Published June 21, 2017 3.32pm
A fake chauffeur from Chester-le-Street has been caught offering a luxury private hire service without a licence, leading to a fine and points added to his driving licence.
Craig Ramshaw, 36, was snared in a sting operation by Durham County Council officers who posed as potential customers.
Officers in licensing services received information suggesting that there was an advertisement of an unlicensed vehicle being available for private hire use on the website 4NOccasion.yolasite.com, which offered executive and luxury car services for weddings, proms and special occasions.
The website showed a photograph of a Chrysler vehicle, which was not licensed as a private hire vehicle, decked out with ribbons.
On Tuesday 9 August officers conducted a test purchasing exercise whereby they posed as members of the public and booked the Chrysler for a journey from Lumley Castle Hotel to Newcastle Airport.
Ramshaw arrived to carry out the booking in the Chrysler, but was stopped by police en route to Newcastle, where it was discovered he was not licensed to act as an operator of private hire vehicles.
Mr Ramshaw declined to be interviewed in relation to the matter at the time, and later received five letters and one telephone call inviting him to make an appointment to be interviewed.
Although he responded to the letters, by the time of his court appearance he had still not made an appointment to be interviewed on the matter.
Appearing at Peterlee Magistrates Court on Monday19 June, Ramshaw was charged with operating his vehicle without a private hire license, allowing his car to be used as a hire vehicle and not having the correct insurance for private hire use.
Ramshaw pleaded not guilty, but magistrates were satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the case was proved, and so handed down fines totalling £230, ordered him to pay £500 towards legal costs, as well as £50 investigation costs and a £30 victim surcharge.
Furthermore, Ramshaw was given 8 penalty points on his driving license, which disqualified him from driving, as his licence was already endorsed with 6 penalty points.
Joanne Waller, Durham County Council's head of environment, health and consumer protection, said: "This prosecution shows we have zero tolerance towards unlicensed taxi drivers and chauffeurs. Private hire licensing allows us to vet potential drivers to make sure they are fit and proper to work in our communities, and to safeguard those who use taxis. When people circumvent this process they damage the reputation of our licensed drivers who provide a high standard of service to their customers."
Previous to his court appearance in June, Ramshaw had already been prosecuted for three identical offences, which led to the increased fine and the loss of his driving licence.