The Upper Tribunal has found that North East traffic commissioner (TC) Kevin Rooney was right to have imposed a five-year ban on the director of a crane hire company who coerced drivers into creating false tachograph records.
It said evidence suggesting that Baldwins Crane Hire director Wayne Baldwin was the “driving force” behind a culture where drivers removed their cards while on site was “overwhelming”, despite much of it being hearsay.
The company’s O-licence was revoked last year. An application from sister company Baldwins Support Services is under consideration.
DVSA evidence presented at a public inquiry (PI) last year showed a large number of vehicle movements went unrecorded by the company’s drivers, predominantly while rigging and derigging cranes. Drivers were told to remove their cards, with some alleging that they were threatened with losing their jobs if they did not do so. Drivers were either directly told to do so by Wayne Baldwin or received the instruction indirectly from another member of staff.
Some 14 drivers pleaded guilty to 43 offences in May 2016. Three more drivers faced 11 offences, but had not appeared in court at the time of the PI.
The TC was also told about numerous maintenance issues, which included shortcomings in the driver defect reporting system and the issue of prohibitions, but the TC acknowledged there had been improvements.
Wayne Baldwin did not attend the PI, but provided a statement that denied instructing drivers to remove their cards.
The Upper Tribunal found the rushed nature of the PI meant that the TC had not received enough time to consider the roles of those involved in the management of the operation.
Judge Jacqueline Beech also found that there had been a “fundamental breach of natural justice” when Rooney had found that operations manager Andrew Skelton was the de facto director of the company. His two-year ban was overturned.
She said it would have only been fair of the TC to make the finding if the allegation had been included in the call-up letter addressed to Skelton, and he were given an opportunity to deal with the concerns before the decision being made.
It also found the TC was wrong to have imposed an indefinite ban on finance director Lorraine Baldwin, and her period of disqualification was reduced to two years.
The disqualification was given as the company had failed to inform the TC that Baldwin was a director.
Beech said the TC had failed to provide any reasoning for the disparity between the periods of disqualification.
The company’s solicitor also argued that a statement made by Rooney during the PI, claiming that adjourning the hearing would “leave this operator to go away and kill someone”, gave the impression he had made up his mind about the issues. The judge said the comment was “ill-judged but understandable”.