Licensing Committee Minutes

Licensing Committee Minutes

Date:
Monday 18 March 2019
Time:
1:00 p.m.
Place:
Mandela Room, Town Hall, Middlesbrough
 

Attendance Details

Present:
Councillor J A Walker (Chair); Councillor T Higgins (Vice Chair); Councillors Arundale, Biswas, Brady, Dean, Goodchild, Harvey, Hellaoui, L Lewis and Mawston.
Officers:
S Bonner, C Cunningham, T Hodgkinson, S Wearing (Agenda Item 5)
Apologies for absence:
Councillor D Rooney
Declarations of interest:

No declarations were made at this point in the meeting.

Item Number Item/Resolution
PUBLIC
18/67 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.

18/68 MINUTES - LICENSING COMMITTEE - 25 FEBRUARY 2019

The Minutes were submitted and accepted as a true record.

EXEMPT
Director of Culture and Communities
18/69 APPLICATION FOR HACKNEY CARRIAGE VEHICLE LICENCE FOR CONVERTED WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE VEHICLE REF: 6/19

The Director of Culture and Communities submitted an exempt report in connection with an Application for Hackney Carriage Vehicle Licence for Converted Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle Ref: 6/19 where circumstances had arisen which required special consideration by the Committee.

 

The Chair introduced those present and outlined the procedure to be followed and confirmed that any inaccuracies contained within the report should have been reported to the Licensing department prior to the meeting.

 

The Applicant, who was in attendance at the meeting, and accompanied by his legal representative and a friend, verified his name and address and confirmed that he had received a copy of the report and understood its contents.

 

The Licensing Manager summarised the report and advised Members that the application was for the use of a Vauxhall Vivaro as a wheelchair accessible hackney carriage vehicle. Members were advised that the Applicant informed the licensing office his vehicle had been repaired following an accident, at which time the insurers had declared the vehicle to be a "Category D write off."

 

The Committee heard that the Applicant's vehicle had undergone wheelchair accessible alterations after its initial registration, which was in contravention of the Council’s hackney carriage vehicle licensing policy which stated that alterations to vehicles for the purpose of making them wheelchair accessible should be completed prior to its initial registration.

 

The Licensing Manager also advised Members that as the vehicle did not comply the Council's Licensing Policy Members would be required to a depart from Council Policy.

 

The Applicant's legal representative addressed the committee and advised Members that the vehicle had undergone numerous tests at substantial expense.

 

The Applicant and his legal representative then responded to Members, the Council's Legal Representative, the Licensing Manager and the Principal Licensing Officer.  

 

It was confirmed that there were no further questions and the Applicant, his legal representative and friend, along with officers of the Council, other than representatives of the Council's Legal and Democratic Services, withdrew whilst the Committee determined the application.

 

At this stage in the meeting the Applicant, his legal representative and friend along with the Licensing Officers returned to the meeting.

 

ORDERED:  Under Section 37 of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847, the Council may from time to time licence to ply for hire in Middlesbrough, hackney carriages of any kind or description adapted to the carriage of persons.

 

The Application was for a wheelchair accessible hackney carriage vehicle licence.

 

The Middlesbrough Council Private Hire and Hackney Carriage Licensing Policy 2018 ("the Policy") at paragraph 62 (repeated in paragraph 38 of Section E of Appendix A) stated that Applications for wheelchair accessible vehicles must be either purpose built or converted prior to first registration, and had as a minimum inspection standard the Vehicle Certification Agency, Ministers Approval Certificate for a Low Volume Motor Vehicle or European Small Series Type approval.

 

The Committee considered the application on its merits, it considered the report, information and representations made to the Committee the Acts and the Policy.

 

The Licensing Committee decided to refuse to grant to the Applicant a Hackney Carriage Vehicle Licence. The reasons for the decision are as follows:

 

  1. The vehicle subject to the application did not comply with the Policy as it was not purpose built nor converted prior to first registration, and did not meet the minimum inspection standard / approval specified in the Policy.
  2. The Applicant requested that the Committee departed from the Policy on this occasion and grants the Licence. The Applicant in summary claimed the Committee should have departed from its Policy because the vehicle had been converted to a wheelchair accessible vehicle professionally, with quality and safety tested parts, by a reputable firm, at great expense to the Applicant. That numerous tests had been carried out on the vehicle and the Applicant submits the vehicle was fit for the purpose as a wheelchair accessible hackney carriage vehicle.
  3. After considering all of the information the Committee did not consider there was good reason, or exceptional circumstances, to depart from the Policy.
  4. The Policy was in place to ensure, so far as possible, the safety, convenience and comfort of passengers in wheelchair accessible hackney carriage vehicles.
  5. Although reviewed in March 2018, the Policy had been in place for a number of years to ensure that wheelchair accessible hackney carriage vehicles met approved national standards for the safe carriage of wheelchair bound passengers in addition to other ambulant passengers.
  6. Purpose built wheelchair accessible vehicles, or those converted prior to first registration, had been built or converted to a national approved standard which included strength testing on components fitted to the vehicle.
  7. The Applicant’s vehicle was purpose built as a panel van, it was not converted in accordance with the approved national standard or specification prior to first registration. It was first registered on 15 September 2016 and used as a panel van.
  8. The Applicant relied on an Inspection report dated 10 January 2018 to support a departure from the Policy in view that, amongst other matters, the Report stated the Assessors could see no reason why the vehicle could not be used as a private hire vehicle.
  9. The Applicant purchased the vehicle after it had been damaged in an accident resulting in it being declared a Category D "write off". A category D "write off" means eminently repairable salvage whose repair cost did not exceed the pre-accident value. The Policy (paragraph 66) stated that a vehicle declared as a Category D write off may be licensed as a private hire or hackney carriage vehicle providing the Applicant provided an Engineers Report and body alignment JIG report, approved by the Council, verifying the quality and standards of repair.
  10. The Applicant arranged for the vehicle to be repaired then commissioned works to convert the vehicle into a wheelchair accessible mini bus.
  11. The Committee considered the Inspection report was in respect of the repairs to the damage which led to the vehicle being declared a "write off". The Inspection report did not assess the conversion works or whether the vehicle complied with the Council’s Policy on wheelchair accessible vehicles.
  12. The statement made in the Inspection report was also subject to the vehicle passing the Council’s taxi tests which it did not do. Also, the Assessor confirmed it was only an external inspection and did not involve disturbing any parts.
  13. The Inspection report stated that the vehicle had been repaired to a commercially acceptable standard. However, when the vehicle was produced for testing on the 13 February 2018, after the inspection report, the test was abandoned because the Council’s examiner observed damage to the rear axle and chassis and that there had been an incorrect floor fitting for a seat.
  14. The Committee noted that further repairs were made and the vehicle was presented to the testing station on the 6 March 2018. At this stage, the examiner could have issued a normal MOT, but did not approve the vehicle for a wheelchair accessible hackney carriage licence as it did not have the relevant approval certificate required in the Policy.
  15. The Committee did not consider Individual Vehicle Approval Certificate ("IVA") provided by the Applicant for the vehicle meant the standards for wheelchair accessible vehicles had been met. Such certificates were generally required for novelty type vehicles, such as a converted fire engine or stretch limousine, not used for standard hiring. Such a certificate only showed the vehicle met modern safety and environmental standards before being used on a public road. Such inspections are visual.
  16. The Committee did not consider the additional information and testing provided by the Applicant, set out in the report’s appendices, were to the same standard as the detailed safety testing and inspection that was required in a purpose built wheelchair accessible taxi or a vehicle converted to be wheelchair accessible before first registration and use.
  17. The vehicle was constructed for and used as a panel van. It was then damaged in an accident and declared a "write off". The Applicant purchased the van and repaired the damage then converted it into a wheelchair accessible mini bus. There was still damage to the vehicle when it was first tested but this was repaired. The converted vehicle was not of the same safety standard as other wheelchair accessible licensed vehicles. The tests carried out were not to the standard of the Vehicle Certification Agency Ministers Approval Certificate for a Low Volume Motor Vehicle or European Small Series Type Approval and some tests were carried out on a surrogate vehicle floor.
  18. The Committee considered that the Applicant was requesting it lower the Council’s safety standards in respect of this particular vehicle. The Committee considered those standards are in place to protect wheelchair bound passengers. The Committee would not lower such standards which could put the travelling public at risk.
  19. The Committee noted that the Applicant stated he had been told by a licensing officer prior to purchasing the vehicle that it could be licensed. However, it noted the report stated that the Applicant did not consult the licensing office prior to purchase or the conversion. It also noted that the policy had been in place for several years prior to March 2018 when the policy was widely consulted upon and approved. It noted that Policy is available prior to making an application; that the Applicant had previous vehicle licences with the Council and ought reasonably to be aware of the Council’s policies, conditions and procedures.
  20. There were no good reasons, therefore, to depart from the Policy and the Application was refused.
  21. The Committee noted it was asked if it refused to depart from the Policy to advise what circumstances may lead to a departure. However, the Committee was not in a position to give such advice and each case would be judged on its own facts and merits at the time.
  22. If the Applicant was aggrieved by the decision to refuse to grant a hackney carriage vehicle licence he can appeal to the Crown Court within 21 days from the date of the decision under Section 7 of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act 1907. 
18/70 REVIEW OF PRIVATE HIRE VEHICLE DRIVER LICENCE REF: 7/19

The Chair introduced those present and outlined the procedure to be followed and confirmed that any inaccuracies contained within the report should have been reported to the Licensing department prior to the meeting.

 

The driver, who was in attendance at the meeting, accompanied by a friend, verified his name and address and confirmed that he had received a copy of the report and understood its contents.

 

The Licensing Manager summarised the report and advised the Committee the driver's licence was granted by Members at their meeting of the 9 January 2017 following consideration of offences listed in the report:-

 

Offence 1) Possession of Class C Drug Cannabis

Offence 2) Possession of Class B Drug Cannabis

Offence 3) Breach of Conditional Discharge/ Driving with Excess Alcohol

 

The driver now appeared before Members as a result of a complaint made following an incident involving a lone female passenger on 15 January 2019 at approximately 1.20pm. The Committee was advised that a complaint was made by a friend of the vulnerable female passenger who alleged that, after the passenger had taken medication and consequently fallen asleep, the driver had posted video footage of the female on Facebook after he had difficulty obtaining his fare. The complainant also stated that the driver had engaged in conversations with others on Facebook about the incident. The complainant also alleged the driver took the female's mobile phone and intended to charge £20 for its return.

 

The driver was subsequently interviewed by a Licensing Officer on 4 February 2019 during which the driver claimed that he recorded the passenger to protect both himself, the passenger and other drivers.  The driver confirmed that he was aware of the drivers’ code of conduct and had completed the vulnerability training but would have reacted in the same way if a similar incident arose. The driver was also asked to undertake a drugs test, owing to officer concerns about the driver's conduct during the meeting. A full laboratory screening showed negative results for all drugs screened for.

 

Members were also advised that police investigations into allegations of theft of the passenger's phone resulted in no further action being taken.  

 

The driver was invited to present his case and proceeded to address the Committee providing his version of events. He also responded to questions from Members, the Council's Legal Representative and the Licensing Manager. As part of proceedings, the Committee was shown video footage, recorded by the driver, which had been posted on Facebook. 

 

It was confirmed that there were no further questions and the driver, along with officers of the Council, other than representatives of the Council's Legal and Democratic Services, withdrew whilst the Committee determined the review.

 

At this stage in the meeting the driver, his friend and the Licensing Manager returned to the meeting.

 

ORDERED: Under Section 61 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 ("the Act") the Licensing Committee may revoke the licence of a driver of a private hire vehicle on the ground of any other reasonable cause. Under Section 61(2B) of the Act if the Committee considers it is in the interests of public safety it may require the revocation of the licence to have immediate effect.

 

The Licensing Committee considered the review on its merits, it considered the report, information and representations made to the Committee. It considered the legislation and Middlesbrough Council Private Hire and Hackney Carriage Licensing Policy 2018 ("the Policy").

 

The Licensing Committee decided to revoke the driver's private hire vehicle driver’s licence on the grounds of any other reasonable cause. The revocation was to have immediate effect in the interests of public safety.

 

The reasons for the decision are as follows:

 

  1. The Committee did not consider the Driver was a safe or suitable person to be licensed to drive the public including vulnerable passengers in Middlesbrough.
  2. A complaint had been received about the driver’s conduct in relation to a private hire journey on the 15 January 2019 and his subsequent actions.
  3. The Driver videoed his passenger when she was unconscious, or asleep, allegedly as a result of taking medication including methadone. The Driver then publically posted this video on Facebook and used foul language and insulting comments about his passenger. The passenger was found by her partner in a confused state wandering along the road where she had been dropped off by the Driver.
  4. The driver claimed the passenger was fine when he picked her up but during the journey she became disorientated and drifted in and out of sleep, that she choked on a chocolate bar and spat chocolate over herself and the taxi. The driver claimed he had videoed the passenger to protect himself and posted it on Facebook to protect drivers.
  5. It was clear to the Committee the passenger was in a very vulnerable state and appeared to be unconscious or passed out when the Driver chose to video her at the end of the journey. The Committee considered it was wholly inappropriate to video the passenger on his phone in this state of unconsciousness without her knowledge and then publically post it on social media.
  6. The Driver did not report concerns or take any appropriate action in respect of a passenger who was clearly very unwell. The Driver simply told the passenger to "fuck off out of my car" because she was in no state to pay the fare.
  7. The Committee considered the Driver had failed to safeguard a vulnerable passenger. It did not believe the Driver had acted in good faith and considered he used his position of trust to publically ridicule and humiliate a vulnerable passenger.
  8. The Driver told the Committee he did not "bad mouth" the passenger on Facebook. However, the Committee considered that the Facebook comments made by the Driver were clearly derogatory, insulting and humiliating. The Driver made comments such as "Any 1 no this rat from b,farm the little bag rat" and "if it was a lad I wood of slapped him but not that thing" The Driver engaged in a public discussion about the state she was in, in the video "Bork whats all the brown dripping" - Driver "cream egg lol". The posting resulted in the passenger being further insulted by other members of the public. When the driver was warned to take down the posting by a member of the public his response was "I don’t give to fucks about the job pal i done that to let ppl no what rats we pick up".
  9. The Committee considered it wholly irrelevant whether the Driver considered the passenger was an addict or not, he had abused his position of trust and put a vulnerable passenger at risk by the posts on Facebook.
  10. The Committee was seriously concerned that the Driver was not sorry for and stood by his actions, that he and his representative said he had done nothing wrong, that he was simply wound up.
  11. In addition, the Committee was seriously concerned that the Driver had used foul language to licensing officers and threatening aggressive words about the passenger and certain sectors of the community. The Driver made such statements as "theres no way I’m losing my badge over a fucking smackhead", "Im not going to let this lie, Im going to make sure she loses her kids"; "I hate all bagheads and refugees as they get fucking everything". The Driver confirmed these views to the Committee when questioned. The Driver denied stating that he would make sure the passenger gets hurt and claimed the licensing officer must have been mistaken. However, the Licensing Officer appeared to be clear and the statement follows a pattern of abusive foul aggressive language used by the Driver.
  12. The Driver also told licensing officers that he would put his vehicle into a brick wall or set it on fire rather than pay the operator.
  13. The Committee noted although the Driver had been arrested for theft of the passenger’s mobile phone no charges were brought because of insufficient evidence. However, when asked on the Driver’s Facebook post "what was she sayong wen u asked for money", the Driver responded "Fuckknows couldn’t understand so I kept the phone ….". Although the driver claimed he was taking it to Middlesbrough Police Station he still made it public he had taken a passenger’s phone and had not reported it to his operator.
  14. The Committee was seriously concerned with the Driver and his representative’s aggressive demeanour to the Committee itself and that the Driver used foul language to the Committee when responding to questions.
  15. The Committee determined the Driver was in clear breach of numerous parts of the Code of Conduct applicable to licensed drivers in Middlesbrough. He had failed to always be respectable and polite; behave in a civil and orderly manner at all times; treat passengers and potential passengers with curtesy and respect; not to discriminate against passengers and take particular care with unaccompanied vulnerable adults. The Driver had also breached the Code for drivers working with vulnerable passengers which stated a Driver must never make offensive or inappropriate comments or behave in a way that may make a passenger feel intimidated or threatened.
  16. The Committee considered that the Driver on the whole was volatile, easily provoked, aggressive and angry.
  17. The Committee determined the Driver seriously abused his position of trust, his behaviour was wholly unacceptable and was at risk of acting in similar way in the future.
  18. Although the Driver claimed he had received no complaints since the grant of his licence, the Driver did have two previous convictions for possession of cannabis in 2009 and 2011 and driving with excess alcohol in 2011. The Council gave the Driver a chance to be licensed as a private hire driver in January 2017, yet despite being given this opportunity the Driver continued to abuse his position and act wholly inappropriately.
  19. The Driver had been suspended following a drugs test which showed Amphetamines in his system on the 4th February 2019, but the suspension was removed because a later, more detailed test, was negative. However, the Committee remained concerned that the Driver told his operator he had taken Tramadol which was not his prescription.
  20. The Committee considered that the Driver was a risk to the public and vulnerable passengers and in the interests of public safety decided to revoke the licence with immediate effect.
  21. The driver was advised that if he was aggrieved by the Committee's decision he had 21 days in which to appeal the decision to Teesside Magistrate 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 driver. 

 

 

 

18/71 APPLICATION FOR A PRIVATE HIRE VEHICLE DRIVER LICENCE REF: 8/19

The Director of Culture and Communities submitted an exempt report in connection an application for a Private Hire Vehicle Driver Licence, Ref: 8/19, where circumstances had arisen which required special consideration by the Committee.

 

The Chair introduced those present and outlined the procedure to be followed and confirmed that any inaccuracies continued within the report should have been reported to the Licensing department prior to the meeting.

 

The applicant, who was in attendance at the meeting, verified his name and address and confirmed that he had received a copy of the report and understood its contents.

 

The Licensing Manager provided a summary of the report in relation to the applicant’s convictions detailed in the report and made reference to the relevant sections of the Council’s Policy Guidance on Convictions, Cautions and Complaints. :-

 

The Committee was advised that the Applicant appeared before Members due to Offence 1) - Common Assault listed in the report. The Applicant was interviewed by a Licensing enforcement officer on 22 January 2019 in relation to this incident.

 

Offence 1) The applicant stated that this incident occurred when separating his children after a play fight began to get out of control on 10 April 2016. The applicant used his arm to separate the children and in the course of doing so caused a red mark on his son's leg. After the mark had become apparent during school time, it was reported to social worker at the child's school as well as the police. The red mark was not judged to be serious by medical staff at James Cook University Hospital.

 

The Applicant stated that he was interviewed by the Police on 25 April 2016 and had accepted his explanation that the injury had been accidental and had signed a form to accept responsibility for the incident and accepted a warning. The applicant stated that Social Services had not been involved since their last involvement.

 

The Applicant had not declared the warning as part of his application as he was not aware the document he signed was a caution.

 

Further enquiries made by Licensing Staff found no record of the Applicant on the Council's LADO files, however information provided by Cleveland Police showed that the Applicant's explanation for the injury was from a belt.

 

The Applicant was re-interviewed on 13 February 2019 by a Licensing Officer in which he admitted that the injury had been caused by his belt but that this had been unintentional. The Applicant stated he had picked up his trousers which had been hanging on his bed and had swung them at the children to separate them and that his son had been caught by the belt.

 

The Applicant stated that it was not his intention to deliberately mislead Officers during his first interview but did so as he had been embarrassed and ashamed and wanted to put the whole incident behind him.

 

At this point in the meeting the Applicant was invited to present his case and proceeded to address the Committee providing his version of events. He also responded to questions from Members, the Council's Legal representative and the Licensing Manager.

 

It was confirmed there were no further questions and the driver, along with Licensing Officers, withdrew from the meeting whilst the Committee considered the application.

 

At this stage in the meeting the Applicant and the Licensing Manager returned to the meeting.

 

ORDERED: Under Section 51 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 ("the Act") the Licensing Committee shall not grant a licence to drive a private hire vehicle unless it is satisfied the applicant is a fit and proper person to hold a licence.

 

The Committee considered the application on its merits, it considered the report, information and representations made to the Committee. It considered the Council’s policy on convictions, cautions, complaints and driver conduct ("the Policy").

 

The Committee decided to grant the Applicant a licence to drive private hire vehicles under Section 51 of the Act because it was satisfied the Applicant was a fit and proper person to hold such a licence. The Chair advised the applicant the licence entailed a responsibility to be a Fit and Proper person when driving a taxi in Middlesbrough.

 

The reasons for the decision were as follows:

 

  1. The Committee noted the Applicant had received a caution for common assault on the 25 April 2016 and failed to declare the caution on his application.
  2. The Committee noted the Applicant’s explanation for the caution and that he was ashamed and very remorseful of his actions which is why the Applicant did not give the full details to the licensing officer in his first interview.
  3. The Committee noted that the Applicant did not realise he had received a caution and thought it was a warning and therefore did not put it on his Application. The Applicant explained it was a mistake and was not intentionally done to mislead the Council.
  4. The Committee considered the Applicant’s reasons to be believable and did not consider he intentionally lied on his application form to mislead the Council.
  5. The Committee noted the Policy in relation to an offence of assault requires a conviction free period of at least three years from the date of conviction or completion of the sentence imposed. It therefore decided to depart from the policy on this occasion because the incident appeared to be a one off and out of character and there was only approximately one month left before the three year incident free period expires.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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