Cumbrian Haulage Company Guilty of 182 False Tachograph Records

Seventeen members of staff at Cumbrian-based Ross International and Glasgow-based Ross International Haulage Ltd have been sentenced following a three year investigation by VOSA and Cumbria Constabulary, which uncovered 182 false tachograph records and 350,000 missing kilometres for 10 vehicles.

Background

Ross International was a partnership made up of husband and wife William James Ross and Laura Ross, which held a Goods Vehicle Operator’s Licence authorising the use of 10 vehicles and 8 trailers from an operating centre at Criffel View, Easton, Wigton, Cumbria and which was involved in the carriage of livestock throughout the UK.

Ross International Ltd was a limited company of which William and Laura Ross were the directors and which did not hold a Goods Vehicle Operator’s Licence but which operated vehicles from Motherwell Food Park, Belshill, Glasgow transporting fish and chilled food to France and Spain.

The Investigation

The investigation began after intelligence reports were received about Ross International and Ross International Haulage Ltd and a joint investigation team between Cumbria Constabulary and VOSA was formed in order to look into the activities of William and Laura Ross.

In October 2010, Cumbria Constabulary and VOSA executed a search warrant at the address of William and Laura Ross at Criffel View, Easton, Wigton, Cumbria and at the address next door at “Easton Farm” where the office was located in a portacabin.  On the same day, Cumbria Constabulary and VOSA (with the assistance of Strathclyde Police) visited the premises of Ross International Ltd at Motherwell Food Park, Belshill, Glasgow.

Tachograph records were seized, which, following analysis, revealed a staggering 182 false tachograph records and 350,000 kilometres missing for 10 vehicles for the period between June 2009 and June 2010.

From the interviews carried out with the drivers, who in the main admitted the false records, it became apparent that it was common practice for drivers to create false records on a regular basis and the drivers employed an arsenal of methods to interrupt the tachograph recording equipment.  It was learned that, on occasions, drivers had been instructed by William Ross and Robert Robertson (who had started off as a driver but appeared to have created a role for himself as a “manager” at the Belshill address) to drive in excess of their legal driving limits.

The Court Proceedings

Ross, Robertson and thirteen drivers pleaded “guilty” to the offences.  A further two drivers (Shaun Elliot and John Mark Watson) who pleaded “not guilty”, stood Trial and were found guilty by a jury at Carlisle Crown Court in November 2013.

The Court heard that there was an atmosphere of bullying and intimidation and drivers made it clear that they had to accept that they had to break the rules (as they were instructed to do by Ross and Robertson) or face the prospect of losing their jobs.

The Sentences

The two largest sentences were handed to William Ross, and Robert Robertson, Ross’s “right hand man”. Ross was given a custodial sentence of two years, disqualified from driving for eighteen months and banned from being a company director for five years. Robertson was given a custodial sentence of eighteen months and disqualified from driving for eighteen months.

The drivers’ sentences were as follows:

• Allan Lockerbie, aged 54 years of Carlisle, had 48 offences and was sentenced to 8 months imprisonment and disqualified from driving for 12 months.
• Iain Clements Fleming, aged 43 years of Newton Stewart, had 34 offences and was sentenced to 8 months imprisonment and disqualified from driving for 12 months.
• Andrew William Sherburn, aged 39 years of Maryport, had 22 offences and was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment and disqualified from driving for 9 months.
• George Bowe, aged 50 years of Glasgow, had 10 offences and was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment and disqualified from driving for 9 months.
• David Kirk Warbeck, 52 years of Dumfries, John Leadham Rae Wilson, aged 50 years of Dumfries, Brian Matthew Chisholm, aged 43 years of Castle Douglas, Darren Riley, aged 41 years of Carlisle, George Campbell Burns, aged 47 years of Ardrossan, and Nicholas Steven Bartle, aged 46 years of Scunthorpe, were all sentenced to 4 months imprisonment suspended for 2 years and banned from driving for 6 months.
• John Ian Brown, aged 44 years of Ellesmere Port, had 28 offences and was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment suspended for 2 years and disqualified from driving for 9 months.
• Mark William McCornick, aged 48 years of Lucan, County Dublin, and David Nutbeam, aged 53 years, were sentenced to 2 months imprisonment suspended for 2 years and disqualified from driving for 6 months.
• Shaun Elliot, aged 42 years of Hexham, had 4 offences and was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment and disqualified from driving for 9 months.
• John Mark Watson, aged 45 years of Wigton, had 9 offences and was sentenced to 8 months imprisonment and disqualified from driving for 9 months.

In sentencing Ross, Robertson and the drivers, HH Judge Hughes at Carlisle Crown Court said that a clear message needed to be sent to drivers and those in control of haulage firms that deliberate falsification of tachograph records should and would attract immediate custodial sentences.  He said that the purpose of the legislation was to safeguard against tired drivers and those who manipulated tachographs need to understand that such actions will not be tolerated.

Tachograph Falsification

Alex Fiddes, Director of Operations for the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (incorporating VOSA and the DSA) said: “Operators and drivers should take note that there is nowhere to hide when our examiners uncover evidence of illegal activity. Rules and regulations are in place for a reason and as this case demonstrates there will be serious consequences for those who choose to work outside the law.”

Sgt Graeme Hodgson of Cumbria Constabulary commented on the case: “Road Haulage is a competitive industry and legitimate companies find it hard to compete with their unscrupulous competitors. It’s a race to the bottom unless steps are taken. It’s also important to convict the controlling hand, the Managers and Directors in person and this takes time. Cumbria Police and the DVSA have a small but dedicated team who undertake these investigations. We have other local companies we are waiting for the right time to look at, as well as companies further afield who run through Cumbria. The message to them is ‘it’s never too late to put things in order’.”

This case provides a stark reminder for drivers, transport managers and operators of the significant penalties that will be imposed upon conviction where tachograph falsification is detected.  Where any such offences are detected, regulatory action will also be taken against the Operator’s Licence.  Operators must therefore act now to implement comprehensive compliance management systems to ensure that the rules in relation to drivers’ hours and tachographs are adhered to.

For advice and assistance in relation to drivers’ hours and tachograph compliance, VOSA and/or Police investigations, drivers’ hours and tachograph offences or any other aspect of road transport law, contact the JMW Transport Law Team on 0161 828 1849.

 
 
 
 



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