Warning over Chichester district driver checks

A STRONG warning is being sent direct to home secretary Theresa May on risks facing people in the Chichester district following a decision by the Criminal Records Bureau which severely curbs checks on drivers of taxis and private hire vehicles.

‘Grave concerns’ for the safety of the travelling public were expressed in a report presented to the district council’s licensing and enforcement committee, and Mrs May is being told the move could result in ‘loss of life or injury.’

One councillor described the situation as ‘quite scary.’

The fears centre on a ruling by the bureau that it can no longer accept requests for information on drivers at a level designated as ‘enhanced.’

Committee members were told the council, which is responsible for licensing hackney carriage and private hire drivers, had had no choice but to revert to the so-called ‘standard’ level.

The standard disclosure provides only previous conviction details retained on the Police National Computer (PNC).

Applications at the enhanced level are checked with the PNC, a Department of Health list, the Home Office Independent Safeguarding Authority, and the chief officer of police for the licence applicant’s local area.

A draft letter by committee chairman John Ridd, which is being sent to Mrs May, was approved by councillors.

This said that at the enhanced level the chief officer of police might disclose intelligence information retained about an applicant.

“It is my understanding that on many occasions this part of the disclosure has proved to be of the highest value in determining not to grant a licence to a particular individual,” Cllr Ridd added in the letter.

Council officers must decide whether a new applicant or an existing licence holder was a fit and proper person to hold a Hackney carriage or private hire licence.

“It is well known that the role of taxi drivers brings them into frequent contact with children, vulnerable adults and other members of the public who may be ‘vulnerable’ due to their physical condition or as a result of alcohol or drug use,” said the letter.

The message from the CRB was quite clear, and the council had decided it would no longer submit disclosure requests for taxi drivers at the enhanced level.

The CRB took the view without any prior warning or consultation that because taxi drivers were not listed under the Police Act 1997, anyone who submitted a request at the enhanced level would risk prosecution.

Senior technical officer Ian Smith said the situation needed to be rectified by placing a statutory instrument before parliament.

“I understand the Home Office has recognised this, and that moves will be made,” he added.

Cllr Anne Scicluna said she found the situation quite scary. Action should be taken for the sake of the safety of the public.