Thursday, January 2, 2014

Prison Terms for Road Haulage Workers Who Carried Freight Whilst Cheating on Tachograph Rules

Analogue and Digital Records Tampered With to Gain Pecuniary Advantage
Shipping News Feature

UK – EUROPE – Following a joint operation between the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) and Cumbria Police lasting 3 years, seventeen drivers and managers from Cumbrian based road haulage freight firm, Ross International, have been sentenced for tachograph fraud in both domestic carriage and on European trailer movements, with two managers and thirteen drivers pleading guilty and two drivers claiming their innocence in the affair.

The investigation began after intelligence reports were received about two companies, Ross International, which was involved in the carriage of live-stock to destinations within the UK and Ross International Haulage Ltd, which transported fish and chilled food to France and Spain. Ross International, a partnership made up of husband and wife William James Ross and Laura Ross were authorised for 10 vehicles and 8 trailers operating out of Criffel View, Easton, Wigton. Part of the business was also being run from an unauthorised address at Motherwell Food Park, Bellshill, Glasgow under the name Ross International Haulage Ltd, William Ross and Laura Ross being Directors in the concern.

The tachograph records seized and the digital data obtained from office raids were analysed and revealed about 182 apparent false records. Analysis also revealed some 350,000 kilometres missing for 10 vehicles over the period from June 2009 to June 2010. During the investigation, it was discovered that William Ross had previous convictions for falsifying records and in September 1995 at Stafford Crown Court had been sent to prison for 4 months.

From the interviews carried out with the drivers, who in the main admitted the false records, it became apparent that an arsenal of ways were employed 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 regularly exceed their driving time or continue to drive during the mandatory rest periods. Instructions came from William Ross or Robert Robertson, who started off as a driver but appeared to create a role for himself as a ‘Manager’ at the Belshill address where a secretary was also employed.

It was common practice within the group for drivers to create false records on a regular basis and this gave the businesses an unfair advantage over other transport companies who were operating within the regulations. The majority of drivers that committed offences appeared to work for the unauthorised part of the business but other drivers who worked for the live-stock side interfered with their tachographs as well.

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, 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 added 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.”

William Ross (42) 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 (47) 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 (54) of Carlisle, had 48 offences and was sentenced to 8 months imprisonment and disqualified from driving for 12 months.

Iain Clements Fleming (43) of Newton Stewart, had 34 offences and was sentenced to 8 months imprisonment and disqualified from driving for 12 months.

Andrew William Sherburn (39) of Maryport, had 22 offences and was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment and disqualified from driving for 9 months.

George Bowe (50) of Glasgow, had 10 offences and was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment and disqualified from driving for 9 months.

David Kirk Warbeck (52) of Dumfries, John Leadham Rae Wilson (50) of Dumfries, Brian Matthew Chisholm (43) of Castle Douglas, Darren Riley (41) of Carlisle, George Campbell Burns (47) of Ardrossan and Nicholas Steven Bartle (46) of Scunthorpe were all sentenced to 4 months imprisonment suspended for 2 years and banned from driving for 6 months.

John Ian Brown (44) 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 (48) of Lucan, County Dublin and David Nutbeam (53) were sentenced to 2 months imprisonment suspended for 2 years and disqualified from driving for 6 months.

The two drivers who pleaded not guilty were eventually found guilty following a trial lasting nearly two weeks in November. Shaun Elliot (42) of Hexham, had 4 offences and was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment and disqualified from driving for 9 months and John Mark Watson (45) of Wigton, had 9 offences and was sentenced to 8 months imprisonment and disqualified from driving for 9 months. Following the sentencing, 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’.”

If the company name stirs any memories it is probably relates to the case when, in 2011, a Ross International driver, paedophile James Connor, was sentenced to six years in a Romanian prison for offence against young children.