A motorist was forced to pay £150 for a recovery truck he did not call after a puncture – even though his own breakdown company was on its way.
Robert Norris was driving along the M25 towards Barnet at Junction 24 (Potters Bar) in his black Saab with girlfriend, Katie, when his tyre “just gave out”.
The new ‘smart motorway’ system means there are no hard shoulders, so he pulled into a grass verge away from speeding cars.
Mr Norris rang Britannia, his recovery firm, and a mechanic was sent out – but 15 minutes later two officers from the Highways Agency ordered him move “to a safer place”.
When he refused out of fear of damaging his alloy wheels, the Highways Agency sent its own recovery truck – at a cost of £150 to Mr Norris.
In the meantime, the officers slowed all traffic down to cordon the area off with orange cones and created a makeshift hard shoulder.
He said: “They said if their recovery truck arrived first I’d have to pay £150. It was a race against time, I was panicking. I didn't understand why it was happening given Britannia were just minutes away.
“In the end, the Highways Agency appeared just 20 seconds before Britannia did. It was sod's law. The whole thing was such a shambles.
“It was a crazy situation. I just couldn’t believe what was happening. I was getting very agitated and it was humiliating.”
After an argument, Mr Norris, of Theobolds Grove, Cheshunt, was forced to hand his keys over to the Highways Agency, which took his car to a nearby car park, where Britannia changed his tyre.
However, the Highways Agency refused to allow him back into his car until he paid £150 on the spot.
He has since lodged a formal complaint with the Highways Agency, but is yet to receive a formal response.
Mr Norris, who works in a plumbing shop, added: “It’s scary not having a hard shoulder, I can see why they’ve done it but when you’ve broken down and there are cars whizzing past you it’s horrible.
“It felt like a complete try-on. Even though the Highways Agency is a government-based company, it felt like it was a money making scam.
“I was forced to pay when it wasn’t necessary. I pay Britannia money a month for breakdown cover so I don’t understand why this was necessary.”
A statement from the Highways Agency said: "Safety is a top priority for the Highways Agency, and we will often arrange for vehicles that have broken down in hazardous locations like a live traffic lane to be moved to a safer location to await recovery at no cost.
"If however for any reason a recovery firm needs to be used, there is a statutory recovery charge that is paid for by the driver.”