No reprieve for operator with poor maintenance record

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A company with a licence for 25 buses was found to have a high MOT failure rate and poor defect recording systems, and was denied a period of grace to comply

Western Area Traffic Commissioner Kevin Rooney disqualified an operator of school buses in late January following findings of poor maintenance and defect recording. Based in Royal Wootton Bassett, Denwell Mini Coaches Ltd was the holder of a standard national PSV operator’s licence authorising the use of 25 vehicles. The licence started in June 2000, and the business changed ownership in August 2021. The sole director and transport manager since that time was Darren Brown. Despite the name, vehicles operated were full-size coaches and some double-deckers.

The operator was the subject of a DVSA maintenance investigation in August 2022 which found systems to be unsatisfactory; the operator gave assurances of improvement and those were accepted by the Vehicle Examiner. However, a follow-up investigation between July and September 2023 found that the situation was worse than that a year earlier and the assurances given had not been adhered to.

Vehicle Examiner Gary Beck noted that the MOT failure rate had worsened from 31.5% in 2022 to 45.95% in 2023. Twelve encounters resulted in nine prohibitions, a 75% prohibition rate. Even when the outcome was clear, there were multiple advisory defects such as cracked windscreens and oil leaks,

and the last entirely clear inspection was in July 2019, two years before Mr Brown acquired the business. The operator was therefore called to public inquiry (PI) to consider matters relating to its good repute, financial standing and professional competence. Mr Brown was called separately to consider his good repute and professional competence as transport manager.

The inquiry

Darren Brown and Philip Blanchard attended the inquiry represented by Anna Chestnutt of counsel instructed by Markel Law. Compliance documents were provided in advance along with written submissions; all were provided late. Wiltshire and Gloucestershire Councils were in attendance. Finances were considered in private.

The TC set out his concern that the assurances that were given in 2022 appeared not to have been honoured. Ms Chestnutt offered an undertaking to reduce inspection periods from every 10 weeks to every six. Mr Blanchard said he had joined the company from Calne Travel following the closure of that operator. He had brought with him a colleague, Colin Carey. Initially they had joined to focus on pre-MOT inspections but that remit had widened to all maintenance, apart from three double-deckers that would not fit in the workshop, which would be inspected by Swanbrook.


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