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 drivers 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 complainants 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 drivers 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 Councils 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 Councils legal representative.
It was confirmed that there were no further questions and the driver and officers of the Council, other than representatives of the Councils Legal Services and Democratic Services, withdrew whilst the Committee determined the review.
Subsequently all interested parties returned and the Chair announced the Committees 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.
That the drivers 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 passengers word against the drivers, 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.
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.
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 passengers thigh on three occasions. The driver denied the allegation.
The driver informed the Committee that he did not touch the girls 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.
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 drivers hand brush her thigh. After being questioned she also said that when she got home her family contacted the Police.
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.
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 drivers booked fare.
The Committee considered that the drivers 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.
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 drivers licence. The Committee considered that the drivers 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 drivers 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.
The Committee considered that the condition and the declaration on application forms were required in order for officers 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.
The Committee considered the Councils 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.
The Committee noted that the drivers 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 drivers 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.
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 drivers licence.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 drivers licence.
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.