Hastings lorry driver banned for beer smuggling

Border Force patrol ship
Border Force patrol ship

A lorry driver from Hastings is set to have his professional driving license suspended after attempting to smuggle more than £35,000 worth of untaxed beer into the UK.

Mark Waller is banned from driving professionally for six months, effective from July 1, after a driver conduct hearing found him guilty of tax avoidance by failing to pay duty on alcohol.

He was also found to be driving an untaxed vehicle without a valid professional driving license on display and of having a license plate altered by hand.

Waller and a second lorry driver, Michael Fitch, from Croydon, were stopped by Border Force officials in July last year when checks revealed the loads had invalid excise duty-suspended movement codes.

They were found to be transporting alcohol worth more than £70,000 in tax and duty revenue.

During driver conduct hearings last week in Eastbourne, both men appeared before the industry regulator, Nicholas Denton.

Fitch told the traffic commissioner he had been offered work by a man called Steven Hatter, who he met at the Circus Tavern garage in Purfleet.

He only met Mr Hatter on one occasion and received his instructions by phone.

On July 11, he travelled to Calais to swap over trailers and on the return journey, while carrying a load of alcohol, he was stopped on entering the UK.

The excise duty and VAT due was £36,450.

He had been working for Mr Hatter for around a year and had previously driven a vehicle which had been seized by the French authorities.

Mr Fitch told the Traffic Commissioner he did not know why this had happened.

Records also revealed Mr Fitch received a £600 fixed penalty for not taking enough daily rest.

Waller was also stopped on the same day entering the UK carrying a load of mixed beer.

The excise duty and VAT involved was £35,222.

Waller told the traffic commissioner he worked for a man called Steve and was paid in cash.

He admitted he noticed the vehicle was not displaying a valid tax disc but Steve indicated he would sort that out.

Waller did not spot the falsified registration plate on the vehicle because he failed to do the required walk-round check.

He also admitted a vehicle he was driving for Steve had been seized by HMRC in December, 2013.

He stopped working for Steve after the second vehicle was taken in July, 2014.

In decisions issued after the conduct hearing, Mr Denton described the men’s behaviour as ‘unacceptable’ and unfair to honest lorry drivers.

“This is not the conduct a professional LGV driver and is simply unacceptable,” he said.

He said both drivers must have been well aware and for a considerable period of time that they were working for an organisation that operated ‘almost wholly outside the law’.

“Neither vehicle was taxed, neither vehicle carried the obligatory operator licence disc, both drivers were paid in cash without any pay slip, they knew vehicles run by Steve had a habit of being seized by the authorities,” he said.

“The drivers knew perfectly well what they were about: it was not a matter of gullible drivers being deceived.”

Mr Denton warned drivers they will be called to conduct hearings and face similar action if they knowingly drive vehicles on illegal alcohol and tobacco runs.

“Driving untaxed vehicles with no operator’s licence and with drivers’ hours therefore unsupervised, and carrying goods on which excise duty has been evaded, is unfair on those operators and drivers who abide by the rules and is a serious threat to road safety in that there is no employer check and enforcement of drivers’ hours as would normally be the case,” he said,

Both men are disqualified from driving from July 1 to January 1, 2016.

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