The BBC has apologised “unreservedly” after presenters on the popular motoring show Top Gear were filmed parking in two accessible parking bays.
The episode aired this week (31 July) on BBC2 and featured presenters Jeremy Clarkson and James May test-driving two electric vehicles.
At one point in the segment, they stopped in the carpark of a farm shop in Lincolnshire, and the cars were both clearly seen to be parked in two accessible bays.
The charity Disabled Motoring UK (DM UK) – part of the Baywatch campaign, which was set up to tackle such abuse – received scores of emails and phone calls from angry members after the programme was aired.
Helen Dolphin, DM UK’s director of policy and campaigns, said disabled people were right to be angry, because of the widespread misuse of accessible bays.
Dolphin said: “Obviously people do get upset by it, because it is such a big problem. They do not want to see people on TV abusing those bays and leaving others to think it is OK.
“Joe Bloggs down the road sees them doing it and thinks, ‘Top Gear do it, so I’m going to do it.’”
Andy Wilman, Top Gear’s executive producer, said in a blog on the show’s website that the production team had secured permission from the carpark’s owner to use the accessible bays, because they provided “a quiet spot to film in”.
Wilman claimed that both Clarkson and May had expressed “deep concern” to the crew about using the bays, because of “the disrespectful impression it would convey”, but “only capitulated when we assured them the parking had been approved by the owner, and that the disabled bay markings would not appear on television”.
He added: “This was our fault, not theirs, and we unreservedly apologise to all the viewers we have upset as a consequence.”
A Top Gear spokeswoman added: “There were other disabled spaces available, and of course had anyone needed to park in one of the spaces occupied by Top Gear, we would have moved immediately.”
Dolphin has now suggested to Top Gear that the show take part in the next national Baywatch survey of bay abuse in supermarket carparks, which will take place next year.
Meanwhile, DM UK has released the results of a survey which shows many local authorities are doing nothing to combat fraud and misuse connected with the disabled people’s blue badge parking scheme.
The survey found that, across the 79 local authorities in England and Wales that provided answers to a Freedom of Information Act request, the average annual number of prosecutions for fraud and misuse of blue badges was just 2.9 in 2009-10, and 4.5 in 2010-11.
Most councils carried out no prosecutions at all, but a small handful appeared to be taking the issue seriously, such as Birmingham City Council with 124 prosecutions in 2010-11 and Enfield council in London with 75.
Dolphin said: “We hear from our members how difficult parking is becoming and by people using stolen, fake or ‘borrowed’ badges the situation is only getting worse.
“By taking action, local authorities will be sending out a strong message that this crime will no longer be tolerated and those found using a badge that does not belong to them will be suitably punished.”