UK court orders return of Irish-owned trucks
A WEXFORD haulage firm that had four trucks seized by Welsh police after drivers were convicted of driving offences is to get the vehicles back, following a decision by the high court in London.
The seizures by North Wales police of the trucks belonging to the New Ross-based firm O’Leary International were made after the drivers were stopped in 2010 and 2011.
The first driver, Anton Bosch, according to the judgment handed down by the queen’s bench division of the high court, was stopped while texting at the wheel.
Responding to a request to produce his tachograph records, he offered a number of them, along with a letter of attestation stating that he had been on leave from March 2nd, 2010, to May 17th, 2010.
“It was established that [the letter] was untrue, as he had in fact driven the same lorry on nine occasions in the UK when, according to the letter of attestation, he was meant to have been on holiday.
“Bosch admitted he had produced a false letter, stating that this was something the appellant regularly provided. He often drove with little or no rest, knowing of the possible danger.
“The appellant was well aware of this and helped facilitate the deception. He had been instructed to dispose of the records of illegal hours,” the judgment recorded.
Bosch was sentenced to 16 weeks’ imprisonment for producing a false attestation with intent to deceive, while an order was made by a magistrates’ court to seize his truck.
The second driver, Agnis Gocs, was stopped on June 11th, 2010. He also produced a false letter of attestation, giving a similar explanation to that given by Bosch. His truck was also seized.
The third, Stanislas Kadisevskis was stopped on September 29th 2010. He also provided a false letter of attestation and gave a similar account to that of Anton Bosch. A similar forfeiture order was made.
A fourth driver, Constantin Cojocaru, was stopped on January 5th, 2011, and found with a duplicate tachograph card. He pleaded guilty to offences of fraud and failing to keep tachograph records.
He was sent to prison for 12 weeks and the truck was seized. Cojocaru said O’Leary International was not to blame because he had used the false tachograph without its knowledge.
O’Leary International appealed the seizures, contending that the lower court should have been entitled to consider whether the order was proportionate given the value of the vehicles.
In a hearing before the district court in March 2011, lawyers for O’Leary International argued that the firm was entitled to have the trucks returned.
Its lawyers said the haulage firm “did not know and had no reason to suspect the property was likely to be used for the purpose of committing or facilitating the commission of any offence”.
“There could, for example, be cases where the value of the goods was very substantial and the fault of the owner slight,” the queen’s bench division judgment records.
North Wales police, however, argued that the firm did not have a cause of action against it either in conversion or any other claim, because the trucks were “lawfully in the possession of the police”.
The position of the police was that seizure powers were a “very important means of dealing with the owners of foreign lorries over whom it was difficult to obtain jurisdiction and [that] created such danger to the people of north Wales”.
“We have every sympathy with the position taken and the need for effective powers over the owners of foreign lorries, such as the appellant,” the queen’s bench division judgment records.
The high court ordered the return of the vehicles on the grounds that it did “not see how it would be proportionate for a court to have no power to consider the value of the property, the degree of culpability of the owner and the financial effect on the owner of the deprivation of his goods”.