A SPORTS Direct customer car park has attracted new criticism after a Darlington woman was fined and threatened with court action for a ticket machine mix-up.

The car park on East Street, Darlington, is managed by private parking firm Smart Parking and uses a ticket machine that motorists must use to enter and record their registration number.

The machine is paired with automatic number plate recognition cameras (ANPR) which detects entry and exit of all vehicles using the car park. The system is designed to stop the sharing of paid tickets amongst other car park users.

But, for Sarah Copland of Shearwater Avenue, the car park has left her with legal worries after the ticket machine wrongly detected her number plate and only included the last character of it, leaving a £45 penalty charge notice being issued to her five days later.

A frequent customer of the clothing store, she said she knows how the town centre car park works: “I used the car park on January 20 and use it quite often – I paid my money, entered my registration. Job done.”

However, it appears that Smart Parking believe that Ms Copland did not pay for the space and despite still having the original ticket to hand, her appeal to the firm was unsuccessful.

The case has since escalated further with a solicitor and a debt collection agency sending Ms Copland correspondence regarding the £45 charge.

Ms Copland has received threats that a County Court Judgment (CCJ) may be issued against her.

“I refuse to pay this fine," she said. "I have done nothing wrong.”

Enforcing Ms Copland’s fine are Zenith Collections, who are part of Debt Recovery Plus, a company that specialises in the recovery of missed fines by millions of motorists each year.

Earlier this week, it was reported that private parking firms had pursued more than 1.7m motorists over three months for fines at similar ‘managed’ car parks.

“I want to make other people aware of the pitfalls of using this car park,” Ms Copland said.

However, this is not the first time the East Street car park has caused controversy. In January, motorist Chris Wilson hit out at Smart Parking, when he discovered the firm were in the process of taking him to court over a fine which had been issued a year before.

He claims that when he entered the car park, a contractor was carrying out drainage work on the site, causing a “great deal” of congestion, leaving a delay between him finding a space and buying a ticket.

The following month, Hurworth Parish Councillor Paul Walters called on people in Darlington to fight back against “ruthless” parking charges – describing the appeals process at Smart Parking as a “complete injustice”.

The Northern Echo contacted Smart Parking for a comment last night but has yet to receive a response.