THOUSANDS of parking fines handed out to drivers across Devon could be issued illegally, a councillor has claimed.
And a decision on whether criminal action should be launched over the issue is being reviewed, the Echo can reveal.
Devon County Council, which collects the fines, claims it has done nothing wrong.
But documents seen by the Echo reveal that up to £750,000 in fines collected over the last three years may have been done so illegally.
Police are now reviewing their part in the decision made by the Crown Prosecution Service to discontinue an investigation into whether the council has unlawfully obtained hundreds of thousands of pounds in unauthorised parking fines.
Exeter city and county councillor Percy Prowse, a former police officer, claims that the authority has accrued around £750,000 from unauthorised parking tickets since May 2008, when responsibility for on-street parking enforcement passed from the police to the council.
Guidance from the Department for Transport to local authorities states that when all enforcement became a civil matter, a review of all existing Traffic Regulation Orders was required before adopting the Civil Parking Enforcement powers.
It states the review should check "whether the restrictions indicated by the signs and road markings are the same as those authorised by the order".
However, Cllr Prowse has identified numerous roads across Exeter, East and Mid Devon and elsewhere across the county, where the council was, and is, enforcing restricted parking zones that have not got the authorisation from the Secretary of State for Transport.
He claims that without the authorisation from the Department for Transport, the enforcement is invalid and therefore people who have been, and are still being, issued parking tickets, should not be.
And he said the majority of the £750,000 accrued from motorists has not been paid back.
Cllr Prowse has shown the Echo what he claims is evidence that motorists have appealed parking tickets, and prior to the hearing the council has subsequently backed out, admitting that the signs, lines or orders were never valid and therefore defective.
Cllr Prowse said he has evidence that the parking enforcement is costing the council so much it is running at a loss, so he claims this is why officials are reluctant to pay back parking fines. He brought his allegations of offences to the attention of Devon and Cornwall Police.
His allegations were investigated by Detective Inspector Paul Beam, and findings referred to the CPS who launched an investigation in October 2010. In March the CPS took the decision to discontinue their investigation into the alleged offenders – a decision Cllr Prowse has questioned.
He claimed Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police Shaun Sawyer failed in his duty by not challenging the CPS decision. Cllr Prowse appealed to the Independent Police Complaints Commission against the decision not to proceed with his complaint against the Chief Constable – and the IPCC upheld his appeal.
Now, Sue Howl, chief executive of the Office of Police and Crime Commissioner, has confirmed the OPCC has looked into complaints against the Chief Constable, but has ruled out that he was involved in the process. Instead, it has referred the matter to the Professional Standards Department who will decide if any further action is appropriate against any other members of Devon and Cornwall Police.
Cllr Prowse said: "Most people, when they park, don't question whether the restriction is valid or not. So if they get a parking ticket more often than not they will pay for it, thinking they have done something wrong when in fact they haven't."
He said he has correspondence that shows in January 2009 a motorist appealed against a parking ticket received in Wonford.
When it went to the hearing the council said it was not going to proceed because the signs had not been authorised.
The Echo has also seen evidence that in July 2009, another motorist appealed against a ticket given to her in Regents Street.
A letter from the council later stated it did not want to proceed because "the parking contravention never took place".
On occasions, the council has tried to rectify issues, including a 29-metre single yellow line along George Street where there is only authorisation for 15 metres. The council has subsequently issued a suspension notice in that area.
Cllr Prowse cited examples on Sidwell Street, Cathedral Close, Waverley Avenue and Woodwater Lane in Exeter, and in Crediton, Axminster and Exmouth, where motorists have received parking fines that should never have been issued.
A spokesman for Devon County Council said: "Councillor Prowse appears to be at odds with county and district councils, the parking adjudicator, leading counsel's opinion, the police, and the Crown Prosecution Service."