Sentencing in coach firm case

Howard Snaith school transport buses parked outside the Duchess's High School in Alnwick.

Howard Snaith school transport buses parked outside the Duchess's High School in Alnwick.

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A Northumberland coach operator which has been at the centre of a conspiracy trial will not be awarded new transport contracts for which it has tendered.

And the future of the current school contracts that Howard Snaith coach firm has with Northumberland County Council is uncertain.

The announcement follows the crown-court sentencing of a number of staff last week, after company director Alison Snaith pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice, while a number of drivers admitted offences of creating false tachograph records.

The matter has been referred to the Traffic Commissioner, who could ban the convicted drivers and may look at the company’s operating licence. An outcome is not expected before June.

And the county council, which currently has 49 contracts with Howard Snaith – which expire between May 22 this year and Easter 2019, worth £1.41million – is looking at the issue and wants to meet the company next week to discuss the situation.

A county council spokesman said: “Howard Snaith hold a number of existing contracts and have also tendered for a number of new contracts. The council has concluded that it does not consider it appropriate to award new transport contracts to this company at this time.

“With regard to existing contracts, we regularly monitor all operators. We will continue to carefully monitor the situation in consultation with the Traffic Commissioner. A decision will be taken in due course.

“During this time the council will consider all potential options, including making alternative arrangements for the future provision of services.”

Nearly 20 employees and a partner of Howard Snaith Coach Travel were the subject of a lengthy trial, which started in January, facing charges of knowingly making false driver records in contravention of EC regulations as part of a conspiracy. However, on March 23, during the trial at Newcastle Crown Court, director Alison Snaith, 59, of Brierley Gardens, Otterburn, admitted perverting the course of justice and most of the accused were acquitted of a conspiracy to falsify records.

Last week at York Crown Court, she was sentenced to eight months in prison, suspended for two years, and was ordered to complete 150 hours of unpaid work.

Terence Foreman, 59, of Walby Hill Cottage, in Rothbury, pleaded guilty to six false record offences. He was sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for 18 months. No order for costs was made.

Byron Dodd, 51, of Burns Avenue, in Blyth, pleaded guilty to five false record offences. He was sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for 18 months, as well as 150 hours of unpaid work, and £250 costs.

Mark William Hogg, 41, of Grieve Avenue, Jedburgh, pleaded guilty to three false record offences. He was sentenced to four months in prison, suspended for 18 months and 150 hours of unpaid work. No order for costs was made.

Gary Tweddle, 34, of Ravensworth Court, Bedlington, pleaded guilty to three false record offences. He was sentenced to three months in prison, suspended for 18 months and 100 hours of unpaid work. No order for costs was made.

Craig McKenna, 39, of Cliftonville Avenue, in Newcastle, pleaded guilty to three charges of false record offences. He was sentenced to three months in prison, suspended for 18 months, and 80 hours of unpaid work. No order for costs was made.

Martin Robinson, 54, of The Pines, Hadston, and Tony Jordan, 59, of Tindale Avenue, Cramlington, pleaded guilty to one false record offence. Both were fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £500 costs.

Maurice White, 64, of Beetham Crescent, Newcastle, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to create false records. He received a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, and was ordered to pay £250 costs. Stewart Wood, 40, of Galaden, Morpeth, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to create false records and sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for 18 months, with 80 hours unpaid work and £250 costs.

Stephen Clark, 41, of Spital House Farm, Newbiggin-by-the Sea, was cleared of perverting the course of justice but pleaded guilty to three counts false record offences. He was sentenced last Wednesday to three months in prison, suspended for 18 months, ordered to do 100 hours of unpaid work, and pay £400 costs.

John Cameron, Iain Cody, Alan Dunkerley, Gerard Fox, Jessie Hickie, Kenneth James, and David Wilkinson were previously acquitted of conspiracy charges.

Speaking on behalf of Snaith’s, solicitor Scott Bell, of Backhouse Jones, said: “It is true to say a number of drivers employed by the company in 2010 had falsified a handful of Tachograph records.

“In nearly all of those occasions the judge heard evidence that the runs scheduled for those drivers were in compliance with the law, but the driver had done something for his own benefit.

“Since 2011, the company has been under scrutiny from DVSA and been found to be compliant in respect of drivers’ hours and tachographs.

“The offending in this case came when Alison Snaith was undergoing breast-cancer treatment. The offending by drivers shall not be repeated.

“Snaith’s are committed to working with the local authority and shall remain transparent going forward.”