Regular readers will know I’ve been involved in a case after being refused a short taxi fare in Carmarthen.
Events took a nasty turn when the taxi driver claimed I had lied, which led to the Carmarthenshire Council Licensing Committee requesting I turn up in person yesterday.
I’m not quite sure what I expected, but it wasn’t what followed. After a sixty mile trip from Cardiff, I was shown around the Council chamber before the Committee members arrived. Ah. It looked just like a court room. I was shown where I would sit – all on my own – and then the long row at the front of the hall where the 15-odd Committee members would take their seats.
I was instructed how to turn my microphone on and off, so only one person could speak at a time. Then I freaked. Just a little, but enough for the nerves to bounce around. The members filed in. The case history was read out, including a defence letter from the taxi driver I hadn’t heard in full before.
I was astounded to hear him brand the entire case a ‘fabrication’, which had caused him no end of distress. According to him, I had merely asked for directions, and being the helpful cabby he was, he duly told me. I then decided not to take a taxi, instead telling him I would walk, ‘as it was a nice day’.
I was asked if I wanted to reply before questioning began, so I posed a rhetorical question – ‘would someone like me, with MS, and extreme heat intolerance as a result, decide to walk up a steep hill with a bag and suitcase on one of the hottest days of the year, after an excruciatingly hot and uncomfortable train journey from Cardiff due to a previous cancellation, so two train-loads of people were crammed in to one and there was no air?’
Then the questioning began and it wasn’t pleasant. I was asked to describe the MS treatment I was on, which I did. I was asked to name the date of my last treatment, which I did, although I have no idea why. I was asked to explain how MS affected my every day life. Until I finally cracked and asked why my MS was being so closely questioned. What on earth did this have to do with a taxi driver refusing a short fare? When taxi drivers are formally bound, on being given a license, to agree to take any fare, no matter what the distance.
CCTV images were described to the members. They show a period of almost a minute when I was talking to the driver. A minute is a very long time to hear, ‘up the hill and take a right’. I was seen fumbling in my bag and was asked what I was doing. I answered that I was pulling out paperwork to show the meeting I was going to, then a card I carry in my wallet, which states that I have MS and may need assistance.
Finally, a statement was read out from the receptionist who was on duty at the hotel I was checking in at. She remembered seeing me arrive in a ‘distressed state’ and she had asked me if I needed help. I had explained to her that I had been refused a taxi. Surely this was irrefutable proof? But. The statement ended by saying that after a couple of minutes I went outside.
One Committee member pounced; ‘And why, if the day was so hot, did you then leave the hotel and go outside?’ He sat back, obviously satisfied with his powers of deduction. I asked him if he knew the hotel. ‘Of course’, he answered. I replied, ‘then you know that just outside there are a whole bunch of trees – a beautiful shaded area. Far cooler out there by the trees than inside the hotel? On such a hot day?’
Which took us back to my MS being on trial, not the driver.
Eventually, after being ushered out of the chamber for the members to debate the outcome, I was called back in. They had ‘no hesitation’ in accepting my evidence and that the driver ‘was made aware of my health problems and that his further refusal amounts to a serious aggravating factor’.
One final note. The Committee wanted to suspend him for three weeks. I argued for one. Why?
As I said to the press yesterday, I am not a vindictive person and this was never about punishing someone financially. If I had done, I would have sunk to the level this driver did, when he concocted a web of lies about me and what actually happened. Would I have been a happier person if he had been deprived of three weeks worth of fares in the run up to Christmas?
No. I would have been happier, back in August, if he had accepted my fare. Failing that, an apology and a deeper understanding would have been nice.
Press about this story – BBC and Wales Online.