in the apprehension of a suspected offender.
“If an officer wishes to use CCTV to assist an operation there must be relevant justification and the correct authority must be obtained, in compliance with the 2000 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.
“While the overwhelming majority of private CCTV footage is made available free of charge, there are rare occasions when it is necessary to issue payment.”
Cleveland Police has paid one invoice this year, with no figures available for previous years.
Superintendent Alison Jackson, from the force, said: “Investigations can require different resources to complete our enquiries and as a force, it is important for us to access all levels of information required to assist with an investigation.”
While the figures may represent a tiny fraction of a force’s overall budget, Cleveland’s Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger believes the charges are inappropriate.
He said: “I don’t believe it is appropriate for any CCTV company to charge the force for footage.
“Given the underlying objective we all share to keep our communities safer, I would hope they would assist and co-operate as best they can in any investigation.”
Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham said: “It is a disgrace that, in a time when our police forces are already having to deal with cuts to their budgets, private car park companies are demanding money before releasing video footage that could be vital to ongoing police investigations.
“Private car park companies such as Parking Eye should be assisting the police in their enquiries because it's the right thing to do, not for any financial gain.
“This is yet another example why private car park companies need to be properly regulated.”
A spokeswoman for ParkingEye said: “In some instances, ParkingEye charges a small administration fee to cover the costs of responding to these requests.
“In total, these fees cover less than 50 per cent of the costs ParkingEye incurs in responding to all police requests.”
John O'Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance said the police must ensure they do not waste money by "helping companies profit from what is taxpayers' money."