Owner of 'meet and greet' parking company jailed
Thursday 22 April: The owner of a Heathrow-based 'meet and greet' parking company that earned an estimated £500,000 while falsely claiming to offer its customers secure airport parking has been jailed for eight months.
Muhammad Tahir Zaman, aged 40, owner of now-defunct Connect Parking Limited of Wenlock Road, London, first came to the attention of Hillingdon Council in April 2017 after more than 100 of his customers' vehicles were found in 'pay and display' car parks in Brandville Road and Fairfield Road, West Drayton during the Easter bank holiday weekend.
The matter resulted in a year-long multi-agency investigation, code-named Operation Buzzard, led by local Trading Standards officers and assisted by the National Trading Standards (NTS) Tri Regional Investigations Team.
During the investigation, officers found evidence that Connect Parking Limited routinely used at least two insecure locations to store customers' vehicles, including a car park behind an adult entertainment club on the A4 in Colnbrook, Berkshire, and a muddy field in Iver, Buckinghamshire.
At the Iver site, officers found paperwork with customers' names and personal details left in vehicles. At the time of the council's inspection, the site was unmanned.
None of the locations found to be used by Connect Parking Limited provided the secure parking promised on the company's website.
The council also received allegations that the company used on-street parking bays and hotel car parks. There were other reports of vehicles clocking up excessive mileage while in the care of Connect Parking Limited, with some owners returning to find their cars had travelled 300 miles.
Appearing at Isleworth Crown Court for sentencing on Friday 9 April, Zaman was jailed for eight months for three offences of fraud by false representation and three breaches of consumer protection laws. He had pleaded guilty to all six offences at an earlier hearing.
The offences covered the period from Friday 18 September 2015 to Friday 17 November 2017.
Zaman was also disqualified from being a company director for four years.
As well as prosecuting Zaman, Hillingdon Council launched a complex probe into his finances in a bid to recover his ill-gotten gains, estimated to be around half-a-million pounds over 26 months.
However, during a confiscation hearing at Isleworth Crown Court ahead of his sentencing, Zaman revealed that he had been declared bankrupt. As a result, the council was unable to confiscate any earnings or recover any costs (the council was awarded £1).
Cllr John Riley, Hillingdon Council's Cabinet Member for Public Safety and Transport, said: "I can only imagine how shocked Muhammad Tahir Zaman's customers must have been to learn that their vehicles, which they'd entrusted to him in good faith, had been parked in a field, behind a nightclub or in a public car park while they were away on holiday. He abused his customers' trust in the most brazen way, while making a great deal of money, and so it's only right he should face the full force of the law."
Andrew Clooney, Chair of the NTS Tri Regional Investigation Team, said: "This investigation provides another excellent example of the value of partnership working between local authority Trading Standards services and regional assets such as the Regional Investigation Team. Our Officers were able to provide significant additional investigational assistance to Hillingdon Trading Standards service in order to allow the full facts of this complicated case to be presented and considered in court."