The BBC watch dog following several serious complaints from customers about Secure Park Heathrow Ltd went undercover and their findings will make people who have booked with this company shudder and no doubt look to cancel.
The complaints that prompted this under cover operation included the following
- One car was stolen altogether and the customers are still awaiting a full explanation.
- Another returned to find paint on his car and scratches on his windscreen caused by someone trying to remove the paint.
- Another drove away from the car park but was concerned with the noise only to find the catalytic converter was gone along with a section of the exhaust system.
- Four weeks after returning home another customer received parking tickets amounting to £120.00. The parking ticket showed the car had been left on Slough High Street.
Watch dog operatives booked three cars with this company with monitoring equipment and found that the compound was left open all day although locked at night.
The first car a Toyota instead of being driven to the compound was taken to land owned by the council with no security whatsoever and then later taken to the compound. On the night before the Toyota and the Mercedes were to be returned to their owners they were taken to a council car park and left their all night in the open.
The next morning the Mercedes was used as a taxi to ferry drivers to Heathrow often breaking speed limits as they did so. Monitoring audio equipment picked up conversations showing that cars in the compound were being parked on their own drives at night.
Unfortunately, it is companies like this who give the industry a bad name and these tend to spring up in more challenging economic times hoping to attract business through cheaper pricing.
Some years ago a similar operation opened up for business at Gatwick and they never even had a compound whatsoever and were leaving cars in streets, supermarket car parks, waste ground and generally wherever they could.
Eventually they were found out due to damage to vehicles and the mileage being clocked up and once investigations began they dumped keys at Gatwick and police and customers were left to scour the streets looking for abandoned cars.
Having been involved in the airport parking and hotels business for over 20 years I have seen these fly by night companies come and go and whilst the more experienced traveller is more likely to smell a rat where pricing is so much cheaper, it is unfortunately all too easy to see how people looking to minimise costs get drawn in.
These companies always choose a name very similar to trusted well run companies no doubt to attract the unwary. In the case of the Gatwick Company the name chosen closely resembled the Pink Elephant Company.
A professionally run car park will pick up the car and take it straight to a secure compound where it will remain until the customers return. The compound will have a secure access that is only be opened for cars entering and leaving.
These car parks should be approved by the Chief Police Officers Association under the Park Mark Safer Parking scheme that calls for the car park to be inspected on an annual basis covering the standard and height of the fencing, access and exit points, quality of the lighting ensuring all areas of the car park are illuminated at night, parking lanes, CCTV monitoring, 24 hour manned security and health and safety issues.
To meet this standard costs money and I have no doubt the customers aforementioned wished they had spent that little extra in the first place.
Flypark has been providing airport parking since 1989, and will only use car parks that meet the standards outlined above because to do less is not an option.
By David Cook