Philip Higgs loses appeal over YouTube video of STC

Blackpool operator Philip Higgs has lost his appeal against his disqualification from holding a PSV O-licence for 12 months after Deputy Traffic Commissioner (DTC) John Baker held that he had lost his repute for posting a video on YouTube, which allegedly showed former Senior Traffic Commissioner (STC) Beverley Bell committing motoring offences.

The Upper Tribunal also upheld the revocation of the eight-vehicle licence held by Catch22bus Ltd, formerly known as Oakwood Travel, of which Mr Higgs was a Director.

Making the revocation and disqualification orders, the DTC said that the conduct was specifically targeted at the STC because of her performing her regulatory functions.

He rejected the suggestion that the only motive was to hold the STC “to account”, saying that the conduct amounted to a serious invasion of privacy and inevitably led to considerable upset and distress because the STC, neither unreasonably nor surprisingly, thought her home was under surveillance. Mr Higgs was more likely than not to have wanted to cause distress and was acting out of malice.

Mr Higgs had sought to cover his tracks by using a false identity. He could not say whether he would do the same thing again and expressed no remorse. The DTC concluded that Mr Higgs knew what he was doing was wrong by the fact that he posted the video using a false identity, and was only discovered after specially trained police officers were able to trace him [routeone/Court/7 December 2016].

Before the Tribunal, it was argued for Mr Higgs that the surveillance was lawful; the filming was not a serious invasion of privacy; it was undertaken at a distance in public places and showed nothing which arose from inherently private or confidential circumstances; and it was akin to insurance investigators checking on claimants.

There was no evidence of the considerable upset and distress said to have been caused to the STC except in the summary of the police interview. The anonymity of his posting followed the general practice on YouTube and surely emphasised that he had no wish to influence the STC in his own personal case.

Dismissing the appeal, the Tribunal said that the surveillance was not lawful if it actually amounted to harassment. It was clear from the legislation that a Traffic Commissioner must have regard to “all the relevant evidence” and that might include evidence of conduct which was not unlawful. There could be no rational argument that the conduct was not connected to the regulatory regime and the operation of the licence.

Mr Higgs had admitted the relevant conduct. The argument that there could be no attempt to influence the STC because she had excused herself from the case had very little merit. Such conduct could be intended to create an intimidatory atmosphere for others involved in traffic adjudication.

The admitted conduct was a direct attack on the very essence of an independent adjudicatory process. It was directed at the STC because of her official position and function. In their view, the sanctions imposed by the DTC were the very least that could reasonably be imposed in the circumstances.