A VULNERABLE pensioner who claims he was left stranded in the freezing cold for over two hours after his car broke down on the Mersey Gateway Bridge was facing a £150 charge to get his vehicle back under strict by-laws.  

Alan Campbell, 71, from Netherley, broke down at about 6pm on Friday 16 March on the way home from driving his wife to Winsford.

His family claim he was then forced to wait until about 8.30pm before his car was safely towed from the bridge by Hough Green Garage, despite Mersey Gateway operating a 30 minute recovery policy.

Motorists who break down on the bridge are not permitted to arrange their own vehicle recovery and must pay for it to be removed by an authorised  Merseylink contractor, at a minimum cost of £150.

According to Mersey Gateway’s vehicle recovery policy, recovery operations are restricted to ensure  “all broken down and stranded vehicles are removed with an acceptable time frame of 30 minutes”.

This is in accordance with Mersey Gateway bylaws set by Halton Borough Council in 2016, which say recovery operations are restricted to allow vehicles to be removed “as quickly as practicable.”

However, Alan’s family claim Hough Green Garage arrived around two and a half hours after he broke down on Friday night, when they took his car to their base in Widnes and ordered him a taxi home.

They also say that Alan, who is a blue-badge holder, was not able to retrieve his wheelchair from the boot of his car before it was put in storage.

The pensioner, who is covered by RAC, now faces a £150 fee to retrieve his car and wheelchair, despite waiting five times longer than Mersey Gateway’s target recovery time in the freezing cold weather. 

Alan’s son, David Campbell, 40, described his father’s ordeal as “morally wrong”.

He said: “I’m so angry about the fact that he’s been left that amount of time and still has to pay £150 because he was unfortunate enough to break down in that area.

“No one chooses where they break down.  No one chooses to break down on a bridge that will then charge you £150 for the pleasure of doing so.

“If he’d have broken down anywhere else on that journey he would have gotten home for free. He’s an elderly pensioner, he can’t afford £150. To be left vulnerable in the freezing cold. It’s morally wrong.”

David added that the incident left his father, who recently had pneumonia and has difficulty walking after breaking his hip,  feeling “panic stricken.”

David said: “There’s no hard shoulder on the bridge, so he’s stuck out half way onto the road, not knowing what to do and panicking because there’s cars and lorries flying past him.

“If it was me or you, we could get to the road side to ask for help. [But] he can only walk 25 yards or so before being out of breath.

“That’s not safe for people with disabilities. I’m baffled by how you can come up with this multi-million pound bridge but no one is clever enough to have a hard shoulder put in place.”

David stressed that the staff who picked up his father at the bridge may not have heard him request his wheelchair, admitting his dad was a “shy, quiet man”.

However, he questioned why the garage couldn’t drop his father off home when he only lives 15 minutes away from the Gateway crossing.

He said: “It’s the monopoly of this big money making scheme that really annoys me.  How can you justify £150?”

Alan’s car remains in Hough Green Garage, but the fine has now been suspended pending a further investigation.

Hough Green Garage said that they did not receive a call about a break down on the Mersey Gateway Bridge on Friday night  until 8.02pm.

A spokesperson for the Garage said: “Vehicles were deployed and arrived on scene within 16 minutes to remove the stranded vehicle and Mr Campbell to a place of safety and also with facilities.

“We cleared the scene within 6 minutes so the entire operation took less than 22 minutes from being notified until his vehicle was removed which was well within the 30 minutes from the time we received the call.

“We cannot comment regarding what time the breakdown occurred or how long Mr Campbell was on the bridge for.”

David has spoken to the garage himself, and accepts they responded to an alert of a break down quickly.

However, he claims that still leaves around a two hour window for whoever was monitoring the bridge to notice his father’s car had broken down.

Merseylink is the company  appointed by Halton Borough Council to design, build, finance and operate the Gateway Project.

Tarmac is the company responsible for patrolling the bridge and responding to breakdowns, calling in Hough Green Garage to assist with tows.

A spokesperson for Merseylink said: “Merseylink are aware of an incident that occurred on Friday 16th March 2018 and have undertaken a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding this incident . At the present time the findings of this investigation suggest the vehicle was broken down for considerably less time than the two and a half hours suggested.

 “The Mersey Gateway Bridge Byelaws 2016 are in place to ensure the Mersey Gateway Bridge can be operated safely and in a way which maintains the free flow of traffic. Within this is included the provision for controlling vehicle recovery, this ensures all users of the Mersey Gateway Bridge receive the same standard of vehicle recovery service within the required time scales.”

Merseylink has today (Wednedsday) apologised for the way this breakdown has been handled and will waiver any fees for the vehicle's recovery and storage.

A Merseylink spokesman said: "Merseylink are currently investigating the circumstances surrounding the breakdown that occurred
on the northbound carriageway of the Mersey Gateway Bridge on Friday 16th March 2018.
"Our investigation has confirmed that the broken down vehicle was not recovered within the specified
30 minute time frame.

"We are in dialogue with the driver of the vehicle and Merseylink have offered
sincerest apologies for any distress this has caused and will duly waiver any fees for the vehicle’s
recovery and storage.
"The Mersey Gateway Bridge Byelaws 2016 are in place to ensure the Mersey Gateway Bridge can beoperated safely and in a way which maintains the free flow of traffic.

"Third party vehicle recovery is prohibited as this can introduce additional and uncontrolled risk. This is similar to other bridges and
tunnels across the country."