AN East Lancashire parking firm has won a £350,000 payout from a supermarket giant.

London’s appeal court heard that Somerfield had paid a heavy price for using an ‘aggressive’ contractor to monitor its car parks and levy charges on drivers who outstay their welcome.

ParkingEye Ltd, based in Buckshaw Village, put in automated systems at 17 Somerfield stores to record vehicle registration numbers and catch out over-stayers. After culprits' names and addresses were dug up from the DVLA, they were hit with £75 "penalty tickets".

The firm was entitled to keep the cash collected so the company “had an incentive to operate the ‘fine’ system aggressively", top judge, Sir Robin Jacob, told London's Appeal Court. He added: "This it did – too much so".

Increasingly tough letters, bearing police-style "chequered edging", were sent demanding payment from motorists and Sir Robin said one ‘semi-literate’ missive – the third in the cycle and sent out by a debt collection company – contained ‘serious falsehoods’.

When Somerfield Stores Limited found out what was happening, it terminated its contract with ParkingEye in March 2006. However ParkingEye’s response was to sue the supermarket chain for its lost revenue.

The ruling means that Somerfield will now not only have to pay £350,000 to ParkingEye, but also substantial lawyers' bills run up in the dispute.