THE owners of a Stourport-based bus company have had their licences revoked after they tried to cover up missed safety inspections by presenting fake invoices to the DVSA.

Coniston Coaches bosses Keith Taylor and Kevin James Taylor have been disqualified from holding an operator's licence for five years after an examiner from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency found their maintenance systems were so dysfunctional that the public was being put at risk.

Following a visit to Coniston Coaches' base in Stourport, the DVSA submitted a report to traffic commissioner Nicholas Denton in March, stating that the company's contracted maintenance provider was not being used and that the driver defect reporting system was ineffective.

The agency's vehicle examiner Christopher Walker looked at the records of two vehicles and found no evidence of safety inspections in the last 15 months.

Other records showed far fewer safety inspections than the expected six-week intervals.

However, at a meeting at a vehicle testing station in Kidderminster two days later, Mr Walker was handed a file of numerous maintenance inspection sheets for three vehicles. All contained minimal or no defects, no information was included on brake tests or tyre tread depths and all were written in the same handwriting.

Mr Walker raised concerns that the sheets had been forged after his visit.

Two of the three vehicles brought in for inspection were issued with prohibitions for multiple defects.

Mr Walker then contacted the stated maintenance contractor BW Rogers and found that Coniston’s vehicles had not been there for eight years.

The DVSA concluded that the operator’s maintenance systems placed the public at risk and advised the commissioner to bring the operator to a public inquiry as soon as possible.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the public inquiry could not take place until July 7, when a hearing was held in Birmingham.

The operators' solicitor Anton Balkitis told the commissioner that the absence of some of the maintenance documentation was down to the actions of a disgruntled employee.

He said both partners had suffered from health issues and said the operator denied forging maintenance records.

Keith Taylor told the commissioner he could provide evidence the maintenance records were genuine in the form of invoices from six-weekly preventative maintenance inspections.

The commissioner agreed to allow more time for the operator to submit these invoices and bank statements, however they only submitted copies of numerous invoices for recovery operations or ad hoc repairs.

Attempts by the commissioner's office to contact Coniston Coaches by phone were met with messages that "this number is not accepting calls".

Mr Denton said in a report: "The operator has failed to fulfil its promise, given on application, that vehicles would be given safety inspections every six weeks ... most vehicles were given only one or two safety inspections throughout the whole of 2019."

The report went on to say: "Many of the safety inspection sheets supplied to Christopher Walker two days after his visit are false documents.

"For example, there was only one invoice for a safety inspection of vehicle C18 BUS in 2019. But the operator presented six safety inspection sheets covering 2019 to Mr Walker.

"For vehicle CC04 BUS, there were two invoices for safety inspections in 2019, but the operator presented eight safety inspection sheets. The provision of false documents to a traffic commissioner is an offence."

Mr Denton said the operator had "shown through its cavalier attitude to its maintenance responsibilities and its untruthfulness at the inquiry that it cannot be trusted to comply".

Many of Coniston's vehicles had only had one safety check per year, instead of the eight or nine which should have been carried out.

Concluding that the company had knowingly operated unsafe vehicles, the traffic commissioner banned the pair from holding a licence for five years.

Mr Denton concluded: "There can be no place in the industry for operators who fail to have their vehicles maintained correctly and then seek to cover this up."

The business was given less than the normal 28 days to wind down due to the "threat posed by the operator to road safety".