Reporting Person – Matthew Cobb
The Sub-Committee received a report which requested that a decision be made as to whether Mr Z should continue to be permitted to hold a Hackney Carriage Licence, under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, following an incident whereupon Mr Z was discovered by Surrey Police with cannabis in his licenced vehicle.
Mr Z attended the meeting together with his wife, Mrs Z. Also attending was Lesley Sumners from Surrey Police, alongside the Borough Council Senior Licensing Officer and the Solicitor.
All parties present had a copy of the Licensing Committee’s agreed procedure to be followed at Taxi Licensing Sub-Committee hearings. The Chairman introduced the Sub-Committee to those present and explained the procedure and order of speaking that would be followed during the hearing.
The Licensing Authority’s representative outlined the report before the Sub-Committee. In December 2020, the Council was contacted by Surrey Police and advised that in November 2018 Mr Z had been found in possession of cannabis in his vehicle and had been issues with a formal drugs warning. The Council’s Criminal Convictions Policy covered the use of illegal drugs and warranted the matter being brought to the Sub-Committee. There had been a couple of previous incidents which were included in the report, including operating the vehicle without operator door signs in January 2020.
The Chairman gave Mr and Mrs Z the opportunity to ask questions of Mr Cobb and Ms Sumners. Mrs Z asked for clarification based on the assertions that Mr Z had been standing outside the vehicle; no cannabis had been found in the vehicle; and no written warning had been issued by the Police. Ms Sumners stated that she was unable to clarify those points. Mr Cobb referred the Sub-Committee to Appendix 1 of the report which set out the information received by Surrey Police.
The Chairman gave Members of the Sub-Committee the opportunity to ask questions of Mr Cobb. Following a question by Cllr Harlow, it was noted that a vehicle was licenced on a 24/7 basis and could only be driven by someone who held insurance, permission and a Hackney Carriage or Private Hire driver’s badge. It was noted that if Mr Z had been taking illegal drugs that evening, it would raise the question over who would be driving the vehicle back to the property. The Criminal Convictions Policy was checked and it was stated that a conviction for illegal drug taking would not be condoned, and that the word ‘conviction’ included cautions, warnings and reprimands.
The Chairman gave Mr and Mrs Z the opportunity to address the Sub-Committee. Mrs Z advised that her husband had been outside the vehicle when stopped by Police Officers walking past and that he had not intended to be driving the vehicle that evening as he was meeting friends, with the subsequent two days free of work. She stated that no cannabis had been found in the car and, if it had, the Council would have been notified by the Police straight away. She added that Mr Z had received less work during the pandemic and had smoked cannabis to attempt to reduce the stress, but no longer smoked the drug. She advised that references could be provided from parents whose children he had been taking and collecting to school over the past few years through his contract with Surrey County Council.
Mr Cobb stated that he had no questions for Mr Z.
Following question by Members of the Sub-Committee, Mrs Z stated that no written warning or caution had been received from Surrey Police; her husband had learnt his lesson from the past incidents, including those more minor ones in 2018 and 2019; and the issue of not displaying door signs had been a mistake as the velcro had fallen off the doors. In addition, Mrs Z read the full version of the redacted email attached as Appendix 3 to the report for the Sub-Committee’s information.
The Chairman gave those parties present the opportunity to make closing statements.
Mr Cobb advised that the Sub-Committee had heard the information provided by Surrey Police and Mr Z, and would need to consider whether the taxi driver was a fit and proper person to hold a driver’s badge.
Mrs Z stated that Mr Z apologised for the mistakes he had made and felt that his profession was very important to him. He had learnt from the mistakes and had respect for the taxi licensing rules he was bound by. She stated that he had not been working the night of the cannabis incident and no formal warning had been issued by the Police. She advised that he had not received any negative feedback from his customers and had been under a great deal of pressure during the pandemic as work had been slow. She added that he was requesting another chance and urged the Sub-Committee not to revoke his licence.
The Chairman adjourned the hearing for deliberation at 7.40pm, later requesting that the Council’s Solicitor, Amanda Francis, join them. The Sub-Committee reconvened at 8.10pm.
The Chairman reported that the Sub-Committee had taken account of the written representations before it and the oral statements made at the hearing. It had been agreed that the Driver’s Badge held by Mr Z should not be revoked, subject to a condition that Mr Z agree to random drug testing for a period of two years, and that the matter be referred back to the Sub-Committee either if the condition was not complied with or if a drugs test was failed.
That the Driver’s Badge held by Mr Z would not be revoked provided Mr Z undertook random drug testing for a period of two years and any failure to carry out the testing, or fail the test, would result in his case being reconsidered for revocation by the Taxi Licensing Sub-Committee.