Bullies get away with it because of bluster. Sometimes they're just the ones who shout loudest, whose size intimidates, whose refusal to budge an inch no matter how wrong they are pulverises the weaker into submission.
And they hate it when you fight back. It only makes them want to bully you even more. I used to work with someone like that, whose obvious insecurities that he would soon be 'found out' in a room full of far more talented people, translated into menacing threats - always delivered with a smile and a pat on the back.
The biggest bullies of all, however, reside in local government. This is where the fine art of intimidation has been honed by true experts in their field. I'm sure the vast majority of those who work for local councils do a fabulous job and, poorly rewarded, look on in envy at the staggering pay and pension packages of their chief executives.
Anyway, this week I stood up to the council bullies. You might say I fought the law and the law lost. Or maybe it won, I'm not sure. But all I know is that I refused to be cowed by a faceless bureaucracy that insisted it was right even though they eventually figured out they were probably wrong. So instead of a simple apology continued to harass me over a four-month period by insisting that the law was on their side.
Don't get too excited - it was all over a £50 parking ticket. Which then doubled and, ultimately, tripled in a letter with red writing all over it, because that's what bullies do. They imply it'll be worse unless you give in.
Coincidentally, my triumph was followed a couple of days letter by a report in The Independent on Sunday suggesting that Apcoa - one of the country's main ticket-issuing firms - has been incentivised by Gloucestershire County Council to fine more motorists. The company gets £2 for each successful conviction. And it's big business, worth more than £600m a year. Recent figures suggest that 10 million parking fines were issued in the UK last year - that's around 890,000 a month or 1,200 an hour.
Here's what happened to me. On the school run at 7.30am, just around the corner from my house my VW Golf suffered a catastrophic electrical failure. It also had a flat tyre. My son was in the passenger seat so I had to glide the car (we were on a small downhill slope) into the nearest kerbside space. It was a residents' parking zone, just like the one outside my house and for which I have a permit.
My son ran off to catch the bus, I took photos to show the state of the car, posted messages in the windscreen to show that I wasn't totally at fault and then I rang Hounslow Council to inform them what had happened. I actually volunteered my misdemeanour, spoke to someone, sent an email within 30 minutes of it all happening with the photos attached. I then called someone to recover the vehicle and then dashed off to work, satisfied that I had done everything in my power to protect myself from warden overzealousness.
Guess what happened? My garage mechanic friend had left the ticket on my windscreen when I went to pick up the car later on - he towed it away at 1.30pm, the ticket was timed at 12.07pm. And thus began months of bullying letters from the council, defiant responses from me and eventually legal threats with words like 'bailiffs', 'prosecution', 'illegal' and 'penalty'.
All of my calmly-delivered responses were rebuffed by what I can only assume were box-checking numbskulls unable or unwilling to assess individual circumstances. I'm not going to give them the benefit of the doubt. In my mind, they knew exactly what they were doing - maximising profits by handing out as many tickets as possible and hope that those unfairly treated will be cowered into submission by increasingly threatening letters.
But clearly patience, courage and determination pays off. For my refusal to pay and the fact that I had 'proof' of my circumstance and efforts to inform the council of what had occurred got me my day in court. Well, my 10 minutes at the London Tribunal Environment and Traffic Adjudicators where, armed with the three-inch thick file of correspondence, I relayed the above and, after a few simple questions, had my fine revoked. The clincher was that the council must have known I had paid for a permit and was not at fault for my car's breakdown, yet just chose to believe I was making it all up.
Parking tickets have become the cash cow that keeps councils afloat and swells the salaries of their Chief Execs. Whilst many 'victims' are undeserving of their punishment, council workers are encouraged to pursue fines no matter what. No matter, even, if they're in the wrong.
Bullies don't like people standing up to them because it threatens to expose their inherent weaknesses - that their argument is both wrong and built on fear. Fifty quid is nothing in the grand scheme of things and yet if you believe in defending right over wrong, it's everything.Suggest a correction