Uber attempted to conceal photo fraud issue, hears court ahead of London licence appeal

Uber tried to cover up a major safety flaw which allowed drivers to use fake identities, a court heard today.

The ride-hailing giant lost its licence to operate in London last November after ‘several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk’ were identified.

Uber was due to appeal the decision in July but the court date was postponed to 14 September due to the pandemic.

The company received 27,799 safety-related complaints in the first six months of 2019 alone, according to reports.

They had also been accused of allowing drivers to use bogus identities and shared accounts, and hiding that from Transport for London (TfL).

In February the black cab drivers’ group Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA) were allowed to take part in the appeal.

In a pre-trial review at Westminster Magistrates’ Court today, Gerald Gouriet, for the LTDA, said: "Uber attempted to conceal the photo fraud issue. When that became unrealistic, they covered it up.

"It’s the concealment – that is the issue."

Tim Ward, for Uber, said the claim Uber "attempted to conceal or minimise matters" is "completely undefined".

Of another allegation, "whether the board was complicit or culpable", he said: "Well, of what?

"Our clients themselves are – to put it mildly – strongly concerned about these proceedings.

"The driver photo fraud, you’ll see this is an issue and here the LTDA wants to take issue with the inference TfL drew about whether it is less likely or more likely this was a case of concealment.

"There is also a reporting requirement upon Uber in relation to safety-related complaints."

Mr Ward said TfL should not be allowed to expand the scope of the allegations against them at this late stage in the proceedings.

"The issues are complex and wide-ranging as it is. I have no doubt legal teams on both sides are entirely flat-out trying to get this case ready for court.

"It is highly prejudicial for wide-ranging allegations to be made at that late stage.

"It calls the many breaches of licence conditions and that is not something TfL ever suggested.

"They have had this decision since February and Uber’s evidence since July. If they wanted to make these wide-ranging allegations it would have been possible for them to be heard in this hearing.

"They should be confined."

The deputy chief magistrate Tan Ikram said: "Is there a way we can even now come to an agreement? I would rather do it that way and allow you a conversation."

After a 25 minute break in which the lawyers thrashed out details, the judge returned and heard there was a consensus.

Mr Gouriet announced the agreed allegation: "Whether ULL (Uber London Limited) attempted to conceal and or minimise the photo fraud issue set out in paragraphs 7-10 which is should have reported promptly and frankly to TfL. If so to what extent was ULL complicit."

The court heard Uber will have a whole day to open its case while TfL will take only 45 minutes.

Mr Ward: "The whole first day will be Uber’s opening, the material is dense and lengthy and the issues are complex.

"On day two it will be a relatively short opening, 45 minutes, for TfL. At the end of the day there will be 30 minutes of submissions for LTDA.

"There is just one more question I have left. Do you have familiarity with the Uber app or would it be helpful to have a walk through?"

The judge responded, chuckling: "It would be helpful. That’s not to say I haven’t got it somewhere on my phone but, yes."

ULL will appeal TfL’s decision to refuse to renew their London Private Hire Vehicle Operator’s Licence on 14 September at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.

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