Maintenance failings lead to curtailment

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The importance of a well-maintained fleet cannot be overlooked. JONATHAN WELCH

A South East operator was warned that future non-compliance with maintenance undertakings could result in further sanctions

In a written decision published in May, Eastern Area Deputy Traffic Commissioner (DTC) John Baker found that regulatory action short of revocation was required following a public inquiry (PI). St Margarets Coaches Ltd is the holder of a standard national PCV licence, granted on 16 August 2022 and authorising eight vehicles. The directors of the company are Terry Spurling and Tindara Ruggeri. Alan Fairweather held the role of transport manager from the date of grant up until 12 April 2023, when he resigned. At the date of inquiry there was no designated transport manager in place to replace him.

When granted the licence had a condition attached that “Santo Marino will have no operational or management involvement with the operator licence PF2053250” and that “any involvement will be restricted to a financial injection to the company on the set up of the operation and the subsequent repayment of any amount lent. Any involvement other than the above must first be put to the Traffic Commissioner.“

A previous application for a licence by the current operator was refused at a public inquiry on the 26 January 2022; the reasons for refusal were stated as the need for checks to be made in relation to a proposed director, lack of financial standing, no nominated transport manager and issues over the suitability of the proposed operating centre.


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A maintenance investigation was carried out by Vehicle Examiner (VE) Hudson on 29 December 2022, the result of which was marked as ‘report to the Office of the Traffic Commissioner,’ with only two of the 12 categories marked as satisfactory. VE Hudson was concerned that Carmelo Marino, who described himself as the operations manager, had been carrying out work on defects found during preventative maintenance inspections and signing off the forms showing the vehicles as roadworthy.

At the inspection 11 prohibition notices and seven inspection notices were issued in relation to a variety of defects identified by VE Hudson including five for defective seat belts. He also recorded in his report that when he confronted Mr Marino with some of the issues, Mr Marino became persistent and disagreeable, arguing that the prohibitions were not necessary. In relation to vehicle YN55 KVZ, Mr Hudson expressed concerned that the vehicle had been driven for 104 kilometres when two of the three faults leading to immediate prohibition notices had not been remedied.

The operator, through director Mr Spurling and transport manager Mr Fairweather, wrote to the DVSA challenging some of the findings made by Mr Hudson and the validity of several of the prohibition notices. Mr Hudson’s report was referred to the Traffic Commissioner and a decision made to call the operator and transport manager to PI.

Previous history

The licensing history of Carmelo Marino showed that he had appeared before a PI as a director and transport manager in December 2013. In the subsequent decision, regulatory action was taken against the company he was a director of and his repute as a transport manager was marked as severely tarnished. He appeared before a further PI in November 2015 when licences for companies of which he was a director were revoked, Mr Marino’s repute as a transport manager was lost and he was disqualified for 12 months until 26 February 2017. The issues leading to the revocation and loss of repute related to financial standing and failure to comply with local registered bus services.

Public inquiry

Mrs Ruggeri, Mr Spurling and Mr Fairweather attended the PI, and were represented by Ms Dooher; Mr Spurling and Mr Fairweather attended virtually. Carmelo Marino also attended as did VE Hudson. Statements from Mrs Ruggeri and Mr Spurling had been submitted in advance together with an audit from transport consultants AS Miles Consulting.

Mrs Rugerri said that she was the ‘operations director’ but had only been part of the company since the 4 November 2022. She is married to Santo Marino, and Carmelo Marino is her son. She said that she was present at the operating centre every day and claimed to have over 30 years’ experience in the industry, though clarified that she not held licences for all of that time but had knowledge through her husband’s involvement.

Mr Spurling said that he had mobility issues which had prevented him from visiting the operating centre. His role was finance director; he said that he had regular meetings with Mrs Ruggeri and the transport manager to make himself aware of relevant issues.

Mr Fairweather said that he had been the external transport manager up until 12 April 2023, and that his reasons for resigning were purely personal; he had been considering this since January 2023. He had originally intended to leave after the PI but advice from the legal representative suggested that was that it was better to be open about his intentions and do so beforehand.

When he had been the transport manager, he said he had visited the operating centre on one day per week and kept in regular contact with Mr Marino. He was listed as transport manager at the time of the PI on another licence but said he intended to resign from that position.

Mr Hudson went though the detail of his report and clarified a number of points. He said that when he first saw the PMI sheets he had presumed the rectification action notes had been completed by the maintenance providers, and that he was shocked to learn that Mr Marino had been completing them.

He explained how the seat belt mechanisms and effectiveness was tested and said that he was sure his findings in relation to those that were defective were correct. He had amended one of the prohibitions notices when he realised that there was an error in relation to what was recorded. He said he felt that he was being bullied by Mr Marino who wanted him to do certain things and to be allowed to fix issues on the vehicles rather than prohibition notices being issued.

A DVSA examination found numerous driver-detectable defects, including non-working seatbelts. JONATHAN WELCH

Prohibited vehicle

The Vehicle Examiner also confirmed that in his opinion Mr Marino had driven vehicle YN55 KVZ knowing that there were immediate prohibitions on the vehicle preventing such use. In cross examination he agreed that all prohibitions were removed by 5 January 2023 and that he had decided to direct that two vehicles were fully tested at MOT rather than remove the prohibitions because there was an issue on the records arising from changes in the registration numbers for those vehicles. He also agreed that there had been animosity on 28 December 2022 and that on his subsequent visit on 5 January 2023 the conversation had been heated with some further animosity initially. His conversations and contact had been with Mr Marino and Mr Fairweather, he had not seen or had contact with Mrs Ruggeri.

Mr Marino gave evidence and confirmed that some driver detectable faults were being found at inspection. As an example, the DTC noted an inspection on the 7 February 2023 when a bulb and three tyres were replaced and yet on the same day a driver had recorded nil defects. Mr Marino said that the seat belt defects were mainly the result of children putting chewing gum in the mechanisms.

Mr Fairweather and Mr Marino stated that the record of MOT failures was unfortunate because the vehicles were put for test two days after the licence was granted and it had been intended to have them tested as a check and repaired before the licence was in force. They were adamant that no work had been carried out in relation to many of the faults identified by Mr Hudson and yet the prohibitions were removed and vehicles tested subsequently. The vehicle that had the largest number of faults was off the road and not in use, they contended, although it was not formally marked as such. Mr Marino said initially that the vehicle subject to immediate prohibition had not been driven before the prohibition was removed, although later in his evidence said that it had been driven but he had not been aware that an immediate prohibition was in force.

In mitigation, Ms Dooher submitted that this was a case in the moderate to serious category of seriousness. It was accepted that the PMI and maintenance regime had not been robust enough but action had been taken to remedy this, she said. PMIs and rectification work would now be done by the same provider, assistance had been sought from transport consultants and the initial audit from that company contained many positives as well as some areas for improvement, she pointed out. The challenges in relation to the prohibitions issued by Mr Hudson were well documented, she said, and in any event they were all removed within six days of issue. An undertaking for an audit in the future was offered and the impact of regulatory action summarised.

In relation to the transport manager designation Ms Dooher asked for a period of grace to be considered to allow a suitable candidate to be identified if the licence was allowed to continue.


The DTC found that undertakings in relation to maintenance and driver defect reporting have been breached, and noted that there was not a transport manager designated on the licence.

Balancing the negative factors with any positives, he found that on the negative side were the findings of VE Hudson, who he described as ‘a competent and diligent vehicle examiner.’ The DTC accepted that the rectification of some defects such as seat belt faults may have been easily resolved, possibly without the involvement of a fitter, and suspected that the approach by Mr Marino did not promote collaborative action between him and Mr Hudson. He also accepted that the vehicle which had the highest number of defects should have been marked as ‘Vehicle Off Road.’ Nevertheless, several defects were being found at PMI which should have been spotted in a walk-around check. On the positive side, the DTC concluded that there were some systems in place, changes have been made, and transport consultants had been engaged, with the conclusions from their initial audit in the operator’s favour, although the audit also concluded that there was a considerable amount of work still to be done.

Asking the question ‘how likely is it that this operator will operate in compliance with the operator’s licensing regime in future?’ the DTC was mindful that there was a condition on the licence limiting the involvement of Santo Marino, whose wife Tindara Rugguri was a director and whose son Carmelo, who lost his repute and was disqualified as a transport manager in 2017, held the role of operations manager, while the other director Mr Spurling has medical and mobility issues and restricts his oversight of the business to mainly financial matters. The background and family links made the issue of trust a difficult one to assess, the DTC said, noting that he was, just, prepared to allow the licence to continue. Carmelo Marino’s failings in the past and his role and behaviour in this case will be factors in any future consideration if full compliance is not achieved, he warned.

Having decided that revocation was not the answer in this case, the DTC found thet regulatory action was required and ordered a curtailment of the licence from eight to six vehicles. The repute of the operator and the former transport manager Alan Fairweather was retained but tarnished. The undertaking offered for an independent audit to be carried out in October 2023 was accepted and the operator made aware that should an unsatisfactory outcome be recorded, it would likely to lead to a further public inquiry.

In relation to the lack of a designated transport manager a period of grace was allowed to give time for a suitable candidate to be identified.