Ausden Clark given “strongest warning” by Deputy TC

News stories are free to read. Click here for full access to all the features, articles and archive from only £8.99.

Ausden Clark has been given the “strongest warning” about its vehicle and driver standards, after the Deputy Traffic Commissioner (DTC), Marcia Davis, told managers and staff they should be aiming to achieve 100% future compliance, given previous failures.

She made it clear that if Paul Ausden Clark had not stepped down from day-to-day running of the company, she would have taken a very different decision about its future in the industry.

The firm appeared before the DTC at a Public Inquiry (PI) in Cambridge on September 24, following convictions against Mr Clark, drivers employed by the firm and its former Transport Manager (TM). Mr Clark was prosecuted for making false vehicle maintenance records, while drivers were convicted of driving offences. These included making false records, not keeping proper records and taking insufficient rest.

The former TM Leslie Gent-Watts was convicted for allowing staff to commit those offences, along with two offences from his own driving. VOSA started its investigation in 2011 and examined records, including those relating to the work of its drivers. This revealed tachographs, driver timesheets and vehicle maintenance records were not accurate and called into question other documentation produced by the business. In addition, vehicles had not received routine safety inspections on time. While Mr Clark admitted during the prosecution that he had falsified the records of those inspections to keep the TC “off his back”, a VOSA Traffic Examiner told Miss Davis that she did not think the company itself had been engaged in wholesale fraudulent activity.

However, the effect was that there was no accurate and transparent window through which to view the company. The company’s representative told the DTC the people involved in the firm now were fundamentally different to those responsible in 2011. He also noted that during roadside inspections of the vehicles and drivers – a total of 66 over three years – no offences had been picked up by VOSA.

The DTC accepted there was no evidence the offences had been committed for commercial advantage. Miss Davis also heard evidence from the firm’s MD, Lorne Kind, who confirmed Mr Clark had resigned but retained a shareholding. Mr Kind admitted the former director had initially been used as a consultant but assured the DTC this was no longer the case. However, in a written decision, the DTC said the failures had occurred at the top of the business, with Mr Ausden Clark.

“Under his watch, systems were inadequate and lacked robustness and proactivity. The breaches were numerous. Under his watch this company committed very serious offences,” she said.

The DTC reviewed evidence from an independent consultant about the firm’s performance under the new management structure, after Mr Clark’s departure. This revealed that things were now moving in the right direction.

However, she added: “It is no more than should be expected and certainly given this company’s history everyone should play an active role in compliance.”

She noted the firm had previously appeared at PI in 2010, in relation to drivers’ hours. On that occasion, the O-licence was curtailed and a formal warning had been issued. She warned the company that in future “nothing short of exactitude and meticulous attention to detail will suffice. An acceptance of 95% is not enough.”

She also told the firm’s TM that she had very grave concerns about his additional work as a driver and it should not continue: “This firm needs to have TMs who are not distracted by driving in order to cover a shortfall of drivers.”

The DTC received an undertaking that Mr Clark would not have any involvement whatsoever in the operation of the business, with the exception of duties relating to his role as shareholder. In addition, Mr Kind committed to attending a course on O-licensing, with the firm’s TM another member of staff being signed up for an external compliance course.