Last month I reported on a disgraceful case in Welwyn-Hatfield where, according to Matthew Hopkins News a taxi driver was guilty of a minor offence of overcharging but during an offical PACE interview the Hackney Carriage Officer invented allegations that the driver was targeting the vulnerable and charging on a sliding scale based on the vulnerability of the passenger –
“So the more vulnerable the customer is the more you can charge them, is that how it works?”
According to the original article, after various complaints the driver served the council with a letter of claim in damages. I sought to find out how the story ended. Happily, Left at the Lights has learned that the Hackney Carriage Committee was held on 30 April 2019 and the driver was only given a warning.
I sought comment from the council, and received a lengthy statement from Margaret Martinus, Head of Law and Administration. The essence of it was, “Whilst the Council treats any allegations of racism with the utmost seriousness, on the basis of the information disclosed so far, the Council could find no evidential basis at all to support these allegations”.
This makes no sense. The MHN article said that there were two witnesses who complained of racism, aside from the driver. Even if those allegations were mistaken or false, they are evidence and unless the statements literally do not exist the council cannot say there is, “no evidentiary basis”. Furthermore, if a driver overcharged an elderly old man whilst using a sliding scale of charges based on the perceived vulnerability AND THEN made up wholly baseless allegations of racism AND THEN had a significant blogger publish the supposedly entirely false allegations naming all those concerned, how has said driver got off with a warning?
The answer is of course, that he would not have got off at all. The reasonable conclusion is that most likely the driver did have some evidence, then dropped matters once the decision was made to allow the council to save face.
To an outsider, it looks very like the council conceded. I asked Sam Smith, the author of MHN for comment and he said as follows –
“I can confirm that at a Hackney Carriage Committee meeting on 30 April 2019 the taxi driver only received a warning, which was fair in all the circumstances and what I had proposed on his behalf. As this matter is at an end, I have nothing more to say on it.
However as you live in Birmingham you might enjoy my recent article about your local Labour MP Jess Phillips. Before election Ms Phillips promised hardworking constituents and Party members she would take no outside jobs but last year declared around £45K in external earnings from TV appearances and writing.”
Whilst Smith and the Muslim driver are apparently willing to move on, I understand that local taxi drivers in Welwyn-Hatfield were already angry and had been demonstrating about the council. This cannot have helped matters and I hear that there may be a further petition and even an Owen Jones style unseat campaign. It would certainly be a slap in the face for the local Muslim community if Councillor Fiona Thomas, who is responsible for the taxi functions of the council, retained her cabinet role and I am sure that her leader Councillor Tony Kingsbury will bear it in mind carefully. He would not want to provoke community activism against Grant Shapps, the local MP. Turning to the council officers, they will doubtless be very careful about their future behaviour to avoid further media scrutiny.