Second PI spells the end for Kent operator

An operator that appeared at two public inquiries in two years has now had its licence revoked after a deputy traffic commissioner found its compliance levels never reached the required standard.

Kent Traction Services director Grace Shilling and transport manager Belinda Bell appeared before deputy TC John Baker at an Eastbourne PI after it failed to respond to DVSA questions as part of a desk based assessment. The company had previously appeared at a PI in 2018 following a high number of prohibitions being issued to its four fleet vehicles and its licence was suspended for almost two months.

At the latest PI, a senior traffic examiner told the DTC that the operator had finally sent additional information prior to the inquiry, but it was sporadic and raised more questions than answers. The available data showed that there were 44 occasions when the company’s vehicles were driven without cards, ranging in time between four minutes and five hours. There had also been mode switch offences; driving times had been exceeded and working time breaches had also occurred.

Bell told DTC Baker that problems had occurred when her husband was diagnosed with cancer in 2019 and then later died from Covid-19. In his written decision, Baker said he had genuine sympathy for the transport manager and these tragic circumstances and it explained the lack of response to the DVSA and recent compliance failings. But he also said: “Unfortunately, this factor highlights for me a further concern. The responsibility for ensuring compliance rest jointly with the director and the transport manager. This basic principle is endorsed by the fact that the traffic commissioner required training to be undertaken by Miss Shilling as well as Mrs Bell after the public inquiry in 2018.

“The distinct impression I got, and conclusion I have reached, is that Miss Shilling has delegated responsibility fully to Mrs Bell and when she was unable to undertake her duties very little happened.”

Baker said he struggled to find many positives in the case: “There is no evidence to show that the compliance levels have been at the standard required since the licence was granted,” he added. “I invited Mrs Bell to identify a time when compliance had been up to standard and she struggled to do so. I conclude that the seriousness level in this case is serious to severe.”

Legal advice for stowaway problems on the rise

Road transport solicitors Smith Bowyer Clarke (SBC) said it was dealing with 10 cases per week where hauliers were seeking legal advice after receiving fines for stowaways inside their vehicles. It came as vehicle security firm TrailerLock warned that attempts to stowaway inside unsecure trailers had increased due to the significant rise in unaccompanied freight amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Simon Clarke, SBC solicitor said: “We have around 10 new instructions per week where hauliers are seeking to appeal against the imposition of penalties for clandestine entrants running into the tens of thousands of pounds. In some cases, having to pay these penalties would mean the company going out of business. “We are well used to dealing with penalties in the range of £20,000 to £40,000; we have just closed one case where a haulier had imposed against him a £68,000 penalty, reduced by us on appeal to £20,000.”

Clarke added: “Drivers may be vigilant in checking their vehicles; however, thousands of illegal immigrants hide inside trucks heading for the UK each year. Despite Border Force accepting that a driver and haulier have no idea that the illegal immigrants were inside the truck, penalties will be imposed. One of the best ways to prevent this is by securing the doors of a trailer with a robust lock that cannot be disarmed.”

TrailerLock said over one million trailers travelling between GB to Europe were now classed as unaccompanied and the risk of clandestine entrants had risen as a result.