The Director of Culture and Communities submitted an exempt report in connection with the review of Private Hire Vehicle Driver Licence, Ref: 3/19, where circumstances had arisen which required special consideration by the Committee.
The Chair introduced those present and outlined the procedure to be followed. The driver, who was in attendance at the meeting accompanied by a sign language interpreter, verified his name and address and confirmed that he had received a copy of the report and understood its contents.
It was noted that the drivers date of birth on the first page of the report was incorrect and that the year should state '1988'. Also, at the bottom of page two, the reference to Grange Street should read 'Grange Road'.
** DECLARATION OF INTEREST
Councillor Mawston advised that he the interpreter was known to him. The driver confirmed that he had no objection to Councillor Mawston taking part in the determination of his review.
The Principal Licensing Officer provided a summary of the report in relation to the drivers history and made reference to the relevant sections of the Councils Policy Guidance on Convictions, Cautions and Complaints.
The report highlighted that the driver was first licensed with Middlesbrough Council in April 2015. He first appeared before the Licensing Committee in February 2016 following a complaint made against him on 7 September 2015 by a member of the public, relating to an incident on 26 August 2015. Details of the complaint were detailed in the submitted report. On that occasion, the Committee permitted the driver to retain his licence but expressed extreme concern regarding the drivers behaviour and required him to be issued with a warning regarding his future conduct. The driver was also informed that any similar concerns regarding his behaviour would be likely to result in his licence being reviewed again by the Committee.
The driver now appeared before Members following a further complaint, received by the Licensing Section on 6 January 2019, regarding an incident on 29 December 2018. Full details of the complaint were contained within the report. The complainant, a disabled badge holder, stated that on 29 December 2018 the driver had been parked in a private hire vehicle in a disabled parking bay on Grange Road. The complainant had asked the driver to move his vehicle so that she could park in the disabled bay and alleged that he became aggressive towards her and had sworn at her. A copy of the complaint was attached at Appendix 1.
The driver was interviewed by a Licensing Enforcement Officer on 11 January 2019 when he admitted to losing his temper and swearing at the complainant. A copy of the interview record was attached at Appendix 2.
The driver was invited to attend a further interview with the Licensing Enforcement Officer on 21 January 2019 when he confirmed that the explanation of events in relation to his previous complaint (Complaint 1) was correct. In relation to Complaint 2, the driver confirmed the explanation provided during the interview on 11 January 2019 and apologised for his behaviour stating that he sometimes found it difficult to communicate with people due to being deaf.
The driver stated that he did not agree with parts of the report but would wait until he presented his case to address this.
The complainant, accompanied by a Licensing Enforcement Officer, joined the meeting at this point. The Chair made introductions and explained the procedure to be followed.
The complainant provided her version of events in relation to the incident on 29 December 2018 and responded to questions from the driver, Members of the Committee and the Councils legal representative.
The complainant, and Licensing Enforcement Officer, withdrew from the meeting at this point.
The driver was invited to address the Committee in support of his case which he did via the sign language interpreter. The driver provided his version of events in relation to the complaint and responded to questions from Members and the Councils legal representative.
It was confirmed that there were no further questions and the driver, his interpreter and officers of the Council, other than representatives of the Councils Legal and Democratic Services, withdrew whilst the Committee determined the review.
Subsequently, all interested parties returned and the Chair announced the Committees decision.
ORDERED that Private Hire Vehicle Driver Licence, Ref 3/19, be suspended for a period of four weeks, for the following reasons:-
The Committee carefully considered: the review on its own merits; the report and appendices; the representations by the driver; the representations made by the complainant; the Councils Policy on the relevance of Convictions, Cautions, Reprimands, Warnings, Complaints and Character ("the Policy") and Section 61 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 ("the Act") - the Licensing Committee may suspend or revoke the licence of a driver of a private hire vehicle on the grounds of any other reasonable cause.
The Committee decided to suspend the private hire vehicle drivers licence for a period of four weeks on the grounds of any other reasonable cause.
The driver was advised that he would receive the full decision, considerations and reasons within five working days.
The reasons for the decision were as follows:-
The Committee noted that the driver was granted a licence to drive private hire vehicles on 28 April 2015.
The Committee noted that a member of the public complained that the driver left his private hire vehicle and urinated against a neighbours garden on 26 August 2015. At first the driver misled licensing officers that it was his passenger who had urinated, however, after further enquiries with his operator, he admitted he had been untruthful and that he had urinated outside of his vehicle.
On 15 February 2016, after hearing representations regarding the above, the Licensing Committee decided to permit the driver to continue to be licensed but issued a warning regarding his future conduct. The Committee noted that the driver was informed that if further complaints were received, his licence may be referred to Committee for a further review.
The Committee noted a second complaint had been received alleging that, on 29 December 2018, the driver unlawfully parked in a disabled parking bay and when requested to move his vehicle by a disabled driver he was aggressive and used foul language a number of times. The complainant stated it appeared the driver had purposely reversed his vehicle towards her and then drove into the middle of the road, which was a one way system, and waited there for a long period of time for his passengers. As a result of the drivers behaviour, the complainant informed the Committee that she felt too frightened to leave her vehicle in case it would be damaged as a reprisal.
The Committee noted the drivers comments that he had parked in the bay to drop off his customers and moved after the complainant requested. He stated he had reversed but only in order to move out of the bay onto the road. He accepted that he had sworn at the complainant because he misunderstood the situation. The Committee also noted that the driver said to the complainant that he had a disability in that he was hard of hearing, but later he accepted he should not park in disabled bays which were reserved for blue badge holders.
The Committee found the complainant to be credible and that she had explained the incident in detail. The Committee did not consider that the driver had misunderstood the complainant. The driver had argued that he could park in the bay because of his hearing impairment. The Committee considered that the driver had used foul language and acted aggressively because he had lost his temper. This was in breach of the drivers code of conduct in that he was required, as a licensed private hire vehicle driver, to behave in a civil and orderly manner at all times.
The Committee noted the driver stated he would never purposely damage another vehicle, however, as a result of his previous aggressive behaviour, the complainant felt she could not leave the vehicle because of fear of damage.
The Committee also considered that the driver had lied to licensing officers in the past and tried to play down the foul language he had used. The Committee considered he did not fully comprehend how inappropriate his behaviour was.
The Committee considered the driver was unlawfully parked which prevented legitimate blue badge holders, with need of using the disabled parking bay, from accessing it. The Committee considered it was inappropriate that the driver had waited for a further 30 minutes in the middle of the road on a one way system. It considered he could have easily made alternative arrangements with his passengers.
The Committee must be satisfied that its licensed drivers were safe and suitable to hold such a position of trust. Despite previously receiving a warning for unacceptable behaviour, the driver had again acted in a wholly unacceptable manner. The Committee, therefore, decided to suspend the drivers private hire vehicle drivers licence for a period of four weeks.
The Committee decided that four weeks was an appropriate period because of the serious nature of the complaint. It considered the suspension would be a deterrent to ensure the driver acted appropriately in the future and to comprehend the standards required of a licensed driver in Middlesbrough.
The driver was advised that if he was aggrieved by the Committees decision he had 21 days in which to appeal the decision to Teesside Magistrates Court. Should the driver decide to appeal the decision and the appeal was dismissed, the Council would look to the Court for an Order to recover its costs incurred in defending its decision from the applicant.