An appeal against a decision by the traffic commissioner (TC) to revoke the O-licence of an operator and disqualify its transport manager following an incident in which an HGV struck a bridge has failed.
However, the upper tribunal said Skelmersdale-based Bridgestep and transport manager Tom Bridge should have been given an opportunity to address issues of route planning and driver self-employment before the TC came to adverse findings on those points in a public inquiry (PI) in July 2019.
The PI heard how one of Bridgestep’s drivers took a wrong turning and struck a railway bridge outside Stockport in January last year.
It transpired that the company’s drivers were all classed as self-employed. In his written decision, TC Simon Evans noted that as a result, Bridge had no authority to give the drivers instructions on which route they should take.
Bridge said the company was already in the process of moving the self-employed drivers onto full-time contracts because he was unhappy with the set-up. The TC responded by saying the arrangement, which was against current advice from HMRC, demonstrated “a seriously faulty or cavalier approach to business” and had led to the bridge strike.
In its appeal, the company argued that the TC gave the company no notice of the possibility that adverse findings might be made about the responsibility for route planning being “abrogated” by the operator to the drivers. It made the same complaint about the TC’s approach to the issue of the drivers’ self-employment.
The company said that if the TC had raised the point then it would have requested an adjournment in order to produce further evidence.
The appeal tribunal agreed that Bridgestep and Bridge should have been given an opportunity to address the issues that arose at the PI: “and to that limited extent, these appeals succeed,” Judge Beech wrote in her decision.
However, she added that this was a bad case. “Having considered the further evidence provided by the appellants, we are satisfied that the TC’s decision was not plainly wrong in any respect and that it is unnecessary to substitute our own decision for that of the TC. We therefore endorse his decision in respect of both appellants.”