A judge has quashed an appeal against the decision that saw Philip Higgs banned from holding a PSV O-licence, after he hired a private investigator to film former senior traffic commissioner (TC) Beverley Bell (pictured) committing alleged motoring offences.
Judge Leveson said that Higgs had created an “intimidatory atmosphere” for those working in transport regulation and had made a “direct attack” on the adjudicating process by posting the video.
Higgs, director at Blackpool bus operator Catch 22 Bus, was banned from holding an O-licence for a year by deputy TC John Baker following a public inquiry (PI) in November 2016.
The firm also lost its O-licence, but the effect of this was delayed until the appeal concluded.
Baker found that Higgs had lost his repute as his behaviour “drew into question” the likelihood of complying with operating requirements.
Higgs and the operator appealed against the decision to the Upper Tribunal, which earlier this month found that it was reasonable for Baker to take the video into account when determining whether Higgs was fit to run commercial vehicles. It will lose its PSV licence on 18 February.
During the PI last year, Higgs told the deputy TC that he felt it was right to expose someone who was ignoring the rules of the road. However, Baker said he had a range of “acceptable options” open to him if he suspected any wrongdoing on Bell’s behalf.
In his appeal against the decision, Higgs’ lawyer told the judge that he had cooperated with the police investigation and had refrained from posting a second video at their request.
The lawyer said it was important to note that there had been no intention to influence the senior TC’s decision by posting the video as she had previously recused herself from dealing with Higgs’ case, and that the matters considered at a PI must always relate to the operation of a transport business.
He said the video had little relevance to the operation of a licence.
He also argued it was wrong of the deputy TC to not give more weight to the positive factors of the case, including a clear intention to comply with the regulatory regime and the provision of a good bus service.
The Secretary of State for transport, also represented at the appeal hearing, argued that it was clear from legislation that conduct considered at a PI need not be directly connected with road transport.
The judge said: “There can be no rational argument that the conduct was not connected to the regulatory regime and the operation of the licence.
“It was directed at the senior TC because of her official position and function. In our view the sanctions imposed by the commissioner were the very least that could reasonably be imposed in the circumstances of this case.”
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