The owner of a private hire company, licensed with Durham County Council, has been fined for failing to carry out the proper checks on an employee who was taking children on the daily school run.
Ian Clydesdale, from Burnopfield, was ordered to pay more than £1,600 and received six penalty points on his licence after pleading guilty by post to knowingly employing a driver without the correct licence.
The 59-year-old pleaded guilty to two charges under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 and a third charge under the Road Traffic Act 1988, following a council investigation.
Licensing services received information in July 2021 suggesting that Burnopfield Private Hire was employing a driver who may have an issue with his private hire driver's licence.
Checks revealed that the private hire licence of one of the company's drivers had expired on 13 June 2021. When licensing enforcement officers contacted Clydesdale, as the holder of the business's operator licence, he told them that the driver had been carrying out school pick-ups and drop-offs up to 9 July 2021.
At an interview under caution, Clydesdale stated that he had seen the driver's badges only from a distance and had not taken copies or noted any expiry dates, which was contrary to the terms of the council's Taxi Licensing Policy.
Applicants for private hire licences are subject to a rigorous vetting procedure, said the council, which includes a Disclosure and Barring Service check, a full medical examination, and a legislation/knowledge test.
Only once a driver has been determined as 'fit and proper' will the council issue a licence and identification badge, which is a visible sign to members of the public that the driver is safe and properly licensed.
Although the driver in question had been licensed up until 13 June 2021, he had not submitted a renewal application for his licence and was not signed up to the Disclosure and Barring Service check. This meant that officers were not able to check if he had received any recent convictions.
The licensing vetting process seeks to ensure that drivers are not a risk to the public, protecting vulnerable people.
Initially, Clydesdale claimed that the unlicensed driver had only ever driven one vehicle but later admitted that he had also driven a second. He accepted that as the driver didn't have a valid private hire driver licence, the insurance on both vehicles would have been invalid.
Clydesdale, of Garesfield Gardens, was unable to provide copies of the company's booking records when requested, which also breached council policy.
Magistrates in Peterlee gave Clydesdale credit for his early guilty plea. He was fined £1,140 and ordered to pay costs of £388, and a £114 victim surcharge, a total of £1,642. He was also issued with six penalty points on his driving licence.
Owen Cleugh, the council's public protection manager, said: "In exercising our role as licensing authority, our primary function is to protect the public. The position of a private hire driver or operator is one of extreme trust and before licensing any driver, we must be satisfied that the prospective taxi driver is a 'fit and proper' person to hold such a licence.
"By hiring an unlicensed driver, Mr Clydesdale invalidated the company's insurance policy and potentially put the vulnerable children who his company transported at risk. This prosecution highlights the importance of complying with the required vetting process for any staff a business employs."