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Revealed: Number of drivers caught in Newham abusing blue badge scheme

PUBLISHED: 07:00 10 December 2018

Misuse of blue badges is more prevalent than flytipping in Newham, according to figures from the latter half of 2018. Picture: Rhiannon Long

Misuse of blue badges is more prevalent than flytipping in Newham, according to figures from the latter half of 2018. Picture: Rhiannon Long

Archant

Newham’s enforcement team have dealt with more abuses of blue badges than any other offence during the second half of 2018.

Law enforcement officer Andrew Boot, checking if a blue badge isn't expired or registered stolen. Picture: Rhiannon LongLaw enforcement officer Andrew Boot, checking if a blue badge isn't expired or registered stolen. Picture: Rhiannon Long

There have been 62 prosecuted cases of people misusing or using stolen badges since April – that’s compared to just 15 flytipping prosecutions over the same period.

Blue badges allow registered disabled people to park for free in pay and displays, permit holder bays and for up to three hours on double yellow lines.

But as Operation Dasher – a joint operation between Newham Council and the enforcement team – has proven, misuse of the blue badge scheme across the borough is prevalent.

Enforcement officers have spent two days a month for the last two years checking badges as part of Operation Dasher. In that time, the number of prosecutions haven’t reduced.

A car park with disabled parking bays near Queen's Market, a hotspot for blue badge misuse. Picture: Rhiannon LongA car park with disabled parking bays near Queen's Market, a hotspot for blue badge misuse. Picture: Rhiannon Long

During their checks, plain-clothed officers inspect known disabled parking bays, focusing mainly on areas around Upton Park, Stratford, East Ham and West Ham. They’ll check badges are still valid, aren’t registered as stolen, and wait for vehicle owners to return to their cars, making sure the person who owns the badge is the one using the vehicle.

Blue badges can’t be used if the owner of the badge isn’t part of the journey – and it’s a criminal offence if people are found breaking the law.

If caught, the case will go to the Magistrates Court, and can lead to a fine of up to £1,000 and a criminal record.

In October, the borough had 21 prosecuted cases, with the largest fine being almost £900. And although it’s not happened in Newham yet, repeat offenders could end up with a driving ban.

The back of a blue badge, which clearly states it is a criminal offence to use a badge when the owner isn't part of the journey. Picture: Rhiannon LongThe back of a blue badge, which clearly states it is a criminal offence to use a badge when the owner isn't part of the journey. Picture: Rhiannon Long

Stolen badges can fetch up to £500 on the black market, and officers admitted they’d seen them sold on Instagram and Snapchat. According to figures from the Department of Transport, 4,246 blue badges were stolen in 2017/18, compared to 2,291 the previous year.

When The Recorder took part in an Operation Dasher inspection, the first driver to be checked, in Selsden Road in Upton Park, was driving using his wife’s blue badge. The driver claimed he was picking up shopping on her behalf – a common excuse, according to the enforcement team.

“The majority of people plead ignorance,” an enforcement officer said.

“Even though it’s written in big red letters on the back of their badge, they’ll say they didn’t realise it was a criminal offence. Then they panic when they realise they’ll face court.”

A blue badge, properly displayed on the front dashboard of a vehicle. Picture: Rhiannon LongA blue badge, properly displayed on the front dashboard of a vehicle. Picture: Rhiannon Long

When people are issued with their badge, they’ll be given an information pack telling them when they can be used, as explained by a driver during The Recorder’s ridealong. He was a legitimate badge user, who admitted he struggled to park even outside his house.

“I’ve seen people abuse blue badges,” he said.

“I’ve seen kids park in the residents’ bay outside my house and slap a blue badge on the front of their car, so my wife and I have to carry all our shopping down the street.

“It’s great they’re doing checks, I’m glad they’re catching people.”

An enforcement officer, carrying out a check with a driver found using a blue badge belonging to his wife. Picture: Rhiannon LongAn enforcement officer, carrying out a check with a driver found using a blue badge belonging to his wife. Picture: Rhiannon Long

Because the number of prosecutions hasn’t gone down since starting Operation Dasher, officers admit it’s hard to judge how effective it is. But for one officer, he believes it acts as a deterrent.

“In my whole time of doing this, I’ve only ever caught the same person once,” he said.

“I believe it makes people think twice.

“Ultimately we don’t want to be giving out fines – it’s not about making money.

“We’re here to help disabled people. When people misuse blue badges to take those limited spaces, they’re depriving someone who’s actually in need of one.”

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