The biggest legal cases of 2017

Ashleigh Wight
December 28, 2017


Last year was a busy year for traffic commissioners, courts and enforcement agencies, with thousands of pounds in fines, lengthy bans and stark warnings being handed out to operators that failed to comply with the law. These are just a few of what, in our opinion, were the biggest and most important legal cases of 2017.

Grittenham Haulage

In January, Grittenham Haulage owner Matthew Gordon and mechanic Peter Wood were sentenced collectively to 12 years and nine months in prison after the firm’s tipper lost control and killed four people in Bath in February 2015.

Bringing to a close a lengthy court case, the judge said the poorly maintained tipper was “an accident waiting to happen”. Bristol Crown Court was told of the “appalling condition of the brakes” on the vehicle. The driver had complained more than once about the ABS light switching on in the vehicle, but Gordon and Wood did nothing about it. They were convicted of four counts of manslaughter in December 2016. Gordon was sentenced to seven years and six months in prison on 27 January, and Wood was sentenced to five years and three months.

Driver Philip Potter was acquitted.

Howdens Joinery

Kitchen supplier Howdens Joinery was hit with a £1.2m fine in November after an agency driver was struck by an overturning forklift truck and died.

HGV driver Richard Bowen was crushed by a forklift truck that was unloading kitchen worktops from a trailer at the firm’s Workington, Cumbria site in 2014.

The HSE, which prosecuted the company, found that the forklift truck had been overloaded, and that pedestrians were not kept a safe distance away from unloading operations.

The own-account operator was fined at Carlisle Crown Court on 22 November after pleading guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. It was also ordered to pay £33,902 costs.


Simon Nicholls

Simon Nicholls, a man associated with Bath tipper company Grittenham Haulage, had his O-licence revoked in May after the DVSA raised concerns about his ability to keep his vehicles in a roadworthy condition.

West of England traffic commissioner Kevin Rooney said Nicholls demonstrated “a woeful lack of knowledge” about running trucks.

In addition to the maintenance issues, Nicholls had been running a vehicle that he had not specified on his O-licence until months later. The operator claimed that he had been trying to locate and repair a fault, but he later admitted that the vehicle had been laden.

Nicholls was granted an O-licence in 2016, after an 18-month application process and two public inquiries.

Philip Higgs/Catch22Bus

You will rarely see a bus operator on CM’s legal pages, but we thought that such an unusual case concerning an operator’s repute deserved coverage.

Philip Higgs, the boss of Blackpool-based Catch22Bus, lost his repute and O-licence in 2016 after hiring a private investigator to follow former senior traffic commissioner Beverley Bell and film her allegedly committing driving offences.

Higgs appealed the 2016 decision last month and lost, with a judge finding that he had created an “intimidatory atmosphere” for those at the Office of the Traffic Commissioner by creating and posting the video on YouTube.

The judge also agreed with the decision that Higgs had lost his repute and found that he could not be trusted to comply with the regulatory regime.

Waste Eaters

The owners of North Wales waste collection firm Waste Eaters were hit with a 25-year ban from operating commercial vehicles in June after it committed a significant number of offences.

A DVSA examiner said it was difficult to work out how many vehicles it was operating at any one time because of the chaotic way it managed its O-licence. It was carrying out more than 160 collections a day, which the examiner believed was not possible if the firm used only the one vehicle specified on its O-licence.

As well as operating more vehicles than the maximum number permitted, it ran trucks without insurance, tax, MoT and tachographs, and operated vehicles that had not been registered to any owner.

Traffic commissioner for Wales Nick Jones said it was difficult to imagine partners Andrew Hughes and Elizabeth Carolyn Hughes ever being fit to hold an O-licence again, which is why he ordered such an extensive ban.

Bedworth Haulage

West Midlands traffic commissioner Nick Denton said drivers for Coventry-based Bedworth Haulage were allegedly “pushed to the limit”, which spurred them to commit drivers’ hours and tachograph offences.

As a result of its oversight of drivers’ hours compliance, the operator was suspended from running trucks for two weeks in June, and voluntarily opted to have its O-licence curtailed to allow it to better manage compliance.

A DVSA investigation last year identified a range of drivers’ hours and tachograph infringements, including a driver who had driven without a card for almost 900km; a driver who had used three different cards; exceeding maximum driving periods; and breaching daily or weekly rest rules.

PCS Recycling

Upminster, Essex-based PCS Recycling and its directors Patrick Corbally snr and Patrick Corbally jnr were, in June, ordered to pay the highest fine the Environment Agency has ever imposed on individual defendants.

The company had tipped and spread waste on an area the size of two football pitches in Upminster between 1 March and 31 August 2012, including potentially hazardous material. The waste reached more than 15m in height in some areas.

The directors also admitted to depositing more than 9,000 tonnes of waste on another site owed by Cemex UK.

The directors were each sentenced to 10 months in prison, suspended for two years. The company and the directors were ordered to pay a £120,000 fine and £55,000 in compensation to Cemex UK.

Dangerous overtaking manoeuvre

In June, a truck driver, who was not named, was ordered to pay £1,038 in fines and costs for undertaking what West Midlands Police described as a “close pass” on a cyclist in Tipton in November 2016.

Police said he passed the cyclist in a way that almost forced the cyclist into the kerb, which they said could have caused a serious collision.

The driver was convicted of driving without due care and attention, and received five points on his driving licence, after being found guilty at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court. He initially denied the offence. 

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