Like most large criminal enterprises with conspicuous levels of corruption, there can be no getting away with it without at least some co-operation from the police. Insomuch as Rundle & Co. Bailiffs are seasoned extortionists and fraudsters, they have only been able to get away with it with the tacit approval of the council and a blind eye from the police.
As soon as I became aware of how the Rundles fraud worked I contacted the police, to which I was told that they would not intervene on account of bailiff action being a "civil matter". You don't need to have read the recent Department of Communities and Local Government guidelines to know that attempting to charge for work not done is fraud. In 2007, in an answer to the House of Lords, Baroness Scotland (for the Government) explained that charging for phantom attendances was a criminal offence under the Fraud Act. Furthermore, there are at least a half dozen LGO rulings stating that bailiffs cannot levy for fees alone, and that levies must be proportionate to the value of the debt. In no way is the levy of my Audi A4 proportionate to the the sum of £192, even if the fees were legitimate. If Avon and Somerset Police had any interest in justice whatsoever, it would not have taken their legal department very long at all to establish whether or not the actions of Rundles were lawful. But since there is evidently a directive to treat such issues as a "civil matter", they have routinely neglected their obligation to investigate.
I raised this issue with out local Police & Crime Commissioner, who merely replied with a bland press office statement detailing how I could use the "Action Fraud" website, but adding that it was most likely a "civil matter". I let this drop since arguing with a public official is about as likely to succeed as baptising a cat, and I am playing the long game. Dorothy Hooper et al of SGC think I have dropped the matter, and for the time being I am happy to let them think that. However, Eric Pickles just gave me the best present I could ever hope for which prompted the following letter...
Dear Mrs Mountstevens,
You may recall a little while ago I wrote to you about the conduct of Rundles Bailiffs acting on behalf of South Gloucestershire Council. The police wrongly maintained that it was a civil matter and you repeated that view to me. However, the Department for Communities and Local Government has published guidelines on this just recently, in which it states...
5.7 Public concern has been raised about the practice of some bailiffs undertaking ‘phantom visits’ – charging fees for action when no action was actually taken.
5.8 The Government consider that any fraudulent practices should be reported to the police as a criminal offence under the Fraud Act and that Local Authorities should terminate any contract with companies whose activities are proved fraudulent.
uploads/system/uploads/ attachment_data/file/207073/ Guidance_on_enforcement_of_CT_a rrears.doc
I have a statement from Rundles (to the police) confirming that I was not present on both visits to my house, both of which they attempted to charge for, along with spurious "attendance fees" on the first actual visit, which is not permitted by law under The Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992. See revised fee schedules.
In light of this, will you now instruct your officers to take bailiff fraud seriously and investigate my complaint?
It elicited an unusually prompt reply:
Now it would be churlish of me to suggest she has merely passed the buck, but at least it wasn't the knee-jerk rebuttal I expected. Just to make sure, I reported the fraud once more to the local Chief Constable and my local community plod overlord. I have since received a phone call from one of their minions assuring me I shall have a reply within ten days. Interesting that they assume to cogitate over this without even interviewing me for the details, hence why I hold no great hopes of accomplishment this time around. Howsoever, I am not by any means going to be fobbed off. There is always Police Complaints, and failing that, I have other more creative means of holding them to account, which I shall detail later.Dear Mr North,Thank you for your email below.As the contents of your email relates to an operational policing matter, under the independent direction and control of the Chief Constable, I have passed the details to Avon and Somerset Police and they will follow up your enquiry and reply to you directly. Please expect a response within 20 business days.I am confident that the Avon and Somerset Police will provide a full response and in my oversight role I have asked to be updated accordingly. However, if you are dissatisfied then please contact me again via this email address.I hope that this action is helpful to you.01275 816377Yours sincerelySUE MOUNTSTEVENSAvon and Somerset Police and Crime CommissionerValley Road, Portishead, Bristol BS20 8JJ
What we are seeing here is the classic "arrogance of office", which is as evident in the commissioners office as it is in the run of the mill street plod. Once I had reported Rundles to the police, they then launched a counter complaint against me for cutting off their clamp with an angle grinder. Unsurprisingly, while my complaint was neglected, the police did not waste any time in knocking at my door. So as to catch me unawares, they knocked at some ungodly hour in the morning, as is their typical tactic - so I am most likely to be in the least capable state to defend myself. An arrogant plod and his female stooge proceeded to lecture me, without allowing me to speak, while threatening to ransack my house in search of the clamp. Interesting that it is a "civil matter" when I have a complaint, but they are happy to violate my home on behalf of Rundle & Co.
Now, as any fool knows, you don't debate with the monkey, you go to the organ grinder. I was threatened with arrest simply for attempting to assert my side of the story, and if it was a civil matter as they maintain, then they had no right reclaim the clamp. But the common plod thinks he is the whole of the law and above it. Had I been in a fit state I would have taken his badge number, but he is too far down the food chain and I will get to him eventually.
As if this were not grotesque enough in itself, some weeks after the plod reclaimed the clamp and after more harassment from the bailiffs for outstanding unlawful fees, Rundles took to abuse of police process. Not content with committing fraud and trespass on property, Rundles have taken to wasting police time. I was driving up to see the parents that weekend and noticed I was being followed by a plod in an unmarked BMW 5 series. We get near Tamworth and he is joined by a BMW X5 4x4 and I suddenly realise they are escorting me!
A few moments later, the "follow me" lights pop up and we pull into a service station. I knew I hadn't been speeding so I had a feeling it would be some or other harassment. The plod then explained that my car had been reported stolen. I spent ten minutes waiting in the squad car while they established that the car was mine. I was compelled to explain that the car wasn't bought on hire purchase and there were no loans secured against it and the thing was 100% mine. They made no mention of who actually reported it as stolen, but explained that an ANPR alert tag had been placed on my car and they picked me up at a checkpoint. Having made it quite clear (as if it wasn't obvious) that I was no car thief, they disappeared to the X5 to try and clear it up. At this point, while alone, I scrolled down on the squad cars on-board computer. To my complete lack of surprise I read the words "Rundle and Co." at the bottom of the report.
Since the rather amiable plod made no mention of this, I made no mention of it either and we then had a convivial chat about the respective merits of the BMW 5 series, and the usefulness of average speed cameras. The other plod then confirmed that there must be "some sort of civil dispute which was an NFA" - No Further Action. The ANPR alert was taken off my car and the plod wished me a safe journey, but declined to reveal who had made the report.
I found the whole experience highly amusing. I must have gotten under their skin if they are resorting to this. But it does raise a serious point. Here we have Rundles making hoax calls to the police and claiming ownership of other peoples property. If a citizen made a hoax call of this nature, it would be an arrestable, criminal offence. I see no reason why Rundles should not be held to the same laws as the rest of us. However, when I made my complaint to the council and to the police, one PC Bird shrugged it off as "standard procedure" to investigate all such reports. Too bad the same doesn't apply to fraud.
To add insult to injury, my complaint to the council was handed to Rundles by the council instead of addressing it directly, who proceeded to claim pound breach as they had taken possession of my vehicle at time of clamping. Aside from the fact that clamping amounts to an abandoned levy, and the sketchy legality of that "levy" for fees alone, the police seemed totally oblivious and unconcerned by the fact they had been used in a vindictive campaign of harassment against a private citizen by state sanctioned fraudsters. The final insult being that Rundles directed me to the industry watchdog CIVEA, which is a watchdog made up of the respective bailiff companies, of which James Cohen, the bailiff concerned, is on the board of directors.
I could talk at length about the legal and moral issues surrounding all this, but that is beside the point. Here we have a police force who ignore the complaints of ordinary citizens, but will leap to the defence of private contractors working for the council, with the full collaboration of the council who casually refute any complaint, having done no background research or even consulting their own code of practice.
It's breathtaking isn't it? And a dangerous precedent. We have gluttonous local government which is not in any way accountable for the money it wastes, who then uses hired goons who operate outside of the law, who are free to investigate their own malpractice on behalf of the councils, while councils casually relinquish themselves of any responsibility for wrong-doing, while the police turn a blind eye and lend support to fraudsters, bullies and liars. What kind of message does that send?
Civil society depends on the assumption that the police are neutral and fair-minded, but when it comes to the collection of revenue, they are simply uniformed goons, no different to the bailiffs themselves. If citizens cannot rely on transparency from their councils or protection from the police, then it is only a matter of time before the public have to take the law into their own hands. Just recently there was a report of a policeman being stabbed in the neck while acting in support of bailiffs. While the local media neglected to report the finer details, I am left wondering if the attacker had some justification? Knowing that the police will wilfully refuse to investigate further fraud by Rundles, and the council recovery officers are complicit in it, I have no alternative but to defend myself by any means necessary against the next incursion. I have no wish for things to turn ugly, but in such circumstances, I fail to see any alternative. If the police want to know why there is a collapse in confidence in them, they might be well advised to do some detailed introspection.