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Restaurateur lose taxi and premises licence “in a rare case”

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Restaurateur lose taxi and premises licence “in a rare case” 30th January 2019

Bexhill restaurateur accused of “inappropriate and troubling” behaviour towards 15-year old girl loses taxi licence appeals following revocation of premises licence.

In a rare case, an operator has had both his appeals against the revocation of his taxi licences and alcohol licence dismissed following allegations that he employed illegal and underage workers and exhibited “inappropriate and troubling” behaviour towards a 15-year old girl. The case highlights the interaction between two distinct licensing regimes and their common objective in safeguarding vulnerable people and promoting the public interest.

Facts
 
Mr Saleh Uddin works as a taxi driver by day but at night operates the Chilli Tree restaurant in Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex. To enable him to do the former he is the holder of dual hackney carriage/private hire driver licence as well as operator and vehicle licences. All three of these taxi licences were issued by Rother District Council under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976. His restaurant operated under a premises licence permitting the sale of alcohol under the distinct regime provided by the Licensing Act 2003.

Mr Uddin’s restaurant was twice inspected by Sussex Police and Home Office Immigration Officers in October 2017 and January 2018. In the first visit, three workers without the right to work in the UK were discovered. On the second visit, two illegal workers were found, including the same individual found working at the restaurant on the previous visit. Some staff were being paid little or no wages but instead had their visa application fees or other expenses paid by the restaurant owner. Additionally, a 15 year old girl was found working behind the bar without the necessary Child Employment Licence in place.

Premises Licence revocation and appeal

Given these allegations Rother District Council revoked the restaurant’s premises licence at a review hearing. Mr Uddin’s earlier appeal against the revocation of his restaurant’s premises licence was dismissed by District Judge Szagun at Hastings Magistrates’ Court on 26 September 2018 following his non-compliance with the Court’s directions in relation to that appeal. An extended news article on that earlier case was published by the Institute of Licensing on 30 September 2018 and can be accessed here:
https://www.instituteoflicensing.org/NewsJobsArticle.aspx?NewsID=14618&NewsOrJob=news



Taxi licences revoked

The day after the Court dismissed Mr Uddin’s premises licence appeal, Rother District Council’s taxi licensing sub-committee considered an application to revoke his operator and vehicle licences. Mr Uddin failed to attend that hearing and his licences were revoked. Three weeks earlier Mr Uddin’s dual driver’s licence was also revoked under delegated authority without the need for a hearing on the grounds that he was not a fit and proper person. The driver’s licence decision was ordered to have immediate effect in the interests of public safety (pursuant to s.61(2B) of the 1976 Act).

In addition to the earlier concerns around Mr Uddin’s employment of illegal workers and underage workers, which called into question Mr Uddin’s ability and/or willingness to comply with the taxi licensing (or any other relevant regulatory regime), a further troubling allegation came to light concerning Mr Uddin’s conduct towards a 15-year old girl he had employed at his restaurant.

The girl provided two witness statements alleging that Mr Uddin:

1)    Had sent her text messages very late into the night including one suggesting she dress “like a beauty queen” (screenshots from her mobile phone provided corroboration);
2)    Discussed his youthful sexual prowess and frequently told her how pretty she was;
3)    Invited her into his bedroom above the restaurant and suggested they could “take naps” together;
4)    Took her out in his car on errands and offered to take her to London to look at Ferraris;
5)    Offered her alcohol;
6)    “Playfully” pushed her to the ground and then held her down on the floor so she couldn’t get up.

Taxi licences appeal
As he had previously done in relation to the premises licence appeal, Mr Uddin appealed the revocation of his taxi licences to Hastings Magistrates’ Court. He subsequently abandoned his complaint about the revocation of his operator’s licence but pursued appeals against the revocation of both his dual driver’s and vehicle licences.

The conjoined appeals were heard before District Judge Szagun on 21 January 2019. This time Mr Uddin attended Court and gave live evidence. The formal witness statements of the 15 year old girl were before the Court but she was not called to give live evidence by Rother District Council as Respondent to the appeal. Mr Uddin denied all the allegations relating to the 15 year old girl. He suggested that she had made them up and that he would never behave in that manner. He denied the girl had ever been into his bedroom and alleged there was a local conspiracy against him being organised through social media and the girl’s family. Mr Uddin placed weight on the fact that the police had specifically reached a decision not to prosecute him in regards to these allegations.

Under cross-examination Mr Uddin was unable to explain how the girl was able to accurately describe his bedroom if she had never been inside. Nor could he provide any motive for the girl to have made up these lies about him. His request for her to dress “like a beauty queen”, take her out on trips in his vehicle and text her late at night were, he claimed, simply designed to “support her” and give her confidence.

Counsel for Rother District Council reminded the Judge of the re-formulated test proposed in the leading text “Button on Taxis” where its highly-respected eponymous author states:

“Would you (as a member of the licensing committee or other person charged with the ability to grant a hackney carriage driver’s licence) allow your son or daughter, spouse or partner, mother or father, grandson or granddaughter, or any other person for whom you care, to get into a vehicle with this person alone?

The District Judge did not accept Mr Uddin’s evidence, dismissed his appeals and upheld the earlier decision of Rother District Council to revoke all three of his taxi licences.

In the course of her oral judgement the District Judge observed:

1)    In line with the decision in Hope and Glory [2011] EWCA Civ 31, the burden was on Mr Uddin, as the appellant, to establish the decision below “is wrong” and the Court will not lightly reverse that decision.

2)    Where there is a factual dispute, then the standard of proof in taxi licensing cases is the balance of probabilities or “more likely than not” and not the higher criminal threshold of “being satisfied so you are sure” or “beyond reasonable doubt”. This explains why the decision of the police not to prosecute Mr Uddin for his behaviour towards the girl does not bind the Court in the licensing context.

3)    The District Judge took into account that the girl complainant was not in Court and so could not be cross-examined. But, having also assessed Mr Uddin’s evidence and performance under cross-examination, she was satisfied that the contents of the girl’s statement were more likely than not to be true.

4)    Indeed even the conduct Mr Uddin admitted to was “inappropriate and troubling” given that the girl was vulnerable and Mr Uddin was in a position of trust.  He was either “extremely naïve or very manipulative”

5)    Rother District Council’s decision to revoke his taxi licences was lawful and proportionate even given the impact this would have on Mr Uddin’s ability to earn a living. The protection of the public is the primary objective of taxi licensing and not concerns over Mr Uddin’s livelihood.

6)    Therefore Mr  Uddin:

a.    Was not a fit and proper person to hold a dual driver’s licence
b.    It was reasonable to revoke his vehicle licence.

Mr Uddin was ordered to pay the Council’s costs in full.  

Gary Grant, Barrister of Francis Taylor Building, acted for Rother District Council instructed by Andy Eaton (FIOL), Deputy Legal Services Manager for Wealden and Rother District Councils.

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