Seventeen drivers and managers of a haulage firm have been sentenced at Carlisle Crown Court today. Following a joint operation between the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) and Cumbria Police lasting 3 years. Two managers and thirteen drivers pleaded guilty to the offences. Two drivers who pleaded “Not Guilty” and who stood trial and who were found guilty by a jury at Carlisle Crown Court in November have also been sentenced.
The investigation began after intelligence reports were received about two companies, Ross International and Ross International Haulage Ltd.
Ross International was a partnership made up of husband and wife William James Ross and Laura Ross. The partnership was authorised for 10 vehicles and 8 trailers and the authorised operating centre was Criffel View, Easton, Wigton. Part of the business was run from an unauthorised address in Glasgow under the name Ross International Haulage Ltd, William Ross and Laura Ross being directors in the concern.
The workload for the partnership’s vehicles and drivers involved the carriage of live stock operated under the partnership operator’s licence from the address at Easton to destinations within the UK.
The Limited Company operated from Motherwell Food Park, Bellshill, Glasgow. This business was involved in the transportation of fish and chilled food to France and Spain.
An intelligence package was raised by VOSA and it was decided that a joint investigation team between Cumbria Constabulary and Investigators from VOSA Investigation Unit would be formed in order to look into the activities of William and Laura Ross.
During the planning stage of the investigation it was discovered that William Ross had previous convictions for false records and in September 1995 at Stafford Crown Court had been sent to prison for 4 months.
In October 2010 Police Officers from Cumbria together with Investigators from VOSA executed a search warrant at the address of William and Laura Ross at “Criffel View”, Easton, Wigton, Cumbria and of the address next door to the operating centre at “Easton Farm” where the office was located in a portacabin.
On the same day Officers from Cumbria together with Investigators from VOSA with the assistance of Strathclyde Police visited the address in Bellshill.
The tachograph records seized and the digital data obtained were analysed and revealed about 182 apparent false records.
Analysis also revealed some 350,000 kilometres missing for 10 vehicles over the period 01/06/09 until 01/06/10.
From the interviews carried out with the drivers, who in the main admitted the false records, it became aparent that the drivers employed an arsenal of ways to interrupt the tachograph recording equipment. The method would depend on the type of tachograph fitted, analogue or digital. Using these methods allowed the drivers to exceed their driving time or drive during the required rest period. Instructions came from William Ross or Robert Robertson.
It was common practice for drivers to create false records on a regular basis. This gave the businesses an unfair advantage over other transport companies who were operating within the regulations. It would appear that William Ross and Laura Ross set up a limited company “Ross International Haulage Ltd” to operate from the Bellshill address taking fish and frozen food to Spain. This company and that address did not hold a Goods Vehicle Operators Licence. The majority of drivers that committed offences appeared to work for that part of the business but other drivers who worked for the live stock side interfered with their tachographs as well.
Robert Robertson who started off as a driver appeared to create a role for himself as a “manager” at the Belshill address where a secretary was also employed.
Willaim Ross aged 42 years of Easton, Wigton was given a custodial sentence of 2 years and was disqualified from driving for 18 months. He was also disqualified from being a Company Director for 5 years. Robert Robertson aged 47 years of Glasgow was sentenced to a custodial sentence of 18 months and banned from driving for 18 months.
The driver details are 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 of were sentenced to 2 months imprisonment and disqualified from driving for 6 months.
The two drivers found guilty following a trial lasting nearly two weeks in November were Shaun Elliot aged 42 years of Hexham, who had 4 offences and was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment and disqualified from driving for 9 months and John Mark Watson aged 45 years of Wigton, who had 9 offences and was sentenced to 8 months imprisonment and disqualified from driving for 9 months.
During the course of the investigation it was learned that on occasions drivers had been instructed to drive in excess of their legal driving limits. The court heard of an atmosphere of bullying and intimidation and drivers made it clear that they had to accept they had to break the rules to keep their job.
In sentencing the drivers and managers today 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.
Alex Fiddes, Director of Operations for the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (incorporating VOSA and 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 for Cumbria Police said, “This marks the end of a lengthy investigation with the sole intent of making the roads of the County safer for all users. Hauliers who break the rules for profit and who put pressure on their drivers to do the same put innocent members of the public at risk.
“Each year we see a number of fatalities in the County from collisions with Heavy Goods Vehicles. Whilst there are many causes it is plainly obvious that excessive working hours lead to tired and dangerous drivers.
“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 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.’”
Proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 are continuing with the aim of recovering monies made by criminal acts.