A managing director of a bus company and 17 of her staff have pleaded not guilty to conspiring to falsify drivers’ records.
Alison Snaith, one of the bosses of Howard Snaith and Partners, based in Otterburn, was back in the dock to enter her plea at Newcastle Crown Court.
She sat with 17 of her employees, including bus drivers and administration staff, to jointly deny conspiring together to falsify drivers’ records between June 1 2010 and May 13 2013.
The charges relate to tachograph charts. A tachograph is a device fitted to a vehicle that automatically records its speed and distance, together with the driver’s activity selected from a choice of modes.
Drivers are legally required to accurately record their activities, retain the records and produce them on demand to transport authorities who are charged with enforcing regulations governing drivers’ working hours.
As well as the conspiracy charge, Snaith and her staff also faced a varying number of charges of making false records or not making a relevant record.
To those, no pleas were entered at this stage.
Mrs Snaith, of Coach House, Otterburn, and employee Stephen Clark also faced an allegation each of perverting the course of justice.
It was alleged they created false drivers’ records on the July 9 and 10 and November 11 2010 with intent to deceive investigating officers.
The pair also entered not guilty pleas to those charges.
As previously reported in the Journal at an earlier hearing at Newcastle Magistrates’ Court, the charges were brought following an investigation by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA).
The others charged were: John Cameron, 62, of Long Causeway, Barnsley; Stephen Clark, 40, of Spital House Farm, Newbiggin by the Sea; Iain Condy, 38, of First Row, Linton; Byron Dodd, 50, of Burns Avenue, Blyth; Alan Dunkerley, 55, of Thompson Street, Bedlington; Terence Foreman, 58, of Walby Hill Cottage, Rothbury; Gerard Fox, 58, of Wilderhaugh, Galashiels; Jessie Hickie, 55, of Bankfoot, Otterburn; Mark Hogg, 40, of Grieve Avenue, Jedburgh; Kenneth James, 65, of Hollywell Crescent, Amble; Tony Jordan, 58, of Tindale Avenue, Cramlington; Craig McKenna, 38, of Cliftonville Avenue, Newcastle; James Phelan, 64, of Duke Street, Alnwick; Gary Tweddle, 33, of Ravensworth Court, Bedlington; Maurice White, 63, of Beetham Crescent, Newcastle; David Wilkinson, 52, of Brierly Gardens, Otterburn; Stewart Wood, 39, of Galaden, Morpeth.
The bus company itself, Howard Snaith and Partners, was also originally charged with conspiracy to falsify drivers’ records, alongside employee Martin Robinson, 53, of Chesters Hill, Swarland, Northumberland, but an application was made to dismiss the charges against them, A hearing for that was set for a later date.
Ray Wigglesworth QC, prosecuting, said a provisional trial date should be set for mid January 2015. Judge Brian Forster QC released Snaith and the employees on bail.
Howard Snaith Coach Travel operates a number of school bus services for Northumberland County Council. The company also runs public bus services around the county, subsidised by the local authority.
After starting as a one-man operation more than 30 years ago, founder Howard Snaith grew his family business and the company’s website now boasts of an extensive fleet of coaches.