motorists in Leeds city centre raced to the rescue of their cars after hearing they had been caught up in a rush-hour parking scam.
A popular car park on Whitehall Road closed down at the end of January after Leeds City Council decided not to renew its long-stay licence.
But yesterday morning drivers heading to offices and other workplaces in the area found to their surprise that the sprawling site was back in action.
Dozens of motorists paid a reported £4 each for a day’s stay to two high-visibility jacketed attendants, who had put up signs bearing the name of the Elite Parking firm that ran the facility until its closure.
However, it quickly emerged that the people taking the payments had no connection to Elite and no right to be operating on the privately-owned site.
But by the time the security company responsible for the site arrived on the scene, the unauthorised pair had scarpered.
Twenty Four 7 Security Services (UK) told the Yorkshire Evening Post that the site’s padlocked gates appeared to have been cut or forced open.
A member of staff from the company also said there had been no indication anything was wrong when the site was checked by a patrol in the early hours of yesterday. The Elite signs used had been left behind at the car park when it closed earlier this year.
Drivers began dashing back to Whitehall Road to move their cars as word spread about the scam yesterday morning, amid fears the site could be locked up again with their vehicles still inside.
In the event, however, Twenty Four 7 maintained a presence at the site during the afternoon so it could be kept open for latecomers to retrieve their cars.
People who worked at the car park when it was run by Elite raised the alarm after they started receiving calls from their old customers at about 7.30am yesterday asking about the reopening.
Joe Harding, a former parking attendant at the site, said: “If the people responsible had continued then the place would have been packed full every day in no time at all.”
A Leeds City Council spokeswoman said: “We understand that someone broke into the site, found some old signs left behind by Elite and managed to con a number of motorists into paying for parking.
“As soon as we were alerted we contacted landowner Taylor Wimpey, who were very surprised to find someone illegally using their land and they took immediate steps to re-secure the site.”