Carmel Coaches licence revoked

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Devon-based Carmel Coaches had its O-licence withdrawn as a result of failings in maintenance and loss of professional competence

Following a public inquiry, Devon-based Carmel Coaches saw its O-licence withdrawn from 31 December 2020 following loss of professional competence by 70-year old Director Anthony Hazell and identification of maintenance issues. Having gained a new licence after previously having its licence withdrawn in 2014, the company had been running local services and private hire, with Devon County Council arranging replacements for local tendered work.

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Carmel Coaches Ltd, trading as Carmel Devon, and based in Northlew, Okehampton, was the holder of a standard international public service vehicle operator’s licence authorising the use of 15 vehicles. The licence was considered in December 2016 at a conjoined public inquiry (PI) with Michael Hazell, due to the history of directors Anthony Hazell and Michael Hazell, who had previously been named on a revoked licence and were disqualified as directors. At that inquiry Traffic Commissioner (TC) for the West of England Kevin Rooney found that Anthony Hazell’s good repute was restored and granted the licence.

There is a considerable licencing background for Anthony Hazell, his son Michael Hazell and his daughter, Carolyn Alderton with a number of licences applied for and authorised, some of which were subsequently revoked following PIs.

A previous standard international licence authorising the use of 40 vehicles was granted in May 2011 with directors Anthony Hazell, Michael Hazell and Carolyn Alderton. This was called to a conjoined public inquiry with Michael Hazell in March 2014 where the licence was revoked with effect from November 2014. Anthony Hazell was disqualified for a period of 18 months from acting as a director or transport manager. These decisions were appealed but the appeals were dismissed.

It should be emphasised that there is no adverse history with the licence held by Carolyn Alderton, t/a Carmel Bristol, which is a standard international licence authorising the use of nine vehicles and which was was granted at a public inquiry on 6 May 2014 with Ms Alderton as the nominated transport manager.

On 2 March 2020, DVSA Vehicle Examiner (VE) Lee Balsdon made an unannounced visit to the operating centre following the issue of an S-marked prohibition to vehicle AL08 ASH at Okehampton Railway Station on 27 February, which highlighted a shortcoming in the maintenance system. His subsequent maintenance investigation identified a number of shortcomings. These included:

  • Records showing AL08 ASH had been off the road awaiting crash repairs from 5 July 2019 to 19 August 2019. No PSV112 notification of an incident had been submitted to DVSA;
  • Inconsistent evidence that driver walk-round checks were carried out and a prohibition issued to CR56 RMR for a driver detectable defect
    A test failure rate of 46%, well above the national average of 7.4% over the past two years, and some MOT failures appeared serious, relating to brakes, steering and suspension; and
  • Driver defect reports for NX53 AAA between 31 January and 14 February 2020 showed an emissions warning light fault reported on 10 occasions.
    On inspection of four vehicles, VE Balsdon found advisory defects on three and the fourth was clear.

Traffic Examiner (TE) David Cresswell carried out a further investigation, visiting the operator on 4 March 2020. He identified further concerns:

  • Driving licences were checked only three times per year;
  • Lack of training around the working time directive and drivers hours with no system in place for monitoring working time and no disciplinary system for breaches of drivers’ hours;
  • Forward planning only online and not freely available to view; and
  • Vehicle YN55 NJU specified on the licence was owned by Michael Hazell, who had also reportedly been driving for the operator.

The operator was therefor called to PI, and Mr Anthony Hazell was called to consider his good repute as transport manager.

Mr Anthony Hazell and Ms Carolyn Alderton attended the public inquiry represented by Andrew Banks, solicitor. VE Lee Balsdon was present for DVSA via a Microsoft Teams video link.

The TC acknowledged that the operator and its solicitor both fully complied with the Covid precautions and provided all requested documents in advance. Financial standing was satisfied as a preliminary matter.

The evidence of VE Balsdon
Mr Banks had requested Mr Balsdon’s attendance as there was a disagreement over the status of a prohibition issued to AL08 ASH. There were two

Traffic Commissioner for the West of England Kevin Rooney

items. One was a leaking exhaust which the driver said had happened that morning. The second was a cut to the cords to an inner rear tyre and Mr Balsdon confirmed he would not have expected the driver to see it. The previous PMI was 24 days earlier. Mr Balsdon’s view was that the degree of corrosion was such that, in his view, the defect would have been present at the PMI. Mr Hazell had produced evidence from a tyre technician that the damage could have occurred in a much shorter period of time. VE Balsdon reiterated his view that the severity of the damage of the rubber and the severity of the corrosion of the tyre cords suggested that the tyre damage was of long-standing.

VE Balsdon referred to Mr Hazell’s response to him about the condition of the road. If Mr Hazell was aware of the road condition he should have considered intermediate tyre inspections. Due to Covid restrictions, the prohibition was removed without the tyre being inspected and was done remotely based on evidence provided by Mr Hazell.

In terms of the outcome from the maintenance investigation, a major concern was MOT test history, which VE Balsdon had worked out to be 46.1% in the period since the previous maintenance investigation conducted by VE Fuller on 5 December 2018. Mr Banks referred Mr Balsdon to this year’s MOT performance. Mr Balsdon confirmed that he had run a test history report for the period since March 2020. It identified six tests with one PRS on CR56CMR and no final failures. Mr Banks told VE Balsdon that pre-MOT inspections were now conducted by Balsdon Vehicle Services (BVS) and asked Mr Balsdon, as an ex-employee of that company, for his opinion on its competence. Mr Balsdon declined to comment.

The evidence of Mr Anthony Hazell
Mr Hazell’s written statement was adopted. He had decided before Mr Balsdon’s visit to put Mr Waters (his technician) and Mr Waters’ son through irtec accreditation. This followed an audit in January, commissioned following attending his son’s public inquiry last year where the TC had made some unflattering comments.

Vehicles are always tested at the same ATF which allowed for comparison with Mr Waters’ performance. He stated he would use BVS for any additional assistance. Mr Hazell provided invoices from the major parts suppliers and BVS; there were others such as for tyres.
Some contracts had been lost as a result of Covid-19 so he was prepared to reduce the fleet size which would reduce the money needed to be held for financial standing.

Mr Hazell had been a transport manager for 36 years. Asked whether he would be prepared to have an additional or a replacement transport manager, Mr Hazell said that he was happy to have extra assistance but did not want to leave the industry. He would not volunteer to give up completely and retire.

The evidence of Ms Alderton
Ms Alderton had little day-to-day involvement in the running of the business besides tachograph analysis. She used Trutac, a system endorsed by CPT. Cards are read in Northlew and the data uploaded to a database which she could access and produce the relevant reports. If an infringement was identified, she would check to see what had happened and pass it to Mr Hazell to deal with.

It was Ms Alderton’s view, as a statutory director, that the maintenance solution was for all PMIs to be carried out at BVS. It wasn’t necessary to shut the Northlew workshop completely but inspections should be done at BVS. She thought that there should be an external transport manager with her father stepping back and taking partial retirement, a view that was not popular with her father. Ms Alderton said she did not have the capacity to take on the role. She was looking at applying for DVSA Earned Recognition status.

Closing submissions
In closing, Mr Banks said that the operator appreciated that the licence had a history but the present shortcomings were remediable. There were two issues to address. First was the competence of the technician, which could be gauged by comparing the inspections undertaken by him with those done by BVS. This would also reduce the technician’s workload, which had reduced anyway due to the pandemic. There had been no further prohibitions since February and there were solutions for the maintenance issues.

He contended that all the shortcomings identified were a reflection that Mr Hazell had been in the business a long time and needed to be brought up to speed and that this was an operator that could be compliant in the future. He was prepared to learn. The co-director was in a situation where her business had been invited to apply for Earned Recognition status. With undertakings requiring an external maintenance provider and to appoint a new transport manager, along with a potential reduction in the fleet size, the business could continue.

The TC considered that the first matter cited in the calling-up letter was that the operator appeared not to have abided by the undertaking to observe the rules on drivers’ hours and records. The main concern of TE Cresswell in relation to drivers’ hours was the long gap between an infringement report generated on 6 July 2019 and a debrief on 5 November, a debrief that gave no explanation as to the cause of the issue, no corrective action and was not signed by either party. This point was clearly put to Mr Hazell at the inquiry. He chose not to respond to it directly, instead citing that another driver went abroad over winter.

The TC said that the nature of the operator’s work is such that breaches should be rare. Tachographs are downloaded and analysed – the element undertaken by Ms Alderton – but they appear not to be acted upon, at least, not for some considerable time by which time any interview with a driver will be hopeless. The TC suggested that perhaps more by luck than design, no significant issues have arisen and attached only moderate weight to the transgression.

MOT failure rate
The TC’s second concern was with roadworthiness and he called the 46.15% MOT failure rate ‘a shocking statistic.’ Mr Hazell cast doubt on that figure. Whilst there is no legal requirement for PSVs to be specified on a licence, making the DVSA’s task more difficult, Mr Hazell had undertaken to keep the data up to date on the licensing system. VE Balsdon stated that he had undertaken a manual exercise using the best information he could get, thus the TC concluded that the only person who knows the true MOT failure rate for the vehicles both owned and operated by Carmel Coaches is Anthony Hazell. The TC suggested that whilst seeking to question the VE’s figures, Mr Hazell had failed to provide his own analysis and referred to records going with vehicles that may have been sold. The TC expected any operator to be able to say, for the last two years at least, which vehicles were in possession and when. From that, it takes a few minutes to consult the publicly available MOT test history record and to derive a failure rate. That has not been done, leading the TC to conclude that the true position is either as reported by VE Balsdon or worse.

The TC agreed that there appeared to have been some improvement in the last few months, although the suspension of large vehicle testing from March until August meant little information was available. The operator put that improvement down to a process improvement whereby BVS conduct pre-MOT inspections with the vehicles having been already inspected by the in-house technician. TC Rooney suggested that Mr Hazell’s explanation as to why special attention was placed on pre-MOT inspections (to improve the pass rate) was laudable but missed the point.

Tyre concern
The tyre prohibition in February 2020 to AL08 ASH was a cause of deep concern to the TC. The operator argued that it would not have been there at the inspection on 3 February 2020, providing supporting evidence from Aaron Thompson, Zone Manager at Tructyre ATS, who stated that tyres run in the wet will corrode more quickly than tyres running inside in the dry but made no statement either way on whether or not the defect would have been apparent at the PMI. The TC chose to accept the evidence and opinion of a qualified DVSA Vehicle Examiner. Furthermore, Mr Hazell’s response to VE Balsdon was that the road was known to be in a bad condition, leading Mr Balsdon to ask why, if that was known, had the operator not introduced additional tyre checks, to which Mr Hazell made no comment.

With regard to brake testing, the TC said that it was unfortunate that these did not seem to be part of the PMI process, but they were at least done. The brake test on YN06 PCY in June 2020 had been a cause of grave concern and a clear indication that the maintenance system was itself broken. It should have been ‘blindingly obvious’ from the most cursory view that there was a defect with the parking brake, he said. The TC highlighted that an undertaking to keep vehicles ‘fit and serviceable’ is not the same as meeting MOT minima.

Looking at evidence provided or remedial action to the brake defect, the TC concluded that there were two probable conclusions. The first was that nothing was done to address the parking brake problem, probably because there was no-one competent to identify it. The second was that the rectification was ineffective and no-one noticed on the brake test, or no-one took any notice of the brake test. The TC was ‘particularly concerned’ at the attempts by Mr Hazell to explain this issue awayaway: “Whilst he may categorise DVSA Vehicle Enforcement Manager Trott as ‘only a youngster, I do not believe he could level that criticism at me. Over 30 years ago, I drafted elements of the MOT inspection manual, 25 years ago I was responsible for heavy vehicle testing quality in the Vehicle Inspectorate, and for managing heavy vehicle testing throughout the South West. Sadly, I am no longer a youngster. His attempts to claim that the brake imbalance in August was due to lack of bedding in was demonstrative, in the most positive interpretation, of a shocking lack of knowledge.”

TC Rooney was also concerned by the lack of acknowledgement from Mr Hazell that he may be doing something wrong and that he appeared so certain in his own flawed thinking that he lost the ability to listen and to learn. The evidence spoke for itself. The PMIs recorded few significant defects yet the MOT pass rate was low, leading to a finding that vehicles are not being kept fit and serviceable by a very wide margin. There was no evidence that maintenance records are not being kept.

In reaching a decision, significant weight was attached to the prohibition notices, given the severity of the defects and that they should have been prevented by an effective maintenance regime.

The TC noted that Anthony Hazell at one moment argued technical matters yet at another it was submitted by Mr Banks that he was not technical and relied upon his technician. It is difficult to have it both ways. PMIs were signed-off by Mr Hazell as supervisor and it appeared that he conducted much of the decelerometer brake testing as it was his signature on the printouts. He also noted that Mr Hazell’s approach was old-school, to the degree is such that it makes him dangerous. Routinely adjusting automatic slack adjusters in a way not seen for 25 years is a recipe for a fatality, he said, further suggesting that Mr Hazell appeared to lie at will, with some explanations not fitting the evidence provided.

Anthony Hazell was accepted to be the controlling mind of the operation with Ms Alderton noting that she had little day-to-day involvement and could not take on the role of transport manager. Mr Hazell was pushed to a great degree to accept that he would have a second or alternative transport manager and a second or alternative maintenance provider. The TC noted that the reluctance with which those concessions were made was considerable. A change of transport manager might have been a way forward, he said, and for it to be convincing, the new transport manager designate should have made an application before the public inquiry and been there. Mr Hazell had made it clear that he would not cede control. He might accept assistance, but not step back.

Adverse reports from the TE and VE showed shortcomings all of which fell at the transport manager’s door but the TC acknowledges there were positives. The undertaking to have regular roller brake tests had been adhered to, albeit they appeared not to have been acted upon. Vehicles were inspected on time. The fleet inspection found four vehicles substantially clear of defects. The MOT history had improved. There had been no significant drivers’ hours matters.

Asking himself whether he could trust this operator to comply in the future, TC Rooney said that Anthony Hazell has been in the industry 36 years but unfortunately appeared to mistake experience for expertise and was set in his ways. The TC saw no sign that he would cede control nor work in any true partnership whether with another transport manager or maintenance provider and found that Mr Hazell was incapable of managing the transport operation and so his good repute as transport manager was lost.

In concluding, the TC judged that Mr Anthony Hazell has forfeited his good repute as transport manager and disqualified him from acting as such until he sits and passes again the transport manager certificate of professional competence. TC Rooney also found that the operator was no longer professionally competent, and further and separate adverse findings that vehicles are not kept fit and serviceable and that prohibitions have been issued, led to the decision that the licence be revoked with effect from 31 December 2020. The TC made no adverse finding in relation to Ms Carolyn Alderton as a transport manager or her sole trader licence.