Swansea private hire operator fined a second time for employing unlicensed drivers

A PRIVATE hire operator has been prosecuted for a second occasion for licensing offences, including employing unlicensed drivers.

Matthew Benjamin, operator of MCB Executive Travel in Swansea, pleaded guilty at Brecon Magistrates Court to five charges, after being found on four occasions to be employing unlicensed drivers to undertake hirings, as well as failing to produce his private hire operator records as required.

It follows a prosecution for similar offences earlier this year.

The prosecutions were both brought by environmental health service department of Powys Council, the authority which licenced the business.

John Powell, cabinet member for environmental health, said: “The purpose of licensing the hackney carriage (taxis) and private hire trade is to ensure the safety of the public by ensuring that drivers are fit and proper and that the vehicles they drive are safe, suitable and reliable.

“This case should act as a warning to the trade that if they fail to obtain the necessary licences for their vehicles and drivers the council will take the appropriate action. Our licensing officers will continue to make sure that vehicles and their drivers comply with the important safeguards.”

Benjamin was fined £600 for each of the charges, and ordered to pay £2,125 legal costs and a surcharge of £60, bringing the total to £5,185.

In May, he had pleaded guilty to offences at Llandrindod Wells Magistrates’ Court, including employing an unlicensed driver to carry passengers, in a prosecuting also brought by the authority.

Benjamin pleaded guilty to three charges and was fined £350 for each of the charges. He was also ordered to pay £240 legal costs and a surcharge of £35, a total of £1,325.

It is the duty of all private hire operators to ensure that all vehicles and drivers employed by them are licensed to do so, in order to ensure both vehicles and drivers are safe and fit for purpose.

Read more at http://www.southwales-eveningpost.co.uk

Northampton man caught operating taxi company with forged licence

A Northampton taxi driver has been prosecuted for operating a private hire company using a forged licence.

The 30-year-old man, appeared at Northampton Magistrates Court last Tuesday and pleaded guilty to offences under the Fraud Act 2006, Forgery & Counterfeiting Act 1981 and no insurance.

After being found guilty on all three charges, the man was sentenced to a Community Service Order for 12 months 60 hours unpaid work for false instrument under the Fraud Act, a Community Service Order for 12 months 60 hours unpaid work for making a false document under the Forgery & Counterfeiting Act, eight points on his DVLA licence for having no insurance, a £300 fine for costs and a £60 victim surcharge.

Cabinet member for Community Safety, Cllr Mike Hallam, said: “Having fully licensed vehicles , operators and drivers who work to ensure the safety of Northampton residents is very important to us.

“As part of our commitment to keeping our night time economy and public transport safe, we carry out regular checks and enforcements and we hope prosecutions will act as a deterrent to other people from committing offences in the future.”

Read more at http://www.northampton-news-hp.co.uk/

Rossendale driver refused passenger with guide dog

A taxi driver refused to pick up a blind war veteran because he had a guide dog.

Cabbie Emmanuel Osayande has been ordered to pay £1,000 in fines and court charges after he was prosecuted by Manchester city council for breaching equality laws.

He also faces the possibility of losing his licence.

Father-of-five Neil Eastwood, who was left severely sight impaired after an accident in 2005, said he was left ‘annoyed, embarrassed and ashamed’.

Under the Equalities Act 2010, blind people cannot be refused access or service – or given substandard access or service – simply because they have a guide dog.

Council chiefs fear many cases go unreported and urged anyone in a similar situation to come forward so investigations can be launched and action taken through the courts.

Mr Eastwood, 56, from Wythenshawe, served in Northern Ireland with the 1st Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, during the seventies.

He’s now an active member of the charity Blind Veterans UK and spoke out to raise awareness and urge other guide dog users to report any similar issues they suffer.

Osayande, 56, of Chatwell Close, Salford, had been sent to collect him from his son’s house in Wythenshawe in February and take him to a hotel in Altrincham.

Mr Eastwood, who relies on Lenny his golden labrador retriever, said: “I rang the office and told them that I had a guide dog and told them to make sure that the driver was aware.

“The company by mistake sent two taxis and they both came almost simultaneously. I approached the first one that I saw come in. He had his window down and shouted ’sorry, I am not taking you’. He said that he would not take my dog.

“I told him that he was a working guide dog but he said he did not care.”

Mr Eastwood quoted the law but Osayande, who holds a hackney carriage licence with Rossendale council but was working for a local private hire firm, refused to take them.

He reported the matter to the council after the second taxi took him back to his hotel.

Mr Eastwood said: “It is a life-knocking experience that really should not be an issue in this day and age. I want to praise the council for their hard work in this case. The message has got to go out to other councils that they should always take action in these cases.

“It happens all the time all over the country and we shouldn’t tolerate it. Drivers could simply put down a cheap blanket in a footwell – it’s that simple.

“Most taxi companies are brilliant but this does happen and far too often. I want guide dog users to know they have options. They should know that it must not be tolerated and above all, these things shouldn’t stop them from going out.”

Taxi drivers can apply for exemptions if for example they can prove they are allergic to dog hair. The council said Osayande was invited to an interview to discuss the incident but failed to attend then didn’t attend Manchester magistrates’ court.

He was found guilty in his absence of refusing to carry an assistance dog under section 168 of the Equality Act 2010, fined £500 with costs of £500 and a £50 surcharge.

Councillor Nigel Murphy said: “Assistance dogs are indispensable for many people with visual impairments allowing them a level of independence that might otherwise be impossible – so it is vital that both hackney and private hire vehicles allow passengers with assistance dogs.

“I hope the severity of this fine reminds all drivers of their responsibilities.”

source: http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/

Should taxi driver vetting be toughened up in the wake of Rotherham sex abuse scandal?

Vera Baird

North East police chiefs and council leaders are calling on the Government to do more to protect taxi passengers

Crime chiefs and politicians have called on the Government to ensure that more protection is offered to taxi passengers from potential sex attackers.

It follows the Rotherham child abuse scandal and that in South Ribble, Lancashire, in which victims were ferried round by cabbies, some of who hadn’t been properly vetted.

A letter – signed by Vera Baird QC, Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria, Steve Ashman, Chief Constable for Northumbria Police, and the six council leaders who cover Tyne and Wear and Northumberland – has been sent to Transport Minister Chris Grayling.

In it they urged him to make the system of issuing taxi licences more open and transparent.

Currently, they say, it is possible for a private hire or hackney carriage driver to be refused a licence by one local authority only to be granted a licence by another.

Also, local authorities can issue a licence if they are satisfied an applicant is a “fit and proper” person.

However, there is no definition or criteria to what a “fit and proper” person should be.

Ms Baird said: “Rotherham has shown the importance of getting this issue right.

“We have to do all that we can to safeguard and protect vulnerable young people and adults. We are sending a clear message to government, they need to get the rules around issuing taxi licences sorted.

“There is only one chance to get it right and in the interests of safeguarding, no-one with a sexual or indecency offence should be driving a taxi. The Government needs to get this sorted, quickly and the North East stands ready to lead the way in delivering change in this area – but we can’t do it without the Government.”

The letter also urges Mr Grayling to review and update the guidelines as to what sort of criminal offences will be of particular concern when considering fitness and lengths of time whereby an applicant should be free of conviction.

All those who signed the letter said that regulations should make sure anyone with a sexual or indecency offence should be refused a licence, which is not the case at present.

Iain Malcolm, leader of South Tyneside Council, said: “As a group we will always come together to do whatever it takes to keep local residents safe. “It is ludicrous that taxis licence rules set by Government are open to different interpretation by different local authorities.

“This needs tightened up, the same rules should be applied in every area – then we will all have confidence in the rules being used to grant licences.”

The letter to Mr Grayling includes a recommendation that there should be a national database, similar to the Disclosure and Barring Service, of all applicants who have applied for a licence, using a national framework and the reasons for any refusal should be included on the database.

This would allow quick and easy access to local authority staff to see if previous applications have been made and the reasons for refusal.

A Government spokesperson said: “The Government is already leading work with the taxi and private hire vehicle sector to reduce the risks posed to children, young people and vulnerable adults from sexual exploitation by that very small number of drivers who seek to abuse their position of trust.

“Proposals under the Policing and Crime Bill will give Government the power to issue statutory guidance to local authorities so that their taxi and PHV licensing ensures the safeguarding of vulnerable passengers. This will be subject to public consultation.”

source: http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/

250 Derby taxi drivers get licenced in LANCASHIRE – to avoid local knowledge test

The Derby Telegraph reports that more than 250 Derby taxi drivers have registered in a town in Lancashire where they do not have to take a “knowledge” test.

A total of 254 people with Derby addresses are officially licensed in Rossendale, 103 miles away. There are 1,500 taxi drivers licensed with Derby City Council.

Rossendale Borough Council said it has handed out the licenses to people with Derby addresses since the start of 2013.

Derby City Council said it is powerless to stop drivers with licences handed out by other authorities from working in Derby because of a loophole in the law.

To obtain a Derby licence, drivers must first pass a knowledge test, which looks at their expertise in getting around the city, before they are awarded their badge. But some other councils do not require drivers to take the test.

Mark Keenan, managing director of Derby-based taxi firm Western Cars, believes this is the reason people are travelling further afield to gain their qualifications. He said: “Out-of-town councils should stop issuing licences for people who aren’t going to work in the area, it needs looking at.

“It drops standards and gives the trade a bad name, everyone gets tarred under the same brush. I find it very unfortunate for the drivers in Derby who have gone through what they have to go through with the knowledge test and proving their ability.”

Currently, the law allows anyone with a Hackney Carriage (taxi) licence to operate as a private hire car anywhere in the country. Taxis can pick up passengers anywhere but private hire cars have to be pre-booked by law.

Mr Keenan said drivers from Derby have, in the past, applied for a licence from the city council, failed the knowledge test and then obtained their licence elsewhere. He said this had happened in areas such as Erewash, Derbyshire Dales, Gedling, in Nottinghamshire, East Staffordshire and South Yorkshire, as well as Rossendale.

When asked if the knowledge test in Derby was too difficult, Mr Keenan said: “No it’s not, 1,500 drivers in Derby have managed to pass so it can’t be that difficult. This has been going on for the best part of three years, now. We [Western Cars] made a decision that we would not have any vehicles or drivers on our books who had not taken the tests. We never have and that’s because some of these out-of-town vehicles don’t meet the standards that our vehicles do.

“I have people come to me for a job with other licences and I say, ‘Pass your Derby test and come back to me’.”

Not only is the city council powerless to prevent drivers from other areas working in Derby but it also has no jurisdiction to stop their vehicles for safety inspections. That, Mr Keenan says, is something that needs to be combated by a change in the law from central government.

Brian Yasin, part-time driver and consultant for Albatross Cars in Derby, agreed there was a problem that threatened to drop the standard of taxi services in Derby. He said: “Some of the other councils were throwing out badges like confetti. I know drivers with Rossendale badges who work in London.

“I have been driving a taxi for 17 years and I don’t use a sat-nav even now. When I started, I learnt my job but a lot of drivers now just use a GPS and don’t know the roads.” Mr Yasin holds workshops for drivers in an attempt to increase their knowledge of driving in the city.

Jamal Rashid, 25, also works as a private hire driver for Albatross. He said: “The cars are not insured to be used in Derby. Although the law allows them to do it, the insurance is given to them because the companies think they are driving in the area where they get their licences. It’s a big problem.”

Rossendale Borough Council said it introduced an “intended use policy” as part of its application process in an attempt to prevent out-of-town drivers gaining licences from the authority. A spokeswoman said: “Once a vehicle has been licensed as a hackney carriage it is a hackney carriage for the duration of that licence, wherever it is currently located, and can therefore be used for pre-booked purposes in any district in England and Wales.

“Additionally, it is not an offence for a licenced private hire operator to take bookings and then dispatch a hackney carriage licenced by a district which is different from that which licences the operator – a hackney carriage can lawfully be used for pre-booked work outside its district.”

Councillor Baggy Shanker, responsible for taxi licencing in Derby, said the council was aware drivers had been gaining qualifications in Rossendale. He said the council had been working with both Gedling and Rossendale councils in order reduce the number of out-of-town taxis operating in Derby. He said a “local knowledge test” had been introduced in Gedling and officers from Rossendale had visited the city to conduct spot checks.

Labour councillor Mr Shanker said: “Rossendale has agreed to carry out joint enforcement exercises and one such joint exercise has been conducted, during which five out of six vehicles licensed in their area had their licenses suspended. It is hoped that more such exercises will be undertaken in the future.”

The Department for Transport sets taxi licensing laws for England and Wales. A spokesman said: “There are currently no plans to introduce standardised licensing criteria. Excluding Hackney Carriages from obtaining a fare for a return journey to the area in which they are licensed would diminish the availability of Hackney Carriages or restrict the areas in which they would be willing to carry passengers.

“We are currently considering all recommendations in the Law Commission’s report which included national standards and will formally respond in due course.”

EXAMPLES OF TAXI LICENCE TEST QUESTIONS FOR APPLICANTS IN DERBY

Derby City Council knowledge test:

    •1. Where are the following located?

For example The Council House – answer would be Corporation Street.

    •2. Describe the route you would take with a fare between the following locations including road names and direction turns, roundabouts, exits.

McDonalds (Ashbourne Road) to Seymours Bar

    •3.Describe how you would proceed to these locations from the city centre and the roads you would use.

Belper

Rossendale Borough Council does not offer such a test. Applicants must only pass a basic skills test which, the authority says, involves “maths and English (BKSB Level 1 Functional Skills assessments) tests, together with customer service, licensing policy and child sexual exploitation awareness training”.

Read more at http://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/

Rossendale taxi licence applications facing backlog until next year

All private hire and hackney cab drivers are now required to pass a basic skills test

Prospective taxi drivers are having to wait until 2017 before they can pass a ‘basic skills test’ to get them on the roads, we can reveal.

Under new rules all new private hire and hackney drivers are required to complete a basic skills test, and Rossendale licensing bosses are only accepting new applications from those who have passed.

However, new drivers are now being told they have to wait until 2017 to take the test – despite many having already completed the other mandatory requirements.

A spokesperson for Rossendale council said the test is allocated on a “first come first served basis” and due to the level of demand is booked up until January 2017.

They said: “We do urge applicants to apply in the area in which they live and, or intend to work and to have in mind current and proposed policy requirements before proceeding to book a test slot.”

IT consultant Mohammed Khan has complained to the council after his brother-in-law was told he would have to wait until January 6 to take his test.

Mr Khan said: “They’ve implemented this for new drivers but haven’t provided enough adequate provision to enable people to get this test. It’s ridiculous that they only run the assessments Monday and Friday for less than three hours.

“This is a good requirement but they haven’t put the required resources for the assessments.”

The skills test was introduced as part of new policies cracking down on the trade following continuing criticism from other boroughs of the standards of thousands of Rossendale taxis operating outside the Valley.

Taxi drivers from Rossendale protested against licensing changes last month.

Rossendale Taxi Association member Glen Bulcock said it’s causing “a lot of strife” in the trade.

He added: “We pointed out these pitfalls but were ignored. Now people are out of work while they’re waiting for badges.”

Coun Steve Hughes, chairman of the licensing committee, said the situation was not “ideal” but its purpose was to ‘raise standards’ across the trade.

He said: “It’s a difficult situation to control given the numbers we have had come through and the demands on the service. It’s caused a backlog. It’s not an ideal situation that people have to wait so long. We know of the problem, we are just trying to work through it.”

However, he added: “It’s a need to raise the standards and taxis within Rossendale. It’s not necessarily about reducing the number of taxis. Although that is a consideration this is about improving the quality of the taxi service.”

A proposal to extend the requirement to pass a basic skills test to driver licence renewals is currently being consulted on.

source: http://www.rossendalefreepress.co.uk/

‘Sadiq Khan is discriminating against our drivers’

Uber has called again on its customers to complain en masse to London mayor Sadiq Khan over a package of reforms affecting the taxi sector.

The San Francisco-based ride-hailing app developer has even gone as far as branding the plans “discriminatory” and particularly harmful for its many drivers born outside the UK, reports The Guardian.

Khan has outlined a series of policy measures, including £65m in grants for black cab drivers who replace older cars with less polluting vehicles.

The plans will also mean that by 2020 there will be 20 new taxi ranks and that from this year black cabs will have new rights to drive in an additional 20 bus lanes.

Khan also confirmed he will go ahead with proposals to introduce onerous English language tests for minicab drivers, including a written exam. These are currently the subject of a legal challenge by Uber.

Tom Elvidge, general manager of Uber in London, said: “While black cabs will get £65m from the taxpayer, the Mayor is piling extra costs and red tape onto licensed private hire drivers.

“This plan will cost drivers who use Uber hundreds of pounds and thousands may lose their livelihoods as a result. Fewer drivers will mean longer waiting times for passengers.”

Elvidge added: “Many drivers who use Uber are immigrants. They work hard to look after themselves and their families. Driving has given them an opportunity to integrate into their local community.

“The mayor should be supporting these drivers, not penalising them.”

Khan said: “Our new taxi and private-hire action plan will help us deliver a truly world-class service for Londoners and create a vibrant taxi and private-hire market where all providers can continue to flourish.

“From my first day at City Hall I have been determined to drive up standards and improve safety for every passenger in London, while protecting the future of our iconic black cabs that provide a unique and invaluable service for Londoners.”

source: http://www.theweek.co.uk/

Minicab Driver caught speeding and jumping red lights at Gatwick claimed non-existent man was at fault

A minicab driver who lied about speeding and driving through red lights repeatedly near Gatwick Airport over six years by claiming it was a man supposedly living in Cyprus who was at fault, has escaped jail.

Erkan Mustafa committed driving offences around Gatwick on several occasions between 2009 and 2015.

At the time he was running a private hire and chauffeur business called Merc Transfers.

On each occasion, Mustafa falsely nominated a man who supposedly lived in Cyprus as the driver but when police investigated they could find no evidence of this man ever existing.

Mustafa was subsequently charged with committing a series of acts with intent to pervert the course of justice.

The 62-year-old, of Wolverton Gardens, in Horley, Surrey, pleaded guilty at Lewes Crown Court on July 8 and was sentenced to 35 weeks in prison, suspended for two years.

He was also ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work and pay £670 costs.

Sussex Police have only published the results of the investigation and court case this week.

As a result of Mustafa’s conviction, police are urging all licensed drivers in the county to be honest about camera offences to avoid a criminal record.

In the majority of cases, motorists caught by safety cameras are eligible for either a National Speed Awareness Course or national What’s Driving Us course – currently four hours long at a cost of £85 in Sussex.

Those not eligible or who choose not to attend a course end up either with a fixed penalty of £100 and three penalty points or going to magistrates’ court.

Paul Gray, of the Sussex Police Central Ticket Summons Unit (CTSU), said: “The level of information involved in incidents of perverting the course of justice can vary greatly from slight to in-depth, but in all cases is premeditated; Sussex Police has no desire to prosecute people who make genuine mistakes.

“However, drivers should be mindful that we will investigate these offences and prosecute where necessary. If you are prepared to lie to us, then prepare to be caught out and face the consequences.”

Read more at http://www.crawleynews.co.uk/

‘My daughter has been let down and used as a political football’

The mum of a primary school girl whose alleged sex abuse started a taxi licensing investigation at South Ribble Council has spoken out for the first time.

The girl – who cannot be identified for legal reasons – was mentioned in an interim report into the scandal, leaked to the press in April.

The driver accused of abusing her was allowed to keep his private hire badge for 10 months while on bail. The case was not brought to court because of the girl’s age, but the driver has since had all of his taxi licences revoked.

A fact-finding mission after concerns were raised lead to the uncovering of a number of serious failings in the department, with two licensing officers being suspended. Now the monitoring officer who instigated the investigation has also been suspended.

The girl’s mum believes the case has been used as a “political football”.

She said: “Since the story broke it’s been repeated in the press. There’s talk about the council leader, leader of the opposition, Paul Foster, and all these councillors calling for others to resign.

My daughter’s case is being used as a bat and ball – all blaming each other whilst I’ve not even had an apology.

”She added: “I feel like I’ve been let down by every single agency. I’ve had nothing from the council. And everyone I’ve been dealing with has been suspended or has resigned.”

When the news of the secret report came to public attention, the mum said it brought back details of the case she had tried to move on from, and for which her daughter has had therapy.

The mum said: “I thought that when he had his badges revoked I had a little bit of closure. But when I went in newsagents it was all over the papers, when it was on ITV I had 15 texts in a minute, and I couldn’t have the radio on in the car because I didn’t want my daughter hearing it.”

She also claims she has been let down by councillors who promised she would be involved in a scrutiny review into the department problems.

She said: “The councillors all said I would be part of the scrutiny review and they would contact me, but I’ve never heard. I emailed in and had no reply. I feel like they’re trying to keep me out of it.”

Seema Kennedy, MP for South Ribble said: “I immediately wrote to the council to raise the matter and shared her concerns with the police. I am sorry she is disappointed that the process is going slowly but I have made representations on her behalf and await responses.”

Interim leader of the council, Coun Colin Clark, said: “The council takes any allegation relating to the conduct of a licensed taxi driver extremely seriously.

“That is why, as soon as concerns were raised about our Licensing Service, we acted swiftly and commissioned an external report by an independent firm of solicitors. We have implemented all of its recommendations and have checked and double-checked the licence of every single taxi driver licensed by South Ribble Borough Council.

“To ensure that no stone is left unturned, a special task group from our Scrutiny Committee is also undertaking a full review of how the council has handled the investigation. This will allow us to learn valuable lessons for the future. The findings of this thorough review will be made available to the public in full.”

Read more at: http://www.lep.co.uk/

 

South Ribble Borough Council ‘failure’ over taxi child sex claims

The report follows claims children were sexually exploited by taxi drivers in South Ribble

A review of how an investigation into taxi licensing was handled by a council in Lancashire has found “a major corporate governance failure”.

The draft report accuses South Ribble Borough Council of showing a “lack of regard” for safeguarding policies.

It follows claims children were sexually exploited by taxi drivers in the borough.

The report includes interviews with some councillors and officers involved in handling the complaints.

They include the council’s monitoring officer Ian Parker who described being “spooked” when various safeguarding problems were uncovered.

He admitted the council “let down” a vulnerable 16-year-old girl who was inappropriately spoken to by a taxi driver, and claimed he felt “out of his depth”.

The report details how the taxi driver told the girl he could legally have sex with her because it was her 16th birthday.

But councillor Warren Bennett, who was a cabinet member at the time, said nobody on the committee had thought the incident was a problem when the driver’s licence came up for renewal.

According to another interview on the same topic, the girl reported the problem to a school teacher who contacted Lancashire County Council, which then removed the culprit from its list of approved drivers.

South Ribble Council, however, were not informed of the move and the man continued to drive taxis in the borough.

The report also found members of the council broke its constitution on several occasions, and asked why the former leader Margaret Smith and Chief Executive Mike Nuttall – who have both since resigned – were excluded from the investigation.

Compiled by a group of councillors, it also asked why cabinet meetings were arranged behind closed doors, with no formal record of decisions being made.

The report will be discussed by the council’s scrutiny committee next week.

If accepted, the group will recommend action which could include referring staff members involved to the council’s standards committee.

source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/

Taxi driver convicted of fraud and stripped of licence for not declaring conviction

The Lancashire Telegraph reports that a TAXI driver has been convicted of fraud and had his licence revoked after failing to declare a conviction.

Shahid Javaid, of Arnold Street, Huddersfield, pleaded guilty on August 19 at Burnley Magistrates Court to fraud by false representation.

He was fined £80 in total and was ordered to pay £150 costs.

His licence has also been cancelled.

Rossendale Borough Council’s Licensing department had previously granted a hackney carriage licence driver to Javaid.

He had failed to declare his conviction of driving without insurance on a previous hackney license with another licensing authority when he applied to Rossendale Council.

The enforcement team at Rossendale collated a vast amount of evidence for the case which resulted in the guilty plea.

Councillor Steve Hughes, chair of Rossendale Council’s licensing committee welcomed this conviction.

He said: “This shows the important work our enforcement officers are doing and how their work is monitoring and making sure that taxis are a safe transport option for the public.

“It is simply unacceptable to fail to declare convictions on your application form and this case shows our enforcement officers will find out.”

source: http://www.lancashiretelegraph.co.uk/