A HARROW woman has described a clamping operation as "legal robbery" after her car was immobilised at a petrol station.

Alison McKelvey had gone to Esso's Belmont Circle service station to fill up her car, but arrived to find all the pumps in use.

A regular customer, she decided to park her car in a marked bay in on the forecourt, before nipping across the road to buy a birthday card.

However, she returned to find her car had been clamped by Parking Solutions Ltd, and had to hand over £150 in cash to get it released.

Mrs McKelvey, of Belmont Road, said: "This was very upsetting. I approached staff in the shop but was told it was nothing to do with them.

"I told the man who clamped my car that I was going to purchase fuel, and that I use this petrol station on a regular basis.

"But he said unless I paid the fine he would arrange for my car to be towed and it would then cost me £300.

"I can understand problems may arise from people using the forecourt as a car park, and without enforcement it could easily be abused.

"However, there was no reasoning with Parking Solutions, no option to appeal on site and no method of payment accepted apart from cash."

Obi Okpara, a manager at Parking Solutions, defended the decision to clamp Mrs McKelvey's car.

He said: "People park their cars in the spaces and go to shops across the road.

"If there was no control, Esso customers would not be able to park.

"The Spanish Arch pub nearby has the same problem and also clamps.

"If you arrive at the petrol station and the pumps are in use, you should queue for your fuel, not park and go to another shop."

He said the release fee charged by Parking Solutions is lower than many other clamping companies, some of which charge £400.

He said Parking Solutions is a reputable company, but added "cowboys" are operating some clamping companies, and government legislation should be brought in to regulate fees.

The Harrow Times contacted Esso UK on Tuesday, August 28, after receiving a letter from Mrs McKelvey.

Following an investigation, it has emerged Mrs McKelvey was overcharged, when she was clamped in July, and will now get a full refund.

David Eglinton, an Esso spokesman said: "Parking spaces in the forecourt are for the exclusive use of customers using the shop.

"We have investigated this case with Parking Solutions. Unfortunately, it appears they made an error in completing the paperwork.

"The release fee should have been £125, and they are arranging for a refund to be sent to Mrs McKelvey. We regret this occurred."

5:15pm Wednesday 29th August 2007