Sunderland City Council is pushing ahead with a new taxi licencing policy to prevent dodgy cabbies from getting behind the wheel – despite a lukewarm response to a consultation.
It comes after the tragic death of teenager Sarah Jane Burke who was knocked down and killed by taxi driver David Baillie two years ago. He had been granted a taxi licence despite a horrendous driving record.
The authority launched a consultation with the private hire and hackney carriage trade earlier this year in a bid to bring current licence guidance up to date to reflect the full range of driving offences.
More than 1,200 licensees were contacted, with the results said in the cabinet report to be “broadly favourable”, although just 24 responses were received.
The report said some respondents even felt the document should be more stringent as to the amount of time that should elapse before someone gets their licence back following a conviction for a serious offence.
However, the report read: “Legally, the council may not adopt a policy of outright bans from licensing upon individuals holding certain types of conviction.”
Legally, the council may not adopt a policy of outright bans from licensing upon individuals holding certain types of convictionCabinet report
The report also stated: “An aspect of the draft guidance that did attract some negative comment, related to the recommendation that licensees receiving two or more convictions, for what the document describes as minor driving offences in a four year period, should have their licence suspended.”
These concerns, the report added, would be addressed by the council inviting the individual concerned to speak directly to committee members before a decision is made on its own merits.
No changes were deemed necessary following the consultation, and the draft guidance document has now been rubber-stamped by cabinet members and passed to the council’s regulatory committee for adoption.
The council was put under pressure to revise its policy on granting licences to people with driving convictions, after the death of Sarah.
Baillie, who was not driving a taxi at the time he struck the 17-year-old college student as she crossed Ormonde Street, near her home in Barnes, had been granted a licence by the authority despite having a lengthy record of driving convictions.
The decision was made by the council’s regulatory committee just days before the tragedy, despite Baillies horrendous record, which has included him serving time for motoring offences.
The new guidelines do not necessarily mean that someone like Baillie would have been denied the licence he obtained just days before he killed Sarah.
But it will mean that relevant convictions, including those classified as spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, and especially repeat offending, can be taken into account in determining where an applicant is “a fit and proper person”, with the overriding consideration being the protection of the public.
Baillie is also highly unlikely to ever be granted a licence again once he is out of jail, as someone causing death by dangerous driving, “will normally never be granted and any existing licence would be revoked” under the proposals. Although, the document adds that “exceptional circumstances” will be decided on “a case-by case basis”.
Baillie, 39, of Magdalene Place in Sunderland was found guilty of causing Sarah’s death by dangerous driving by a jury at Newcastle Crown Court in June last year. He was jailed for seven years and banned from driving for the same length of time.
The guidance document sets out minimum periods a person should be free of certain types of conviction in or to be considered “a fit and proper person” to drive a taxi. Members of the council’s regulatory committee will also have to consider the moral implications of their decision, by answering the question: “Would you, as a member of the committee charged with the ability to grant, suspend or revoke a hackney carriage or private hire driver’s licence, allow your son, daughter, spouse, partner, mother, father, grandson, granddaughter or any other vulnerable person for whom you care, to get into a vehicle with this person alone?”
‘People are still being killed on our roads’
Sarah’s dad Stephen expressed his disbelief at the time that her killer had been allowed to hold a taxi licence and spoke of his fear that Baillie could kill again if he is allowed back behind the wheel.
Mr Burke said: “How could he have been on the road? His barrister said people make mistakes, but how many mistakes can you make?
“He has been in prison before, banned before and taken the re-test before.
“As a family we have said he will get back on the roads, it is in his character.
“We feel he is going to be a danger again once he is allowed back on the roads.
“There has to be a deterrent now.
“ I am not just speaking for us as a family, I am speaking for everyone who has suffered and everyone who is going to suffer.
“People are being killed on the roads every day.
Road safety charity Brake said it welcomed any move to improve safety, especially among those driving professionally.
“As a charity that supports bereaved families and road crash victims, we welcome any measure that will ensure professional drivers are safe to be on our roads,” spokesman Dave Nichols said.
“We need to make sure drivers are clear that if they continually flout the law and put people’s lives in danger, they can no longer make a living from driving on our roads.
“Too many drivers are let off with grossly inadequate penalties for driving offences, which sends a message that these are minor infringements, rather than serious crimes that can result in needless suffering and loss of life.
“Through our crackdown campaign, we are calling for tougher charges and penalties for driving offences, including longer bans.”