Thom West­cott

Rov in g Re­por ter

Land Rover Monthly - - Columns - Thom West­cott is a Bri­tish free­lance jour­nal­ist who has writ­ten for the Times and Guardian, and now mostly spends her time re­port­ing from Libya

“My lit­tle his­toric ve­hi­cle ap­peared to be a blot upon their land­scape of unin­spir­ing subur­bia”

Are you aware of this? Can we as­sist in any way?” read the email from LRM ed­i­tor Patrick. Be­neath th­ese omi­nous words is a Face­book screen­shot show­ing my beloved Light­weight in a scrap­yard, with swirls of pink spray paint on the win­dows. I lit­er­ally can­not be­lieve what I am see­ing. My Land Rover – not just a ve­hi­cle I have owned for over 12 years but also a very old and dear friend – has some­how been rel­e­gated to a Devon scrap yard. And I am 3000 miles away in Iraq.

The pic­tures were posted in a Land Rover Face­book group by a fine chap called Jed who no­ticed it in the scrap­yard. His post – read­ing: “Ap­par­ently it just came in from the coun­cil? Looks like it was some­one’s pride and joy. Hope it’s not nicked!” – was how news of the Light­weight’s predica­ment man­aged to reach me.

A se­ries of des­per­ate Skype calls made over Iraq’s fal­ter­ing in­ter­net con­nec­tion en­sued to the po­lice (no, we’ve no record of it be­ing stolen), the DVLA (no, there are no prob­lems or is­sues with this ve­hi­cle), and to var­i­ous friends and rel­a­tives in the vicin­ity who might be able to help. Luck­ily for Tor­bay Coun­cil who, it tran­spired, had seized and im­pounded my Land Rover un­der the spu­ri­ous and base­less claim of it be­ing an “aban­doned ve­hi­cle”, it was my long-suf­fer­ing and lovely mother who spoke to them be­cause, by that point, my fury knew no bounds.

On var­i­ous gov­ern­ment por­tals and via the (ac­tu­ally in­cred­i­bly help­ful) DVLA, I re­search what con­sti­tutes an aban­doned ve­hi­cle. Mine does not fit into any of the gov­ern­ment-listed cri­te­ria, apart per­haps from hav­ing been “sta­tion­ary for a sig­nif­i­cant amount of time”. But no one can con­firm how long “sig­nif­i­cant” ac­tu­ally is. In fact, the DVLA said that, as long as the ve­hi­cle was le­gal, road­wor­thy, and was legally-parked and not caus­ing an ob­struc­tion, there re­ally was no time frame within which it had to be ei­ther driven or moved.

So, why was my fine Light­weight – in­sured, taxed and sport­ing a valid MOT may I point out – some­how des­ig­nated as an aban­doned ve­hi­cle? I sus­pect it was the in­no­cent vic­tim of a hate cam­paign by lo­cal res­i­dents liv­ing along a leafy av­enue of Tor­bay vil­las prob­a­bly worth half a mil­lion apiece, to whom my lit­tle his­toric ve­hi­cle ap­peared to be a blot upon their land­scape of unin­spir­ing subur­bia.

But if th­ese lo­cal res­i­dents and Tor­bay Coun­cil had hoped my ap­par­ently of­fen­sive Land Rover was go­ing to qui­etly dis­ap­pear into a crumpled piece of metal, they were sorely mis­taken. They had not bar­gained on Eng­land’s com­mu­nity of Land Rover own­ers and en­thu­si­asts swiftly mo­bil­is­ing to stage an in­ter­ven­tion. And, ac­tu­ally, nei­ther had I.

While I was in Iraq try­ing to re­motely res­cue my Land Rover, both LRM and the scrap­yard were be­ing in­un­dated with emails and phone calls, af­ter (in Patrick’s words) the orig­i­nal Face­book post “went vi­ral”.

“That Face­book post caused me quite an is­sue be­cause we got so many calls and mes­sages,” lovely Chris from the scrap­yard told me. “About 40 per cent of them were peo­ple say­ing: ‘ That’s Thom’s car, what are you do­ing with it?’ The re­main­ing mes­sages were ap­par­ently from other Light­weight own­ers scouting for parts, or en­thu­si­asts ask­ing to buy the whole ve­hi­cle. Chris, with in­fin­itely more per­spi­cac­ity than Tor­bay Coun­cil rep­re­sen­ta­tives, ad­mits to hav­ing be­ing mys­ti­fied by the Light­weight’s ap­pear­ance at the scrap­yard. “As soon as I saw it, I knew it hadn’t been aban­doned,” he said. “I mean, who aban­dons a ve­hi­cle of this cal­i­bre with new parts fit­ted?” From the Iraq cafe where ev­ery­thing is over­heat­ing in the 45 de­gree heat, I lis­ten with plea­sure as he flat­ters the Light­weight. And, af­ter this re­cent in­ci­dent, I can’t help but agree with his ob­ser­va­tion that its ex­te­rior could do with a good sand­blast and new paint job. Af­ter a few days of umpteen phone calls and the pay­ment of a ridicu­lous fine to lib­er­ate the Light­weight from the scrap­yard, it is fi­nally driven to free­dom. It even showed off to the lit­tle au­di­ence at the scrap­yard who had ap­par­ently gath­ered to wish it farewell by start­ing first time – some­thing I con­fess it hasn’t done for me in quite a while.

Later that day, when it was be­ing parked up – out of prin­ci­ple on the same av­enue, out­side the same villa – a lady pulled up along­side with a face like thun­der. “That ve­hi­cle was towed away by the coun­cil!” she said. “Well now it’s back,” said my friend who had kindly vol­un­teered to drive it back, slam­ming the door.

De­lighted and re­lieved that this sorry tale had a happy end­ing, I am feel­ing quite un­for­giv­ing about the whole in­ci­dent, and I’m fill­ing oc­ca­sional down­time in Iraq with pen­ning an epic ninepage let­ter of com­plaint to Tor­bay Coun­cil.

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