Wigan’s ‘criminal’ taxi drivers

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WIGANERS are being ferried around by taxi drivers with criminal convictions including repeat motoring offences, an Observer investigation has found.

Town hall records show the council has either granted or renewed private hire licences to applicants with past offences on their records on 19 occasions in the last three years.

Senior officers have reassured residents that each case is “carefully considered” and the “public safety is paramount” in their decision making.

But this seems at odds with the decision not to ban one driver who was found guilty at court trial of assaulting two customers.

Analysis of regulation committee minutes reveal that on several occasions private hire licence holders who committed motoring offences were hit with temporary bans.

On one occasion, in June 2013, a driver who had accrued 12 points on his DVLA licence - the usual limit for disqualification, received just a six week suspension from the town hall.

This followed a Magistrates’ Court decision not to disqualify the driver because of the “exceptional hardship” losing his licence would have caused.

Julie Middlehurst, group manager for regulatory services at Wigan Council, said: “We would like to reassure the public that each case is considered very carefully on its own merits and based around the circumstances of the offences along with representations made by the driver at the hearing of the committee. But at all times the safety of the public is of paramount importance in that decision.

“When the regulation committee considers convictions against a person who is applying for a taxi drivers licence they will also refer to adopted policy and guidelines based on the previous convictions.”

According to town hall documents, the driver who was found to have assaulted two fare paying customers, and was found guilty at court, received a “severe” warning letter from the council in 2013 and was allowed to keep trading for a short period until his licence expired later in the same year.

The minutes add: “The Licensing Enforcement Officer had made further enquires with the Police and confirmed the details to be true and factual.

“Furthermore it was revealed that during the assault the driver had access to a weapon, namely a wheel brace.”

The seemingly lenient action appeared to have caused a rift between regulation committee members as the minutes add that Couns Yvonne Klieve, Ann Rampling, Anita Thorpe and Michael McLoughlin “requested that their vote against this decision be recorded”

A spokesperson for the National Private Hire Association told the Observer a common sense approach is required by town halls when assessing licence applications and a clear distinction should be made between lower-tier motoring offences and more severe offences in the decision making process.