A private hire driver has been found guilty of an offence under the Equality Act 2010 for refusing to take a blind man’s guide dog on a pre-booked journey.
During a trial at Telford Magistrates’ Court on Monday 5 November 2018, the Court heard that Mrs Bright booked a private hire car to collect her and her partner Mr Bowers – who is blind and uses a guide dog called ‘Isca’ – from Wellington train station on 4 January 2018 after they had travelled by train from the south west.
Mrs Bright gave evidence in court stating that she told the private hire company that she required a taxi for two adults, a guide dog and two large cases.
Mr Zaheer Mahmood, from Telford was dispatched to the train station, but upon seeing the guide dog, refused to take the fare saying “no dogs, no dogs”. As a result, Mrs Bright was forced to contact the operator and wait for a second car to be sent.
The incident was reported to Shropshire Council’s trading standards and licensing service, who investigated the matter and brought criminal proceedings against Mr Mahmood. Under the Equality Act 2010 it is an offence for the driver of a private hire vehicle to refuse to take an assistance dog.
Mr Mahmood pleaded not guilty, stating in his defence that he had purchased two part worn tyres earlier that day which were in the boot of his car – leaving no room for luggage. He claimed that he rang the operator and told them of the tyres being in his boot and requested a larger vehicle be sent to Mrs Bright.
During the investigation, officers obtained a recording of the phone call made by Mr Mahmood to his operator when he refused the job. In this call he stated: “You send me job in train station, and they go with a dog as well, you not tell me about dogs”.
At no time during the call did Mr Mahmood tell his operator that he had tyres in the boot, nor did he ask for a larger vehicle to be sent to carry out the booking.
Shropshire Council also obtained the booking records for all of Mr Mahmood’s journeys that day, which showed jobs at the hospital, supermarkets and train station. When questioned, Mr Mahmood claimed that none of his passengers that day required use of his car’s boot.
It was also identified during the course of the investigation that Mr Mahmood’s versions of events varied and appeared inconsistent. Having listened to all the evidence in the case, District Judge Jackson commented that he felt Mrs Bright had told the truth and he found it hard to believe that Mr Mahmood would have carried two car tyres in his boot for a full day.
Mr Mahmood was found guilty of the offence and sentenced to a fine of £300 as well as being ordered to pay a £30 victim surcharge and prosecution costs of £2,000.
Frances Darling, trading standards & licensing operations manager said:
“We welcome the outcome of this case. The law around taking assistance dogs is quite clear, whether they are guide dogs, hearing dogs or medical assistance dogs. It is a criminal offence for a private hire driver to refuse to take an assistance dog unless the driver has a medical exemption issued by the council’s licensing team. Shropshire Council takes incidents such as this extremely seriously as they affect some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Any future incidents of this kind will be investigated. Any private hire driver who refuses to take assistance dogs faces not only the prospect of legal action in the courts, but also being reported to the council’s licensing panel where there is a very strong likelihood that their private hire driver’s licence will be revoked.”
Joyce Barrow, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet member responsible for regulatory services said:
“It is incredibly disheartening to hear of this particular incident and that a driver licensed by Shropshire Council has clearly fallen far below what is expected of him. It is, however, reassuring that following an investigation and the legal process being followed, the Court has rightly found Zaheer Mahmood guilty. We will continue to ensure that taxi and private hire operators and drivers licensed by Shropshire Council comply with all legislation applicable to them. I encourage members of the public to report any suspected illegal activity to us.”