Council officers prosecute two drivers after going undercover
A fake taxi driver and a licensed private hire driver caught illegally plying for fares have been successfully prosecuted by Eastleigh Borough Council as part of routine undercover operations.
In a rare case for the Borough, which raises serious public safety issues, unlicensed driver Dennis Hewlett of Southampton picked up two undercover council licensing enforcement officers outside a club in Hamble and drove them to the Tesco store in Bursledon.
His car, a dark blue Vauxhall Zafira, was decorated to resemble a legitimate, licensed minicab with dark blue and white chequered stripes on the bodywork and No Smoking signs in the windows. Hewlett and his vehicle were both unlicensed to provide either private hire or taxi services. He failed to appear at Southampton Magistrates Court last month and was found guilty of illegally plying for hire in his absence with sentencing adjourned to enable further enquiries to be made.
Shaun Scott was hit with fines and costs in excess of £2,000 (£220 fine for plying, a £660 fine for driving without valid insurance, £66 victim surcharge and £1,207 in prosecution costs) for agreeing to drive two undercover licensing officers from near the taxi rank at Eastleigh rail station to Botley last November. Scott, who was sentenced in his absence, also had eight penalty points added to his driving licence as his insurance was invalidated by ferrying passengers without a booking.
Eastleigh’s taxi and private hire vehicle licensing is enforced under an agency agreement by Southampton City Council, but the prosecution was led by Eastleigh Borough Council’s prosecuting lawyer, Dave Foster. Under the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 it is illegal for a private hire vehicle (often referred to as a “minicab”) to ply for trade on the street in the same way as a licensed hackney carriage (or taxi).
An Eastleigh Borough Council spokesperson said:
“Unlicensed drivers are not DBS (formerly CRB) checked and have not passed the Fit and Proper Person Test that indicates their suitability for the role, and getting a lift in an unlicensed vehicle, or a private hire vehicle that has been plying for trade, means that passengers are not insured in the event of an accident.“