Seventeen employees and a partner of a Northumberland-based coach company today denied falsifying driver records as part of a conspiracy.
Howard Snaith Coach Travel, which is based in Otterburn, runs a number of school and public bus services across the county. Earlier this year, Northumberland County Council said that it ran 60 school contracts and six public services.
It is alleged that between June 1, 2010, and May 13, 2013, HJ Snaith and Partners, trading as HJ Snaith, as well as a number of members of staff, did knowingly make false driver records in contravention of EC regulations as part of a conspiracy.
Summonses were issued following an investigation by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA), which has brought the prosecution, and the charges relate to tachograph charts, which record drivers’ working hours.
Those charged are HJ Snaith and Partners, Alison Snaith, John Cameron, Stephen Clark, Iain Condy, Byron Dodd, Alan Dunkerley, Terence Foreman, Gerard Fox, Jessie Hickie, Mark Hogg, Kenneth James, Tony Jordan, Craig McKenna, James Phelan, Martin Robinson, Gary Tweddle, Maurice White, David Wilkinson and Stewart Wood. The partnership HJ Snaith and Partners consists of Howard Snaith, Alison Snaith and Howard Snaith Limited. Only Alison Snaith is charged as an individual.
At Newcastle Crown court earlier this afternoon, all entered not-guilty pleas apart from the partnership and Robinson, for whom applications to dismiss are being made. That hearing will take place on Thursday, October 23, while the trial is listed to start on January 19, 2005.
Alison Snaith and Clark also pleaded not guilty to perverting the course of justice.
All of the accused appeared at Newcastle Magistrates’ Court in March, but the nature of the conspiracy charge means that the case has to be dealt with at the crown court.
Following that court appearance, the company posted a statement on the Gazette’s Facebook page.
It read: “These allegations are denied, and always have been. We are a very compliant bus operator and our own audits prove that. Our drivers are fully trained and we believe are of the highest quality. We put passenger safety and the safety of the public and our drivers at the very top of our agenda.
“Our records showing that are open and transparent, and we have nothing to hide. We are being wrongly judged by rumour and all it is doing is damaging our business and putting a lot of jobs at risk.
“To all of those parents out there whose children we carry; you have our assurance that they are in safe hands. Any concerns or queries, please feel free to contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org”