No smoke without fire: taxi driver not given benefit of doubt over inappropriate behaviour towards children
The Crown Court at St Albans has dismissed the second appeal brought by a private hire driver following a pattern of allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards girls.
The driver, formerly licensed by Three Rivers District Council, had his application to renew his private hire driver’s licence refused after it emerged that he had been the subject of a number of allegations – although he had not been arrested or charged (let alone convicted) for any offences.
During the renewal process, a routine enquiry to Hertfordshire Police revealed that a complaint had been made against the driver in November 2018 alleging that he had been parked outside a secondary school and had an inappropriate conversation with a teenage girl, in which he asked for her sister’s phone number. The police decided to take no further action on the allegation and the driver himself was not spoken to by police.
The driver was also licensed by a neighbouring authority who, having interviewed the driver about this and the earlier allegations, decided to issue a warning. Three Rivers took a different view and refused to renew the driver’s licence, which was about to expire.
The driver appealed unsuccessfully to the magistrates’ court and, following a hearing on 21 October, his second appeal to the Crown Court has also been dismissed.
In giving its judgment, the Crown Court placed particular emphasis on the Department for Transport’s recently-issued statutory guidance for licensing authorities and the instruction that authorities should not give the benefit of the doubt to drivers when deciding on questions of fitness and propriety.
The court recognised that it was not in a position to make definitive findings of fact about what had happened but considered that the November incident was (of itself) sufficiently concerning that it justified the Council’s decision. The court noted that the other allegations the driver were tenuous but that the Council had been entitled to take them into account given their similarity with the November incident.
The appeal was therefore dismissed and the driver was ordered to pay £2,500 in costs on top of the costs order made in the magistrates’ court.
This is one of the first “non-conviction” cases decided since the statutory guidance was formally issued. The guidance could not be clearer that its “focus … is on protecting children and vulnerable adults” in the wake of high-profile cases of abuse and exploitation “facilitated and in some cases perpetrated by the trade”. While most licensing authorities were already moving in that direction, the guidance confirms that licensing authorities must take a more robust approach to safeguarding.
As this case demonstrates, it means that the “fit and proper standard” should now be more difficult to achieve.
Matt Lewin represented Three Rivers District Council.