Bus boss banned for 'harassing inspector'

Philip Higgs
Philip Higgs

A Blackpool bus firm has been ordered to cease operations after a tribunal ruled its owner had harassed a government inspector.

Catch 22 Bus Ltd, which stepped in to run services axed by cash-strapped Lancashire Council, will have its operating licence revoked on February 18.

And boss Philip Higgs is disqualifed for a year from holding or obtaining a Public Service Vehicle (PSV) licence.

The ban was due to take effect at the beginning of this year.

However, Mr Higgs appealed against the decision by The Traffic Commissioner.

But last week the Upper Tribunal Administrative Appeals Chamber, led by Judge H Levenson, upheld the operating ban both on the company and managing director Mr Higgs.

The ban will lead to two routes being scrapped – between Cleveleys and St Annes and between Fleetwood and Thornton.

It is not known whether Lancashire County Council will be able to find operators to continue the services.

The tribunal was told Mr Higgs had hired a private detective to follow Senior Traffic Commissioner (STC) Beverley Bell in 2015 , posting footage of her on YouTube. As a result he was issued with an harassment notice by Lancashire Police.

A report to the tribunal revealed: “Mr Higgs had developed a degree of personal animosity towards the STC.

“Mr Higgs had instructed a private investigator who, for three days, had followed the STC and filmed her driving her personal vehicle.

“Under an assumed name, Mr Higgs had posted video footage on YouTube with captions alleging that during the course of her own driving the STC had turned left against a red light and had travelled at excessive speed along two separate motorways.

“The commentary effectively accused her of hypocrisy because in her professional occupation she exhorted licence holders to comply with road legislation.”

Copies of the video were also sent under a false name to Ms Bell’s colleagues at the Traffic Commission.

A police investigation led to Mr Higgs admitting his involvement in an interview and a pledge not to post any more videos.

In March 2016, he was issued with a Police Harassment Information Notice on the advice of the Crown Prosecution Service.

But Mr Higgs was unrepentant.

The tribunal reported: “He admitted that his private investigator had followed the STC for three days.

“He said that he had wanted to prove corruption – which he did not find –and that a previous decision by the STC had cost him a lot of business and had led to the loss of jobs.”

In his written decision the South East and Metropolitan Area Deputy Traffic Commissioner John Baker said: “I asked Mr Higgs how he felt now about what he had done and he said that he felt it was right to expose someone who is blatantly ignoring the rules of the road and on the other hand telling others not to.

“He said that he was not sure if he would do anything differently in the same circumstances.”

The tribunal also backed comments by the traffic commissioner doubting whether Mr Higgs was of good enough repute to be allowed to continue to operate.

He said: “I find that what he chose to do amounts to a serious invasion of privacy and inevitably led to the ‘considerable upset and distress’ reported to the police.

“I believe that Mr Higgs was, at best, uncaring as to the impact and more likely than not to have wanted to cause her distress and was acting out of malice. He expressed no remorse at causing distress or for any other aspect of his conduct.”

Mr Baker said that as Mr Higgs was the sole shareholder and director of Catch22, his loss of repute reflected on the company as a whole.

The commissioner concluded that there was a “serious question mark over whether Mr Higgs could be trusted”.

The report said: “His past behaviour showed animosity, resentment and a tendency to take the law into his own hands.”

Mr Higgs argued that the tribunal had failed to take into account that he had provided a “good bus service” and created employment in Fylde, employing up to 25 members of staff.

He denied the filming was not a serious invasion of privacy and claimed it was lawful.

Mr Higgs also claimed there was no evidence the STC had suffered any distress or upset.

He claimed the videos had been posted on YouTube anonymously because he “had no wish to influence the STC in his own personal case”.

In his judgement upholding the ban on Catch 22, Judge Levenson concluded: “The admitted conduct... was directed at the STC because of her official position and function. It was a direct attack on the very essence of an independent adjudicatory process.”

However, Mr Higgs has lodged an application for a stay of execution.

He said: “We are obviously disappointed in the tribunals decision but are not surprised because it considered no new information that has come to light even since the appeal hearing.

“Since then the Driving and Vehicles Standards Agency has admitted to making errors.

“We should never have been called to public inquiry in the first place and we are lodging an application to stay the decision.

“The case well and truly continues.”

Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard, who is parliamentary under-secretary for the Department of Transport, said: “Bus services are extremely important but passengers need to have confidence in the provider.

“There are strict rules around suitability and it is disappointing that the owner of Catch 22 has been found not to be meeting the high standards that are expected.

“It is important passengers and staff do not suffer and I will do all I can to support finding an alternative operator should it be required.”