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alighted, the driver has finished fiddling with his phone (in its cradle of course), drunk his coffee, eaten his snack etc. Then, as undercover officers, you can approach him and ask him if he is free. If he answers in the affirmative he commits the offence of plying for hire. You can seal the deal by stating a destination and agreeing a fare or rate of fare before boarding and pouncing with your ID/warrant cards.


WHY WAS THIS DIFFERENT?


This is not what happened in Bristol, the driver was not asked if he was free or words to that effect. The officers asked the driver to take them to the railway station. The driver directed them to a taxi rank nearby. At this point, if the driver has not indicated that he is available and willing to take them he is not plying for hire. No amount of cajoling, persuading or appealing to the driver’s better nature with a sob story about missing the train, as these officers did, is going to alter that, even if the driver relents and agrees to take them, as he did.


GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY?


Consideration of the facts in light of the above case law leads to the obvious conclusion: the driver was, without doubt, not guilty of plying for hire. That means no prosecution and no subsequent suspension of his hackney carriage/private hire driver’s licence.


Unfortunately, the driver pleaded guilty and showed considerable remorse for his heinous non-crime and this effectively ruled out any possible appeal against either the conviction or the suspension for which there is a 21-day limit either way during which any appeal can be lodged.


SEEK ADVICE, DO NOT SIMPLY ACCEPT!


At this point I must stress to all drivers, if you have been caught doing something you believe you shouldn’t, do not plead guilty or accept any caution (which is also an admission of guilt) until you have taken sound legal advice. They might go easier on you if you do; they might not. You might not be guilty of anything.


In addition to the abovementioned driver in Bristol not being guilty of plying for hire, the somewhat eager and unduly diligent officers were certainly guilty of entrapment, which, whilst not an offence in itself, the use of evidence obtained in this manner is an abuse of the court process. https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/abuse-process


CORRECT TEST PURCHASING


The act of ascertaining whether or not someone is going to commit an offence through making a test purchase or


SEPTEMBER 2021


Article by: Steven Toy, NPHTA Board member and Trade Leader of the Cannock Chase HC PH Liaison Group


7


That is not to say you shouldn’t take steps to avoid doing it. Ask the passenger to give you the name under which they made the booking. Never answer the question, “Who are you for, mate?” The correct booking name is the password by which they enter your vehicle. Those of us who have been in the trade for a while already know this. We’ve learnt the hard way.


Finally, you’ve dropped off at a railway station in your own area as a hackney carriage driver. You don’t have a station permit, there are no taxis to be seen and just as you are leaving, you are flagged down. Can you pick them up?


I’ll leave you to work that one out...


leaving bait for potential thieves is not entrapment in itself. The line is crossed when agents apply any pressure on an individual to commit the offence as was clearly the case with our driver in Bristol.


Yes, members of the public do try to persuade drivers to change their minds because Joe Public generally doesn’t like being told no, least of all by taxi and private hire drivers whom they often consider to be the lowest form of life. The difference is, Joe Public just wants a ride home, he isn’t actively trying to ruin anyone’s night. Once a driver has refused, that’s it, game over! That particular fish got away, he clearly wasn’t there to take the bait so the officers should move swiftly to their next fish which may not need to be persuaded, in which case you have him bang to rights!


All of this is going to come as a disappointment to many hackney carriage drivers plying their trade in their own area but it isn’t all bad news. The next time you see a private hire vehicle parked near your rank or opposite a busy night club just before chucking-out time, perhaps advertising a certain peer-to-peer app on its door and it’s been there for a while, take comfort from the fact that the offence has already been committed without so much as a wheel turning. Take a photo. The driver may or not see the flash. At the very least you’ll feel a bit better.


On the flipside, how many of us, either as private hire drivers or hackney carriage drivers picking up a booking out of town, have ever picked up the wrong passengers by mistake upon attending a booking? The answer is, unless you have only been doing the job for a matter of weeks or months, we’ve all done it at some point. No, you are not guilty of plying for hire if you do.


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