No smoke without fire: taxi driver not given benefit of doubt over inappropriate behaviour towards children
04th November 2020
The Crown Court at St Albans has dismissed the second appeal brought by a private hire driver following a pattern of allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards girls.
The driver, formerly licensed by Three Rivers District Council, had his application to renew his private hire driver’s licence refused after it emerged that he had been the subject of a number of allegations – although he had not been arrested or charged (let alone convicted) for any offences.
During the renewal process, a routine enquiry to Hertfordshire Police revealed that a complaint had been made against the driver in November 2018 alleging that he had been parked outside a secondary school and had an inappropriate conversation with a teenage girl. The police decided to take no further action on the allegation and the driver himself was not spoken to by police.
The driver was also licensed by a neighbouring authority who, having interviewed the driver about this allegation and earlier allegations, decided to issue a warning. Three Rivers took a different view and refused to renew the driver’s licence.
The driver appealed unsuccessfully to the Magistrates’ Court and, following a hearing on 21 October, his second appeal to the Crown Court was also dismissed.
In giving its judgment, the Crown Court placed particular emphasis on the Department for Transport’s recently-issued statutory guidance for licensing authorities and the instruction that authorities should not give the benefit of the doubt to drivers when deciding on questions of fitness and propriety.
The court recognised that it was not in a position to make definitive findings of fact about what had happened but considered that the November incident was (of itself) sufficiently concerning that it justified the Council’s decision. The court noted that the other allegations about the driver were tenuous but that the Council had been entitled to take them into account given their similarity with the November incident.
The appeal was therefore dismissed and the driver was ordered to pay £2,500 in costs on top of the costs order made in the Magistrates’ Court.
Cllr Roger Seabourne Lead Member for Community Safety and Chair of the Community Safety Partnership said: “Our Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Policy has recently been reviewed and strengthened in line with the Statutory Guidance. Our officers send a clear message that individuals who have demonstrated a pattern of inappropriate behaviour will be deemed as not to be ‘fit and proper’ or ‘safe and suitable’ to hold a Hackney Carriage or Private Hire Licence. Public safety is paramount in cases such as this. Officers, when coming to their decision, will always consider our suitability policy which states ‘Would you allow your son or daughter, spouse or partner, mother or father, grandson or granddaughter or any other person for whom you care, to get into a vehicle with this person alone?’"
This case should set an example to all existing and new drivers that any inappropriate behaviour is extremely serious and although some reports may not lead to prosecution, details of incidents can be taken into consideration by the licensing authority, and may, as in this case, lead to the individual losing their licence.