A COMPANY director must pay fines and costs totalling £450,000 for failing to ensure his lorry drivers logged their hours and then “hampering” a Government agency investigation into the business.
Wealthy businessman Danny Sawrij, 43, a director at the Halifax-based Leo Group, which transports animal carcass waste, previously admitted 134 charges of failing to ensure his lorry drivers properly recorded their hours, with 130 identical matters taken into consideration by the court.
When the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) began investigating, Sawrij failed to disclose documents, which resulted in a further eight charges relating to not releasing paperwork, which he also admitted in court.
Yesterday Sawrij, of Pule Hill Farm, Swales Moor Road, Halifax, who was not present in court, was fined £300,000 and told to pay £150,000 in costs along with a £15 victim surcharge.
A company spokesman said an appeal against the size of the fine was being considered.
District judge Marie Mallon said “the seriousness of the offending lies in the huge number of hours that went unrecorded”, which, she said, could have potentially caused harm to other road users.
Mrs Mallon said the defendant had also been involved in “hampering the investigation” into individual drivers and their hours.
At a previous hearing, prosecutor Miles Bennett said the “vast investigation” centred on Alba Transport Limited, formerly part of the Leo Group, and revealed that in one month more than 2,000 driving hours had not been logged.
He said Sawrij even contacted Companies House to say he had resigned as a director. The “sham resignation” led to him appearing before Leeds Crown Court on a charge of perverting the course of justice but the prosecution offered no evidence and it was dropped.
Alba Transport was put into liquidation two days after Sawrij made his first court appearance.
Mark Laprell, mitigating, told the court previously that he accepted his client should have been monitoring log books but said there was no evidence drivers were doing excess hours.
Following yesterday’s hearing, Heather Cruickshank, VOSA’s operations director, said: “VOSA will always take robust action against operators who deliberately flout the law and there could be serious consequences as this case shows. These operators not only take the risk of severe financial penalties from the courts but they could also lose their good name and gain a criminal record.”
Yesterday a spokesman for the Leo Group said the company was considering appealing against the size of the fine.
In a statement, the company said: “For 20 years, we were consistently audited by both VOSA and an external transport company. For the avoidance of doubt, at no time was it identified that the recording systems in place at that time were not effective or not good practice. During the VOSA investigation in 2011, our vehicles completed no fewer than 160,000 driver hours in three months. Of these, VOSA identified just 2,000 hours – 1.25 per cent – as being wrongly recorded but choose to prosecute for each and every separate technical mistake by the drivers. It is important to stress that there was never any charges relating to drivers running illegally over their allotted hours.”
The company said action had been taken to improve systems.
“We will now take a short time to review the judgment in detail with our legal team, and carefully assess whether there are grounds to mount an appeal against the size of the fine.”
The company said that the decision to liquidate Alba Transport Limited “had no direct or indirect connection to the investigation by VOSA”.