Licensing Committee Minutes

Licensing Committee Minutes

Date:
Monday 24 October 2016
Time:
1:00 p.m.
Place:
Mandela Room, Town Hall, Middlesbrough
 

Attendance Details

Present:
Councillor J A Walker (In the Chair) Councillor R Arundale, Councillor S Biswas, Councillor R Brady, Councillor D J Branson, Councillor S Dean, Councillor J Goodchild, Councillor T Higgins, Councillor L Lewis
Officers:
C Breheny, C Cunningham, J Dixon, M Vaines
Apologies for absence:
Councillor T Mawston, Councillor D McCabe, Councillor J Rathmell, Councillor B E Taylor
Declarations of interest:

There were no declarations of interest made by Members at this point in the meeting.

Item Number Item/Resolution
PUBLIC
16/47 MINUTES OF THE PREVIOUS MEETING OF THE LICENSING COMMITTEE HELD ON 3 OCTOBER 2016.

The Minutes of the previous Licensing Committee held on 3 October 2016 were submitted and approved as a correct record.

16/48 EXCLUSION OF PRESS AND PUBLIC.

ORDERED that the press and public be excluded from the meeting for the following items on the grounds that, if present, there would be disclosure to them of exempt information as defined in Paragraphs 1, 2, 3 and 7 of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972 and that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighed the public interest in disclosing the information.

EXEMPT
16/49 REVIEW OF COMBINED HACKNEY CARRIAGE/PRIVATE HIRE VEHICLE DRIVER LICENCE - REF: 37/16.

The Assistant Director of Supporting Communities submitted an exempt report in connection with the review of a Combined Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Vehicle Driver Licence, Ref: 37/16, where circumstances had arisen which required special consideration by the Committee.

 

The Committee noted that at the beginning of the Hearing, the driver stated he did not have legal representation but was happy for the committee to proceed, however, the driver may not be able to deal with any legal issues. The Committee decided to proceed because a witness and her mother were in attendance, and the report containing all the allegations was sent on 13 September 2016 and again for the deferred hearing on the 3 October 2016 to the driver; that the driver would be given the opportunity to fully present his case which would be taken into consideration in response to the allegations made, the matters set out in the report and to any relevant questions.

 

The Chair introduced those present and outlined the procedure to be followed. The driver verified his name and address and confirmed that he had received a copy of the report.

 

The Acting Principal Licensing Officer presented the report setting out the circumstances of the case as detailed in the submitted report.

 

The driver was first licensed by Middlesbrough Council in September 2014 and now appeared before Members in relation to two notifications of sexual assault from Cleveland Police during 2015 which resulted in no further action being taken.

 

On 13 January 2015 notification was received from Cleveland Police that the driver had been arrested for the offence of sexual assault. A copy of the letter was attached at Appendix 1. Following receipt of this information the driver’s Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Vehicle driver licenses were suspended with immediate effect on 14 January 2015. A copy of the suspension notice was attached at Appendix 2. This suspension was lifted on 17 February 2015 following notification from the Police that no further action was to be taken in the matter.

 

The driver was interviewed by the Senior Licensing Officer on 23 February 2015 regarding this matter. Following consultation with the Head of Public Protection and after considering the issue regarding the complainant’s telephone number it was agreed to take no further action at that time.

 

On 29 December 2015 a further notification was received from Cleveland Police that the driver had been arrested for the offence of sexual assault. A copy of that letter is attached at Appendix 4.

 

Following receipt of this information the driver’s Hackney Carriage and Private Hire driver licenses were suspended with immediate effect on 29 December 2015. A copy of the suspension notice was attached at Appendix 5.

 

This suspension was lifted on 2 February 2016 following notification from the Police that no further action was to be taken on this matter as there was insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction. A copy of this notification was attached at Appendix 6.

 

The driver was interviewed by a Licensing Enforcement Officer on 16 June 2016 when he denied the allegations. Licensing Officers had made several attempts to obtain additional information and / or contact details for the second complainant from Cleveland Police since the decision to take no further action against the driver was made.

 

Contact details for the complainant were eventually obtained and the complainant has subsequently provided a witness statement to a Licensing Officer in the presence of her mother which outline her recollection of the incident. A copy of the statement was attached at Appendix 8. In addition, two further motoring convictions had come to light, which were not notified to the Council in writing, by the driver within seven days, as required by condition on his licence. Officers had been unable to obtain the circumstances surrounding these convictions.

 

The driver confirmed that the report was an accurate representation of the facts and confirmed that there were no outstanding matters of which the Council was unaware.

 

The driver addressed the Committee and provided details in relation to offences 1) and 2) and to the allegation of sexual assault. He also responded to questions from Members and the Council’s legal representative.

 

The witness, accompanied by her mother, joined the meeting. The Chair introduced those present and explained the procedure to be followed.

 

The witness confirmed her name and the content of her statement, attached at Appendix 8. The Chair invited the witness to explain, in her own words, what had happened in relation to the incident on 28 December 2015. The witness provided her version of events and responded to questions from Members.

 

The driver had a number of questions for the witness. The witness provided a response to all of the questions posed by the drive before the witness and her mother withdrew from the meeting.

 

The driver was asked to provide his version of events in relation to the incident. The driver responded to questions from Members and the Council’s legal representative.

 

It was confirmed that there were no further questions and the driver and officers of the Council, other than representatives of the Council’s Legal Services and Democratic Services, withdrew whilst the Committee determined the review.
.
Subsequently all interested parties returned and the Chair announced the Committee’s decision.

 

ORDERED that Combined Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Vehicle Driver Licence, Ref 37/16, be revoked under Section 61(1)(b) of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 under the grounds of "any other reasonable cause", with immediate effect under Section 61 (2B) of that Act in the interests of public safety for the following reasons:

 

The Committee considered the driver's case on its own merits. It considered the report and appendices, relevant written and oral representations of the witness, written and oral representations of the driver and the Council's policy guidance document in relation to convictions, cautions and complaints.

  1. That the driver’s licence was granted in September 2014. Three and a half months into the licence the Committee noted that an allegation for sexual assault was made against him, on the 13 January 2015, following a private hire journey. It was noted that no further criminal action was taken by the Police because it was the passenger’s word against the driver’s, that she appeared intoxicated and had given the driver her mobile telephone number. The driver confirmed to the committee that he did not sexually assault the passenger and that he felt he was sexually abused. The driver considered that the passenger had made the allegation because he had rejected her advances.
  2. The Committee considered that, on the information before it, it could not be shown that an assault on the passenger had taken place. However, the Committee considered that the driver had been evasive and unclear in his explanation of the events that occurred after the incident. The Committee considered the driver had a clear recollection of the incident but contradicted himself and his previous written statement as to when and why he returned to the operator base and when the complaint was received by his operator and the Police. 
  3. A further allegation of sexual assault was made against the driver by a 16 year old female passenger on 28 December 2015 during a taxi journey. The female passenger attended the Committee with her mother, with the driver present, although shielded by a partition. The complaint was that during a journey from the Junction pub on Union Street to Redcar the driver brushed the passenger’s thigh on three occasions. The driver denied the allegation.
  4. The driver informed the Committee that he did not touch the girl’s thigh; that the girl had a dispute with him at the beginning of the journey regarding the fare; that the passengers asked him to turn up the radio; that each passenger, at the end of the journey including the complainant, gave him the fare individually; at no point did the passenger tell him to stop the alleged act or ask to get out of the car. The driver also informed the Committee that the passenger had told the Police she did not know what had touched her leg and the Police took no further action.
  5. The complainant informed the Committee that she was sure the driver touched her thigh three times and saw his hand touch her. She told the Committee she definitely did not argue or discuss the fare at the beginning of the journey. She informed the Committee the taxi she had booked had been taken by others and that she waited with her friends and her friends approached the driver who was waiting in his vehicle to ask if he would take them to their destination. She could not remember how she paid the fare. The witness, when questioned by the driver, confirmed she had told the Police the first time her thigh was touched she was not sure it was the driver. However, she confirmed to the Committee that although she had consumed alcohol she clearly remembered the incident and was sure she saw and felt the driver’s hand brush her thigh. After being questioned she also said that when she got home her family contacted the Police. 
  6. On balance, the Committee considered the young female witness to be credible and sure what had happened to her and that she was not mistaken by the actions of the driver. 
  7. The Committee considered that although there was some confusion as to what the passenger told the Police and that the Police took no further criminal action, she was sure the driver had stroked her leg. The Committee also considered that the reasons she gave for not asking the driver to stop the car or tell her friends during the journey seemed truthful, in view of her age and the circumstances at the time, in that she felt scared and froze and just wanted to be dropped off with her friends as she felt worried as to what would happen. Shortly after the journey a complaint was made to the Police. The Committee considered that the passengers were young females, had appeared to have consumed alcohol and were vulnerable. The Committee also considered that the girls were not the driver’s booked fare.
  8. The Committee considered that the driver’s comments and explanations were not clear, seemed to be inconsistent and contradictory at some points to his original statement, especially the discussions he claimed to have had with the witness directly which the witness denied. 
  9. The driver had been convicted of two speeding offences on the 30 March 2016 and the 4 July 2016. The report explained that the driver had failed to declare the convictions, in writing, within 7 days which is a condition on his taxi vehicle driver’s licence. The Committee considered that the driver’s explanation for this failure was to blame others and he was, again, evasive. The driver advised the Committee that his operator had told him he did not need to declare the first offence because it was only three points. For the second offence he claimed a member of staff at the licensing office told him he need not declare the offence elsewhere as he had put it on his renewal form. The condition was clear in that if a private hire driver was cautioned or convicted of any motoring or criminal offence….they must notify the Council, in writing, within 7 days. Even the word “motoring” is underlined in the condition. On the driver’s renewal form he included the second offence but inserted the wrong date, he again at this point failed to declare the first speeding offence. The declaration on the renewal form was made on the 15 August 2016, well outside of the 7 day period from the date of conviction on the 4 July 2016 when it should have been declared. He failed to declare the first offence, the second offence within the time required and on his renewal form again failed to declare his first offence and included the wrong date for the second offence. 
  10. The Committee considered that the condition and the declaration on application forms were required in order for officer’s to monitor licensed drivers to ensure they were safe. The Committee considered the driver knew, or ought to know, the requirement to report and to declare both motoring offences and his excuses why the offences were not declared were an attempt to mislead the Committee and failure to acknowledge responsibility. 
  11. The Committee considered the Council’s guidance on convictions, cautions, complaints and driver conduct, in that the licensing regime endeavoured to ensure private hire and hackney carriage drivers were safe and seen to be so. Also, public safety was paramount, as vulnerable people were reliant on a driver to take them home safely and that a very serious view was taken of any complaints of indecency or unacceptable behaviour.
  12. The Committee noted that the driver’s licence had been suspended twice. The driver was suspended on the 14 January 2015 for being arrested for the alleged offence of sexual assault until completion of police enquires. The driver’s licence was suspended on the 29 December 2015 for being arrested for the allegation of sexual assault on 28 December 2015 until completion of Police enquiries.
  13. The Committee considered that this review was to assess the suitability of the driver after taking into consideration all of the information, complaints and additional matters in full and the decision to revoke with immediate effect had been made for different reasons to those reasons and considerations given for the previous suspension periods of the driver’s licence.
  14. Within a period of two years since the grant of his licence in September 2014, the driver had received two allegations of sexual assault, committed two speeding offences and failed to declare and report those convictions in accordance with his licence and the renewal process.
  15. The Committee considered, on the balance of probabilities, for the reasons given, that the driver had inappropriately touched a young, 16 year old, vulnerable passenger taking advantage of his position of trust as a taxi driver.
  16. The driver failed to declare speeding offences in accordance with his licence and the explanations given were considered evasive, misleading and attempted to avoid responsibility.
  17. On balance, the Committee did not consider that the driver was truthful for the reasons given and the misleading, inconsistent representations and propensity to blame others for his responsibilities.
  18. The Committee therefore did not consider the driver met the standards required by the Council to drive a taxi in Middlesbrough, nor did it consider the driver to be suitable or fit and proper to hold a private hire and hackney carriage vehicle driver’s licence.
  19. The licence was revoked with immediate effect because the Committee considered that the driver was a risk to vulnerable passengers and was likely to abuse his position of trust.

The driver was reminded of his Right of Appeal to the Magistrates Court within 21 days of the date of the decision

.

SUSPENSION OF COUNCIL PROCEDURE RULE NO. 5 - ORDER OF BUSINESS


ORDERED that, in accordance with Council Procedure Rule No 5, the Committee agreed to vary the order of business. The Committee agreed to deal with Agenda Items in the following order: Agenda Items 8, 7 and 6.
 

16/50 APPLICATION FOR A PRIVATE HIRE VEHICLE DRIVER LICENCE - REF: 42/16.

The Assistant Director of Supporting Communities submitted an exempt report in connection with an application for a Private Hire Vehicle Driver Licence, Ref: 42/16, where circumstances had arisen which required special consideration by the Committee.

 

The Chair introduced those present and outlined the procedure to be followed. The applicant, who was in attendance at the meeting, accompanied by his legal representative, verified his name and address and confirmed that he had received a copy of the report.

 

The Acting Principal Licensing Officer presented the report setting out the circumstances of the case in relation to the offences detailed at 1) to 6) in the submitted report.

 

The applicant was interviewed by a Licensing Enforcement Officer on 17 August 2016 when he confirmed that all fines in relation to the offences had been paid in full, that there were no outstanding matters of which the Council was unaware, and offered explanations in relation to the offences at 1) to 6).

 

The applicant presented the case in support of the application and the applicant responded to questions from Members.

 

It was confirmed that there were no further questions and the applicant and officers of the Council, other than representatives of the Council’s Legal Services and Democratic Services, withdrew whilst the Committee determined the application.

 

Subsequently all interested parties returned and the Chair announced the Committee’s decision.

 

The Committee considered the application on its own merits, the Council’s Policy on Cautions Convictions Complaints and Driver Conduct, the report and the written and oral representations of the applicant.

 

ORDERED that the application for a Private Hire Vehicle Driver Licence, Ref 42/16, be granted for the following reasons:

 

The application was considered on its own merits, the Council's policy on cautions, convictions, complaints and driver conduct, the report and written and oral representations of the applicant.

 

1.The Committee noted that the applicant had committed 5 offences involving dishonesty from 1997 to 2009. It noted that the Guidance stated that if an applicant was convicted of more than one offence involving dishonesty, showing a propensity to be dishonest, an application would normally be refused regardless of the time that had elapsed since the date of conviction or sentence imposed. The Committee noted that shoplifting and fraudulent evasion of duty offences in 2009 were carried out during a stressful time of a custody battle for the applicant. It noted that no dishonesty offence or incidents had been committed since 2009 and the applicant informed the committee he obtained custody of his children and has not been in trouble, apart from his speeding offences, since that date
2.The Committee, therefore, considered that the applicant no longer had a propensity to be dishonest and in view of the mitigating circumstances, the Committee agreed this was sufficient special reason to depart from its policy.
3.With regard to the driving offences, it was noted that three years had elapsed since disqualification and therefore applications would generally be considered in accordance with the policy on motoring convictions.


**SUSPENSION OF COUNCIL PROCEDURE RULE NO. 15 - DURATION OF MEETING

 

As the meeting had reached its three hour limit, in accordance with Council Procedure Rule No. 15, it was moved, seconded and ORDERED that the length of the meeting be extended in order to deal with the remaining business.
 

16/51 APPLICATION FOR A PRIVATE HIRE VEHICLE DRIVER LICENCE - REF: 41/16.

The Assistant Director of Supporting Communities submitted an exempt report in connection with the application for a Private Hire Vehicle Driver Licence, Ref: 41/16, which required special consideration by the Committee.

 

The Acting Principal Licensing Officer advised Members that the applicant was not in attendance and had not contacted the Licensing Office in advance of the meeting to advise that he was unable to attend.

 

ORDERED that consideration of the Application for a Private Hire Vehicle Driver Licence, Ref: 41/16, be deferred to the next meeting in order to give the applicant a further opportunity to attend the Committee. The Committee requested that the applicant be notified that should he fail to attend the next meeting, the matter would be considered in his absence.
 

16/52 REVIEW OF PRIVATE HIRE VEHICLE DRIVER LICENCE - REF: 40/16.

The Committee noted that the solicitor for the driver had informed the Licensing Enforcement Officer that she had advised the driver not to attend and for the matter to proceed in his absence as, after considering the information, the solicitor advised the applicant that in all likelihood he would have his licence revoked. The Committee noted that the driver did not contest any of the information contained in the report and appendices.

 

ORDERED that Private Hire Vehicle Driver Licence, Ref 40/16, be revoked under Section 61(1)(b) of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 under the grounds of “any other reasonable cause”, with immediate effect under Section 61 (2B) of that Act in the interests of public safety for the following reasons:-

 

The Committee considered the application on its own merits, the Council’s Policy on Cautions Convictions Complaints and Driver Conduct, the report, appendices and information provided by the Principal Licensing Officer.

 

1. The driver was licensed only since the 9 August 2016. Since that time the Council had received two very serious complaints about his conduct on the 25 August 2016 and the 27 August 2016.

2. The police had confirmed that the applicant had received harassment notices from the police in respect of the two incidents

3. The driver had sent texts to a passenger encouraging the passenger to book his vehicle directly with him which was unlawful.

4. The driver had sent texts to a passenger of an explicit sexual nature and attempted to make physical contact with the passenger.

5. The driver also sent a threatening text explaining he was a serial killer to the passenger.

6. The driver then sent texts to another passenger encouraging the passenger to book his vehicle directly with him which was unlawful.

7. The driver sent texts to this passenger of an explicit sexual nature.

8. The driver tried to seek out inappropriate physical contact with the passenger, entered the passenger’s house uninvited and on other occasions, waited outside of the passengers home.

9. The driver had asked his employer to cover for him and he had stated in a text message "I will never flirt with these bitches they are pissed and they jump in bed with anyone I will say phone got pinched and you will never get complain again."

10. The driver's medical history showed serious mental health concerns for which he was prescribed medication and at the time the licence was granted, he was judged by a physician to be medically fit.

11. The Committee considered the driver was dangerous and a risk to the travelling public and in the interests of public safety the driver's licence was revoked with immediate effect.

 

The driver would be informed of the Committee’s decision, in writing, and reminded of his Right of Appeal to the Magistrates Court within 21 days of the date of the decision.

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