Knife-carrying taxi driver taken off the rank following conviction

A BAD week got worse for Jedburgh taxi driver Ronald Fones on Friday.

Two days earlier, the 64-year-old from Howdenbank Court was ordered to carry out 120 hours of community service, having been found guilty, after a trial at Peebles Sheriff Court in April, of “culpable and reckless driving and assault”.

And at the meeting of Scottish Borders Council’s civic government licensing committee in Galashiels, Fones, a former soldier, was stripped of his taxi driver’s licence, the suspension lasting until March next year.

Councillors heard that, in view of the court conviction, the police could not support continuation of his licence on the basis the applicant [Mr Fones] was “not a fit and proper person” under licensing legislation.

A police report recounted that at about 3.30am on Saturday, November 6, last year, three males from Peebles, aged 21, 22 and 23, had been drinking in Galashiels and approached Mr Fones, who was on duty, asking how much the taxi fare would be ... £30 was agreed and Mr Fones began taking them back to Peebles.

“While driving through Walkerburn an argument ensued between Mr Fones and the passengers regarding the payment of the fare,” stated the police report. This dispute continued until east of Innerleithen when Mr Fones decided to stop, wishing to get the police involved. After turning back towards Walkerburn, the passengers had tried to get out the taxi. One of them was able to do so and fell from the moving vehicle. His friends pleaded with Mr Fones to stop, but he refused and produced a knife which he brandished at the passengers while continuing to drive.

“About this time, the handbrake had been pulled up to its fullest height, this caused Mr Fones to lose control of the taxi, resulting in it overturning and coming to rest on its roof in the middle of the road.

“When interviewed, all three passengers denied pulling on the handbrake. Mr Fones has always maintained that one of the rear passengers stretched over and pulled on the handbrake, causing the taxi to overturn.

“As a result of the accident, the police were contacted and enquiries commenced. After complaints from the three passengers regarding Mr Fones brandishing a knife and his manner of driving, he was detained on December 6, 2010, and interviewed at Peebles police station.

“During interview, he denied brandishing the knife and stated one of the passengers had pulled the handbrake on. He also disputed that any money had been paid upfront and that is why the argument had started.”

After April’s trial, at which Mr Fones admitted having a knife in the vehicle but denied brandishing it, Sheriff Kevin Drummond deferred sentence for social enquiry and community service reports.

Last Wednesday, defence lawyer Iain Burke said: “My client respects the decision [of the court], but is unhappy and frustrated at the outcome ... this entire incident was an extremely odd situation.”

Before passing sentence, Sheriff Drummond described the offence as “a very serious matter”, adding: “Fortunately for you, I feel your age and lack of [criminal] record are reasons enough not to deal with this by way of custody.”