|Consideration was given to a report to consider what action to take on a licence which had been suspended with immediate effect following the Council receiving a number of complaints from members of the public. Mr M A had also submitted an application for renewal of his hackney carriage and private hire licence. The complaints were with regard to Mr M As manner of driving and attitude and behaviour.|
Mr M A was a licensed hackney carriage and private hire driver. He had been licensed since 30 August 2006 and his licence expired on 31st August 2010. Following receipt of a number of complaints from members of the public in July 2010 Mr M A had his licence suspended with immediate effect on the grounds of public safety. A renewal application had been submitted and a copy was attached to the report together with a copy of his DVLA driving licence.
In February 2010, a complaint was received from a female customer who had been a passenger in Mr M As car, after she booked the vehicle through the Operator.
The booking was made on 3rd February 2010 to go from her home address to Chandlers Wharf. The complainant explained the driver was using a hand held mobile phone whilst driving. She then described how she was looking out of the window of the car and a small child on the pavement outside was pulling faces at her so she started to laugh. She then alleged the driver stopped his conversation on the mobile phone and swore and threatened her. This upset and frightened the complainant.
The complainant tried to maintain composure whilst in the vehicle but as soon as she was out of the car, she contacted Royal Cars, to report the incident. She advised the female she spoke with what had happened and the female advised her to call the Council. A copy of the complainants statement was attached to the report.
The licensed Operator had been contacted and had no record of the complaint being received.
The complainant also phoned the Police, a check with Stockton Police Station confirmed an event was logged at 17:45 on 3rd February 2010 advising what had happened and that she was reporting it for fear of repercussions.
A further complaint was received, also in February 2010, from a member of public, who witnessed Mr M As vehicle driving erratically from Allison Street, Stockton, along Norton Road and on towards Billingham Road.
The complainants statement detailed how the taxi was manoeuvring in and out of traffic, it was in the wrong lane at junctions in order to be the first away when the lights changed or traffic was clear.
The complainant, who was a retired Police Officer, stated the taxi driver was, in his opinion, driving in an unsafe manner. A copy of the complainants statement was attached to the report.
In April 2010, Mr M A was interviewed in relation to these two complaints. He denied both allegations and explained that he would not threaten anyone nor would he drive in such a bad manner, since he knows this would call into question his suitability to be a licensed driver with this authority. A copy of the transcript of interview was attached to the report.
A further complaint was received in June 2010 about Mr M A attitude and behaviour. This complaint was a referral from Stockton Police who had been called following an allegation that Mr M A had tried to take a mobile phone from a passenger. The Police referred the complaint to the Council as no criminal activity had taken place. The passenger was a young male, who had learning difficulties. A copy of the Police log was attached to the report.
Statements were taken from the passenger (Mr D L), his aunty (Ms D L) and his mother (Ms K S). Mr D L was travelling with Mr M A from his home address to his aunties. Mr D L alleged that Mr M A said he liked his phone and did they want to swap. Mr D L said he didnt but he alleged the driver was insistent. Mr D L also stated that the driver started to ask him questions of a personal and sexual nature about his girlfriend and had him locked in the car. The statement from Mr D L was attached to the report. A statement from his auntie and two statements from his mother were also attached to the report.
A further complaint was received on 12th July 2010 from Royal Cars in relation to an allegation that Mr M A had behaved inappropriately towards a young male passenger, when he undid his belt and asked for oral sex. The licensed Operator passed the contact details of the complainant, which was the young males friend. A Licensing Officer contacted the friend who confirmed the complaint had been made and passed over the young males contact details.
A Licensing Officer contacted the male who advised he had been picked up from a friends party in Yarm, a booked job from a licensed Operator. The job was booked at 22:48 on 11th July 2010 (booking records confirm this). He had got in the rear of the taxi and the driver asked him to get in the front. He did this without a thought. The conversation then got around to the young male being gay and he alleged the driver said, "I think I am bi-sexual". The young male then alleges the driver asked him for oral sex and he declined. The male asked to be let out of the car a short way from his drop off point and the driver let him out. The male then called his friend, whos party he had been at, and told her what had happened. At no point did the driver force himself on the male or try and keep him in the car.
Mr M A was asked about this booked job during interview with Licensing Officers and asked also what his recollection of that journey was. Mr M A advised the male made advances on him and he then reported it to the Police. Mr M A said he went straight to Stockton Police Station after the incident on the 11th July 2010. He said it was documented and he was issued a crime reference number (T124097). Following a check with Stockton Police Station, there was a log relating to that reference number, the details on the report stated a complaint was made on 19th July 2010 at 18:12. The details were that a taxi driver reported a suspicious customer in his car on 11th July 2010 at around 23:30. He wanted it documenting in case he picked the customer up again. A copy of the log was requested from Police but they were unable to formally disclose it. Mr M A was advised to obtain a copy for the Members and he had to request this in writing. A copy was not yet available. The Police Officer on the desk that night confirmed Mr M A did attend the station and make a vague report and it was not formally documented as Mr M A did not ask the Police to do anything. There was no reference to anything of a sexual nature in the Police log. The Police Officer advised that Mr M A contacted them again on 19th July requesting an event number and this was why the log was dated and timed as such.
Due to personal circumstances, the male passenger was not willing to provide a formal statement or attend the Committee.
A further complaint was received in July 2010, from a female customer who advised Officers that her niece and friend were in Mr M As car late on a Friday evening and when he dropped them off he had no change for her £10, the fare was about £3.20. The complainant alleged Mr M A suggested she got in the car and they went to the shop to get change. She refused as she remembered she had previously been in this car with this driver nearly a year ago and his behaviour was inappropriate then, when she alleges he suggested oral sex as an alternative to paying the fare.
A statement was taken from Miss J in relation to the conversation about the change. The statement also detailed how when the driver had left and she was back in the house with her niece and friend they told her about what the driver had said to them. They alleged that when they passed Virginia Close, as they travelled down Darlington Lane to their drop off point he said to them, "is this where you want to be, Vagina Close?" Mr M A was asked about this during interview and denied he had said anything.
The complainant also advised that in August 2009 she ordered a taxi from Royal Cars to collect her from the supermarket and take her home. Whilst in the vehicle, the driver was telling her she was pretty, was asking her questions about her husband and was stroking her arm. She says she was scared but stayed in the car as her shopping, mobile phone and purse were on the back seat. She alleged that the driver, Mr M A, offered for her to perform a sexual act rather than pay the fare. A copy of Miss J's statement was attached to the report.
Mr M A was interviewed about these other complaints and refused to make comment in relation to the complaint from August 2009 in relation to Miss J. Mr M A said he did not try and steal or swap phones with Mr D L. He alleged Mr D L offered to Bluetooth a ring tone to him.
A copy of the transcript for the second interview was attached to the report.
Following a check of Mr M As history since becoming a licensed driver with this authority it had been noted that in July 2007, Mr M A pleaded guilty to the offence of "plying for hire", at Teesside Magistrates Court. He was fined £250 and ordered to pay £250 costs.
Mr M A's renewal application was then referred to Licensing Committee, in September 2007, where it was determined, at that time, to refuse his renewal application because of his convictions for "plying for hire" and "driving without insurance".
Mr M A appealed this decision and had his licence reinstated by Teesside Magistrates in January 2008. The Council appealed this decision to the Crown Court and the appeal was dismissed.
Mr M A received a written warning, from the department, in February 2010, in relation to his aggressive manner towards administration staff. A copy of the complaint and warning letter were attached to the report.
Members were reminded that under the provisions of Section 61 (1)(a) of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 the Council may suspend or revoke or refuse to renew the licence of a hackney carriage and/or private hire driver on any of the following grounds: -
(a) that he has since the grant of the Licence:-
(i) been convicted of an offence involving dishonesty, indecency or Violence; or
(ii) been convicted of an offence under or fails to comply the provisions of the
Act of 1847 or of this part of this Act; or
(b) any other reasonable cause.
Members were also advised of the revisions to Section 61 introduced under the Road Safety Act 2006 as follows:-
(2a) Subject to subsection (2b) of this section, a suspension or revocation of the licence of a driver under this section takes effect at the end of the period of 21 days beginning with the day on which the notice is given to the driver under subsection (2)(a) of this section
(2b) If it appears that the interests of public safety require the suspension or revocation of the licence to have immediate effect, and the notice given to the driver under subsection (2)(a) of this section includes a statement that that is so and an explanation why, the suspension or revocation takes effect when the notice is given to the driver.
A copy of the adopted guidelines relating to the Relevance of Convictions was attached to the report for Members information.
Mr M A, his solicitor (Mr Schiller), Ms S P, Mr D L, Ms D L (Mr D L's Aunt) and Ms K S (Mr D L's Mother) were in attendance at the meeting.
Ms S P, Mr D L, Ms D L (Mr D L's Aunt) all gave evidence at the meeting. Mr Schiller was given the opportunity cross-examine the witnesses. Due to time constraints the meeting was adjourned at this point.
A re-convened meeting of Licensing Committee was held on Monday, 25th October, 2010.
Present: Cllr Bill Woodhead (Chairman); Cllr Dick Cains, Cllr Alan Lewis, Cllr Mrs Ann McCoy, Cllr Maurice Perry and Cllr Fred Salt.
Officers: C Barnes, P Edwards, S Mills (DNS); P K Bell, J Nertney (LD).
Also in attendance: Mr M A, Mr Schiller (Solicitor representing Mr M A), Ms K S (Mr D L's mother) for agenda item 4 - Private & Hackney Carriage Driver - Mr M A.
Apologies: Cllr Mrs Eileen Craggs, Cllr Colin Leckonby and Cllr Mrs Ann McCoy.
Mr M A, his solicitor (Mr Schiller) and Ms K S (Mr D L's Mother) were in attendance at the meeting.
Ms K S (Mr D L's Mother) gave evidence at the meeting and Mr Schiller was given the opportunity to cross-examine Ms K S.
Mr Schiller on behalf of Mr M A then presented his case to the Committee and Members were given the opportunity to ask questions of Mr M A and Mr Schiller.
Members then discussed the matters at great length. When were making their decision the complaints were broadly broken down as follows:-
Complaint from Ms S P relating to an alleged incident in February 2010 - Ms S P was in attendance on 7th September 2010 and gave oral evidence to the Committee.
Complaint from Mr L B relating to an alleged incident in February 2010 - Mr L B was not in attendance but his statement was considered by the Committee.
Complaint relating to an alleged incident in June 2010 - Mr D L, Ms D L (Mr D L's aunt) and Ms K S (Mr D L's mother) were in attendance and gave oral evidence to the Committee. Mr D L and Ms D L gave evidence at the meeting on 7th September but owing to time restraints the matter was adjourned and Ms K S gave her evidence on 25th October. On 7th September Mr Barnes (Licensing Officer) also gave evidence in relation to the taking of Mr D L's witness statement.
Complaint relating to alleged incidents in August 2009 and July 2010 - Ms L J was in attendance on 25th October 2010 and gave oral evidence to the Committee. It was noted that Ms L J's statement and evidence contained hearsay in relation to the complaint of July 2010 when her 13 year old niece and her friend alleged that Mr M A had made an inappropriate comment to them by way of a sexual innuendo.
Complaint relating to an alleged incident in July 2010 when Mr M A picked up a male passenger and was alleged to have asked for the male passenger for oral sex. The male passenger had declined to make a formal statement although it was not disputed by Mr M A that the male had been a passenger in his vehicle as Mr M A had made a report to Stockton Police Station on the night in question, after dropping the passenger off and also indicated at Committee that he had contacted Mr Schiller, his solicitor, by telephone the following morning.
The Committee were aware that they had to consider each individual allegation, consider all of the evidence and decide on the balance of probabilities which version of events they believed.
The Committee made the following findings in relation to each allegation:-
The Committee accepted the evidence of Mrs P in relation to the nature of her complaint. It was accepted that there were a number of discrepancies between her evidence and that of Mr M A. In particular, in relation to the allegation that Mr M A had been using his mobile phone while driving and Mr M As evidence that he would not do this as he has a Bluetooth hands free kit. Even if one were to accept that Mrs P was mistaken in her recollection of some parts of this incident Mrs P was found to be a truthful and reliable witness. The element of her complaint which was of most concern to the Committee was that Mr M A had threatened her. It was accepted that Mrs P was the passenger and that Mr M A was the driver although Mr M A disputed that he had used these words or acted in the manner which was alleged. It was noted that Mrs P had called Royal Cars to complain on exiting the vehicle and had also lodged a contemporaneous complaint with the Council. It was noted that Mrs P had been very upset and disturbed by the actions and comments made by Mr M A. On the balance of probabilities the Committee believed the evidence of Mrs P over that of Mr M A.
Although the Committee did not hear any oral evidence from Mr B, as he had declined to attend the Committee meeting, the members of the Committee were aware that they could still consider the complaint/witness statement and decide what weight to attach to it. It was noted that Mr M A had no recollection of the alleged incident and stated that he would not drive in that manner. The members of the Committee had personal knowledge of the road layout and were aware of the location of the alleged incident. Although Mr B was not in attendance the Committee did attach some weight to the complaint and as Mr M A had no recollection of the incident they were minded to believe the evidence contained in Mr B's statement. Notwithstanding the Committees finding on this allegation they made it known that this complaint on its own would have resulted in Mr M A receiving a written warning.
The Committee noted that Mr D L did have learning difficulties and that in the past he had attended a school that provided specialist provision. The Committee found Mr D L to be a truthful witness albeit it was apparent to the Committee that he could perhaps misinterpret a situation. After hearing the evidence of the witnesses and Mr M A in relation to this allegation the Committee found on the balance of probabilities that they did prefer Mr M A's explanation in relation to Mr D Ls belief that he had been locked in the car and that Mr M A had tried to take his mobile phone. The Committee were of the view that Mr M A had not tried to lock Mr D L in the car as a deliberate act and had merely activated the central locking mechanism. Furthermore, the Committee also agreed with Mr M A's evidence that he and David had a discussion about his mobile phone and that he had "bluetoothed" a ring tone to Mr M As phone. Mr D L could have misinterpreted Mr M As assistance in bluetoothing a ring tone as him trying to take his mobile phone. The Committee noted that Mr M A denied using any inappropriate sexual language. However the committee found on the balance of probabilities that Mr M A had entered into an inappropriate conversation of a sexual nature with Mr D L. Although Mr D L's mother indicated that he had not told her about a conversation of a sexual nature it was noted from the evidence of Mr Barnes, Licensing Officer, that M D L had been embarrassed to talk about the sexual elements of the language used by Mr M A. It was noted that Mr Barnes had to take M D L to one side and away from the female members of his family and only then did he feel able to describe the nature and tone of the comments made by Mr M A. Mr D L's mother and aunt both confirmed that Mr D L knew the difference between right and wrong and they were confident that Mr D L would not make up an allegation that the driver had used inappropriate sexual language.
The Committee noted that it was not in dispute that Mr M A had been the driver who had picked up Miss J's 13 year old niece and her friend from an address Norton to take them to her home address in Stockton. Mr M A denied making a comment, which amounted to a sexual innuendo. On the balance of probabilities the Committee were minded to believe the hearsay evidence of Ms L J who confirmed that her niece and her friend had both felt Mr M A had been pervy in his manner and had asked them an inappropriate. Ms L J gave evidence that there would have been no need for Mr M A to have referred to that road as it was some distance away from her home address. The first part of the allegation was that Mr M A had deliberately made a sexual innuendo to two young girls who were passengers in his licensed vehicle. Mr M A stated that he knew the difference between the use of the alleged words. Mr M A denied using the words and stated that had he done so the girls were mistaken in their belief in his pronunciation. On the balance of probabilities the Committee accepted the evidence of Miss L J that Mr M A had made the comment to the girls. The Committee considered the allegation that Mr M A had stated he had no change for a £10 note and had requested Miss L J to get in the car with him and go to get change. When interviewed Mr M A stated he had no recollection of the incident as alleged in Ms L J statement. The Committee accepted the evidence of Ms L J and found her to be a believable and truthful witness.
That incident also led Ms L J to recall an earlier meeting she had with Mr M A, which occurred in August 2009. At that time, Mr M A had picked her up at Sainsburys when she had approximately 8 or 9 shopping bags and was returning home. Ms L J gave evidence that Mr M A had told her to put her bags in the back seat as opposed to using the boot. Perhaps at the time this may not have seemed strange but in the context of the alleged incident during the journey it could be interpreted as Mr M A manipulating the situation so that Ms L J sat in the front seat. During the journey Mr M A had allegedly stroked her arm and said she was pretty, Mr M A also allegedly made an inappropriate sexual offer. Miss L J had been quite shaken by this incident at the time and on exiting the vehicle had phoned Royal cars to complain. Ms L J stated that she spoke to a Royal cars telephone operator who told her the matter would be dealt with. Ms L J confirmed that she did not report the matter to the Police.
It was accepted that Mr M A was the driver who had picked Ms L J up from Sainsburys in August 2009. Mr M A denied using the language as alleged by Ms L J or touching her. In relation to this complaint, the Committee accepted the evidence of Ms L J and found her to be a believable and truthful witness.
The Committee were mindful that in isolation they would have attached little weight to this allegation given that the male who had been in the vehicle had declined to make a formal statement. If there had been no corroborating evidence as detailed in the officers investigation of this matter and if Mr M A had disputed he was the driver then this allegation would have been disregarded. However the Committee took note of the fact that Mr M A did not dispute that he had been the driver and that the male in question had been his passenger. Mr M A's explanation of this incident was that the male passenger had tried to touch him up and had then asked to be dropped off. The Committee found it rather strange that Mr M A would then go to the Police Station to report a suspicious passenger and also that Mr M A would phone his solicitor the next morning. If Mr M A had done nothing wrong and had nothing to hide then it begs the question as to why go to the Police Station or phone his solicitor. Furthermore, if Mr M As version of events was correct then again this begs the question as to why, on exiting the vehicle, the male almost immediately called a friend and told them what had allegedly happened in the vehicle i.e. that Mr M A had asked for oral sex. If Mr M A had been the victim, i.e. been touched by the male, then it would seem rather strange that the male would then call a friend immediately on exiting the vehicle.
The Committee were of the view that on the balance of probabilities the incident as alleged by the male passenger had occurred and Mr M A had then sought to cover his actions by attending at the Police Station and making a vague report of a suspicious passenger. The Committee also reached this view given the findings they had made on the previous allegations and looking at the totality of the evidence. The Committee also noted that two of the allegations, from persons totally unconnected, alleged that Mr M A had asked them for oral sex (i.e. Ms L J and the male who declined to make a statement).
With regard mitigation on behalf of Mr M A the Committee noted their findings referred to above in relation to each of the allegations. The Committee noted that Mr M A had denied the basis of each of the allegations and therefore there was no mitigation put forward as to why he had acted in the manner alleged by the complainants. The only exception to this is in relation to allegation 3 and the fact that the Committee found they did believe Mr M A's evidence that Mr D L had bluetoothed a ring tone to him and therefore may have misinterpreted the situation in relation to Mr M A locking him in his vehicle and trying to take his mobile phone.
The Committee noted that Mr M A had been licensed with the Council since August 2006. The Committee noted that Mr M A had previously been prosecuted by the Council for plying for hire without a licence and driving without insurance. Both convictions arose from the same incident and had occurred when Mr M A was only licensed to drive private hire vehicles i.e. prior to Mr M A obtaining his Hackney Carriage drivers licence. It was noted that Mr M A had appeared before the Councils Licensing Committee in September 2007 when his renewal application was refused owing to his convictions. The Committee noted that Mr M A had appealed the Committees decision to Teesside Magistrates Court where his appeal was upheld and his licence was granted. The Committee did not place any weight on Mr M A's previous disciplinary history with the Council as Mr M A's licence had been reinstated in early 2008 and was therefore deemed to be a fit and proper person to hold a licence from that time to date.
The Committee noted that Mr M A had received a warning letter in February 2010 concerning his attitude towards a female member of the licensing administration staff. Apart from that incident there were no other disciplinary issues which were before the Committee. Mr M A's explanation for this was that he had been authorised to speak on behalf of his brother. Even if that were the case, this did not excuse the manner in which Mr M A spoke to a member of the licensing administration staff. Mr M A did not dispute that he had acted in that manner and his mitigation was that he was frustrated. This did not excuse Mr M A's actions and although, on its own, this was a relatively minor incident it still called into question Mr M A's character and fitness and also perhaps his attitude towards women given the allegations that were before the Committee.
Mr M A was given credit for having a clean driving licence. Credit was also given in relation to a number of character references which had been submitted in support of Mr M A. The character references were from a wide ranging cross section of society including a personal friend (Mr A W letter dated 16.08.10), a local Ward Councillor (Councillor J letter dated 23.08.10)), a customer of Mr M A's (Mr M P letter dated 10.08.10), an ex teacher of Mr M A's from his time as a pupil at Grangefield School (Mr G L letter dated 26.08.10) and a letter from his employer Royal Cars (letter undated). The character references support Mr M A's character in confirming that he was dependable, conscientious, honest and hard working. It was noted that a letter had also been received from Mr James Wharton, MP, but that this was not a character reference and stated that Mr M A felt his character is been misrepresented.
The Committee noted and gave credit for the fact that Mr M A had on a number of occasions returned lost property that had been left in his vehicle by passengers. The Committee accepted and gave Mr M A credit for the fact that he had acted in an honest manner when returning property to passengers. Mr M A was also given credit for the character references, which had been received.
Mr M A was given credit for the fact that, since his licence had been returned in early 2008, the Council had not received any complaints until 2010.
The nature of the allegations by the complainants and the findings of the Committee in relation to the allegations clearly called into question Mr M A's fitness to hold a private hire and hackney carriage drivers licence. As has been detailed previously the findings of the Committee in relation to allegation 2 would not, on their own, have been sufficient reasonable cause to deem Mr M A not to be a fit and proper person and had this been the only allegation he would have been likely to have received a final written warning in relation to his continued fitness. The findings in relation to allegations 1, 3, 4 and 5 were all extremely serious and each individually would call into question Mr M A's fitness. The totality of the findings on the allegations gave overwhelming weight to the Committees view that Mr M A was not a fit and proper person to hold a licence. The findings in relation to the allegations were in the view of the Committee sufficient reasonable cause to deem Mr M A not to be a fit and proper person to hold a private hire and hackney carriage drivers licence. In the view of the Committee the findings that Mr M A on a number of separate occasions made sexual references and/or advances to both male and female passengers (including 13 year old girls) were in the opinion of the Committee indications of a sexually predatory individual.
The Committees findings in relation to each of the allegations were deemed to be sufficient reasonable cause under Section 61(1)(b) of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 to revoke Mr M A's private hire and hackney carriage drivers licence and therefore his application to renew was also refused.
As the findings on the allegations were deemed to be extremely serious and related to inappropriate behaviour which included inappropriate sexual advances the Committee were of the view that in the interests of public safety the revocation of the licence has immediate effect pursuant to Section 61 2(B) of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976.