Commercialmotor.com this year saw dozens of operators have their O-licences revoked or fleets curtailed, and a significant number of directors banned from the industry for non-compliance. We take a look at what we think are five of the most significant cases of 2016.
Operators or drivers are often called to a public inquiry (PI) for the traffic commissioner (TC) to consider the extent of any drivers’ hours or tachograph offences that have been made, but rarely do the TCs encounter a haulier who has committed more than 100 drivers’ hours offences in a period as short as three months.
TC for Wales Nick Jones was this year faced with sole trader Mark Seldon, who regularly breached the 70-hour week set by the Working Time Directive. He did so by frequently using two digital driver cards, and over a three-month period committed 105 drivers’ hours breaches, including 47 false record offences.
Seldon was fined £7,000 after pleading guilty at Pontypridd Magistrates’ Court in April, but that was not the only sanction he received; he was stripped of his O-licence and was banned by the TC following a PI in June.
Jones said Seldon had opted to put commercial advantage before road safety and had failed lamentably in his role as a transport manager.
The conviction of 15 drivers employed at Eddie Stobart’s Teesport depot for drivers’ hours and tachograph offences resulted in arguably one of the biggest sanctions of the year; a 140-vehicle reduction in its fleet authorisation on its North East O-licence for three months.
A PI in front of North East TC Kevin Rooney in February was told that 99 offences involving 17 drivers were detected at the company following a request for tachograph data. This was prompted by a roadside check involving a subcontractor’s vehicle.
Two drivers received warning letters and 15 were prosecuted by the DVSA last year for knowingly making false records. Four of the drivers were still employed by Eddie Stobart at the time of the PI.
It emerged that Eddie Stobart had been unaware that the offences were taking place as vehicle unit data was not being compared with driver card data.
While Eddie Stobart claimed that vehicle units were since being downloaded every 14 days and driver cards every seven days, the TC said the overall slowness in the company’s reaction had been unacceptable.
Stephen Holding of SP Holding Tractor Hire and SP Holding Services
A director who was found to have bullied and threatened drivers with losing their jobs if they did not commit drivers’ hours offences was banned from the industry for an indefinite period earlier this year.
Stephen Holding, director of Telford-based SP Holding Tractor Hire and SP Holding Services, was sentenced to eight months in prison in January for aiding and abetting drivers to commit drivers’ hours and weekly rest offences.
Some 10 drivers were convicted for creating false records in 2014, and on one occasion a driver had worked for 72 hours without taking a sufficient break.
West Midlands TC Nick Jones said Holding’s greed had “led to a train of events that included the ruin of businesses and many people’s lives” . The firms went into administration earlier this year, following Holding’s sentencing.
Jones said Holding’s conduct had been an example of “wholesale criminality”.
Philip Higgs of Catch22Bus
While you won’t often see a bus operator on commercialmotor.com, we believe that this case acts as an example of just how far the concept of repute can go.
The case concerned Philip Higgs, the director of Blackpool coach operator Catch22Bus, who appeared before deputy TC John Baker after posting a video on YouTube that allegedly showed senior TC Beverley Bell committing a number of motoring offences .
Baker said that Higgs’ behaviour had amounted to a serious invasion of the senior TC’s privacy and had led to considerable upset and distress. He said Higgs knew what he was doing was wrong as he had posted the video using an alias. He was only identified following a police investigation.
Baker said that this led him to seriously question whether Higgs could be trusted to operate commercial vehicles and whether his company would be able to follow the operating requirements set by the TCs.
The operator had its O-licence revoked and Higgs was disqualified from holding a PSV O-licence for 12 months from 18 January 2017.
Veolia ES Sheffield and John Fowler and Son (Blacksmiths and Welders)
One of the largest fines of the year was given to waste operator Veolia ES Sheffield and Chorley, Lancashire-based John Fowler and Son (Blacksmiths and Welders), following the death of a worker in the back of a refuse collection vehicle in 2014.
The vehicle’s tailgate was closed while it was being worked on by Rick Calsen, who suffered fatal crush injuries.
The Health and Safety Executive found a fault with the safety system, which was supposed to leave a gap of 1m between the bottom of the tailgate and the edges of the body when the in-cab tailgate controls were used. The system was found to be jammed, allowing the tailgate to be closed completely.
Veolia ES Sheffield had not had the vehicle inspected regularly enough and had not properly checked that the safety limit switch was functioning correctly.
Veolia ES Sheffield was fined £750,000 with £11,981 in costs at Preston Crown Court in June. John Fowler and Son (Blacksmiths and Welders) was fined £65,000 with £12,443 costs.