Agenda item

Determination of a private hire/hackney carriage driver's licence

To determine a private hire/hackney carriage vehicle licence.



The Chair moved Item 6 forward in the proceedings.


The Enforcement Officer gave a summary of the report. Suffolk County Council (SCC) had received a complaint regarding the driver’s over-friendly interactions with a child he was transporting to school and his family. The driver had been suspended from Suffolk County Council contracts for over 5 months. SCC were unclear as to whether the behaviour constituted grooming to get close to the child or whether it was naïve and well meaning, misguided behaviour.


In response to a Member question, the driver said the Passenger Assistant had been present with him the whole time as he was transporting the child, and the child had never refused to get in the vehicle. As far as he knew, only one complaint had been made against him.


In response to a Member question, the driver said he had only received training on dealing with children since the complaint had been made.


At 11.05, the Committee retired to make its decision.


At 11.45, the Committee returned. The decision was read to those present.


RESOLVED to revoke the driver’s drivers licence.





The application before the Panel today is for the suspension or revocation of the driver’s  joint private hire/hackney carriage licence number PH/HC2953  under S61  (1) (b) Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976.- any other reasonable cause. The licence is due to expire on 31st July 2021 and the driver is currently employed by 24 x 7 Ltd on the school contract side of the business.


We have had the benefit of a detailed report from the Enforcement Officer and his notes, together with the original correspondence received by him are also before us. The story begins with a complaint to Suffolk Council dated 28th March 2019. The matter was referred to us by their LADO (Local Authority Designated Officer for Safeguarding) who holds a statutory responsibility for the safeguarding of both children and vulnerable adults.


Their employee noted:-

“Mum called regarding her son’s transport, her son has been biting and hitting recently and he does not usually behave like this. The child has not had problems with the transport before this driver and PA started in September and does not want to get in the taxi now. The driver was trying to giving chocolate, toy trucks to the child and his younger brother and even offered money to mum when she had a baby.   This had been on and off since September but has got worse in the last month.   This last month is when the behavioural problems started and he refused to go in the taxi and the problems at school started.  The child is non-verbal so mum cannot ask him anything he just wants to vent his frustration by his behaviour… The driver stands very close to the door when picking up so the child has to brush past him then he touches his hair, he also tries to get close to mum.”


24x7 Limited investigated the matter and reported back to Suffolk County Council on 13 September 2019.   They interviewed the driver and passenger assistant regarding the allegations.   They confirmed the following:

The driver admitted buying advent calendars for the passenger and a sibling, and further admitted giving the children some old toy cars that he had as a child as he was going to discard them. He also admitted making a contribution to the new baby’s bank account and accepted that he had overstepped the boundaries of a driver and become too friendly with the family.

The child’s front door was up a flight of steps and he would often come bounding out the front door. The driver admitted that he and the passenger assistant would wait at the bottom of the steps to catch him if he fell.   He denied that he ever stroked the child’s hair.


24x7 Limited pointed out to the driver that this should never have happened and he should have stuck to the Council’s and Company’s protocols and procedures; however, they believe that the driver does not pose a risk to the passengers they carry.


Suffolk County Council also advised the Enforcement Officer that the driver had been suspended from their contracts for over 5 months.   They were unclear as to whether the behaviour constituted grooming to get close to the child or whether it was naïve and well meaning, misguided behaviour, but Suffolk County Council Passenger Transport are considering whether the driver will be allowed to resume work on Suffolk contracts, and if so on what conditions. Our decision today will of course be a very relevant consideration.


The Enforcement Officer interviewed the driver over the telephone on 18 September 2019.   A copy of his notes is before us, but in summary, we observe that the driver is still driving children for 24x7 Limited and transports eight teenagers in a Vauxhall Vivaro people carrier and has been doing this since the beginning of this school year. He was never suspended from his employment, has no criminal convictions, and a clean driving licence. The driver stated that he was aggrieved at the allegations and by way of evidence as to character told the Enforcement Officer   that he was a church verger and a freemason. We are very concerned to note that the allegations were made in December 2018 to 24x7 Limited: clearly Suffolk County Council were dissatisfied with their reaction given that the matter was referred to UDC in March of this year.


Turning to the specifics, the driver told the Enforcement Officer, and indeed this Committee today, that at the material time he was transporting one child with a passenger assistant, who was also interviewed by UDC   He had worked with that passenger assistant for quite a while.   The child in question was non-verbal autistic and was about 7 or 8 years old. Prior to the complaint the child’s behaviour was sometimes ok and sometimes he would ‘kick off’ and pinch and bite the PA which they reported to 24x7 Limited.  The driver disputed that the child had ever refused to enter the vehicle.


He was then asked about the gifts and he said that the chocolate had been advent calendars bought for the passenger, his younger brother and their mother, with her permission. The driver also said that he gave a £5 note to the father following the birth of a child which he claimed was the type of thing his grandfather did. He explained that as a child himself he used to collect dinky toys and when he moved house he offered them to the children, again with the mother’s alleged agreement, and that the giving of these gifts was witnessed by the passenger assistant.


The driver offered the same explanation to the Enforcement Officer as to 24 x 7 for his touching the child’s head, namely that the child’s front door was up 8-9 steps and that he would come charging out; the driver said that he waited at the bottom in case the child fell over, and that he might have touched the child’s head when he got in the vehicle to stop him hitting his head. However, the driver denied that he wanted to get close to the mother. The driver believed that he got on well with both parents and they had three children.  The driver did not think that the child came from a broken home.


The Enforcement Officer spoke to the driver’s Passenger Assistant the PA on 23 September 2019.   She supplied him with the following information: she had worked with the driver for about six months, she thought he seemed to be ok and she got on well with him. She also thought the family in question seemed nice, and the child was from a caring home. At Christmas time she had seen him give chocolate advent calendars to the step grandmother, but did not see him give these to the children.


The driver also saw him give the dinky toys to the children after seeking permission from the mother, but that at the time she had appeared distracted as she was getting another child out of her vehicle. The PA said that the mother had asked either the PA or driver to wait at the bottom of the steps to stop the child falling over when he left the house. She did observe that the child’s behaviour had changed and he would get upset if they went off route for diversions; he pinched her a couple of times and she thought it might have been because he had been poorly,


The PA did say that the driver could be a bit over-familiar with the mother and sometimes got in her personal space.   She thought it was because he was friendly; possibly both over friendly and naïve, but not a threat to the children.   She added that he thought the world of the children, and that some training would be appropriate. She also confirmed that the driver was never alone with the child; she did not see money being given to the father but said she was shocked that this had happened.


The driver’s licence therefore comes before us today to consider whether he remains a fit and proper person to hold a licence in light of this safeguarding complaint. We are concerned to note that the date of their referral of the matter to us suggests that Suffolk County Council were dissatisfied with the response of 24 x 7 to their concerns, and we are similarly troubled to note he is still driving children in Essex, albeit a larger group and older, presumably on the basis safety lies in numbers. Where children are concerned we do not agree.


We have read the papers before us and we have heard from the driver. We have asked him a number of questions regarding the safeguarding training he has received and we are extremely concerned at the limitations thereof. We also note that he is extremely sorry for what has happened, but nevertheless the primary function of this Committee is the protection of the public and we note the seriousness of the allegations. Children are among the most vulnerable members of our society and anyone employed to work with them, particularly lone workers (as the driver now is), holds a position of great trust.  Suffolk County Council clearly do not feel him to be worthy of that trust, and we agree. It is our view that the driver has abused that trust, and as a result we feel that we have no option but to revoke his drivers’ licence with immediate effect in the interest of public safety under S61(1) ( b) Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976  – any other reasonable cause.


There is a right of appeal against this decision which must be exercised within a period of 21 days. During that period the licence would ordinarily remain in force, and would continue thereafter until the conclusion of the appellate process, but this does not apply in this case since the revocation is with immediate effect in the interests of public safety. The driver will receive a letter from the Legal Department explaining this.