Ambulance case dropped

A MARRIED couple have spoken of their relief after charges they were facing in relation to their private ambulance business were dropped.

Robert Foiner-Arrand, his wife Julia and their company, Medical Europe Limited, faced seven charges each in relation to the operation of a shuttle bus service which they provided to the NHS.

The shuttle bus service took passengers between Scarborough and Bridlington hospitals.

They had been accused of committing the offences, which included operating a public service vehicle without an operator’s licence, using a vehicle with no tachograph installed and using a vehicle without third party insurance, in Woodlands Drive, Scarborough, in February 2010.

The couple, of Hall Garth, Pickering, entered not guilty pleas the following December. If they had been found guilty, the couple could have faced crippling fines of up to £66,000.

However, the charges were formally dismissed by District Judge David Walker at Scarborough Magistrates’ Court this week.

He said it was not in the public interest to pursue the charges and acknowledged that even if the case had gone to trial, the Foiner-Arrands had a robust defence to all of them.

Judge Walker said: “It was never suggested that they had tried to obtain any advantage. If they were guilty it was through mistaken beliefs.

“I would like to make it clear that even if they were found guilty it was a technical case. It is likely that they would have been given an absolute discharge.

“The matter has been discontinued in the public interest.”

The decision ended more than a year of anxiety for the couple, who have continued to provide services to Scarborough NHS Trust.

After the hearing solicitor Charles Shirtcliffe, who represented the Foiner-Arrands, said his clients were “delighted” that the case has been discontinued.

He said: “The Judge made it clear that, at worst, there had been some technical mistakes without any actual or intended advantage.”

Mr Shirtcliffe said his clients were also relieved that their legal costs, which are in excess of £10,000, would be met from the public purse.

He added: “That is a fair reflection of the anxiety which the proceedings have caused Mr and Mrs Foiner-Arrand and of their determination not to give up hope of proving their innocence.

“There were novel aspects of law involved, particularly the position of private ambulance companies competing with health service ambulance trusts for the provision of ambulances services to NHS hospitals.

“Private companies were disadvantaged by the argument that all health service operations, even when separately constituted as trusts or companies, could be treated as one single entity solely because the Government was the ultimate financial provider and were therefore using ‘their own’ vehicles.

“That was inconsistent with European competition law, and my clients would have taken the case as far as they needed to.”

The couple are now looking forward to putting the case behind them and growing their business.

Mr Foiner-Arrand said: “It is a happy coincidence to have succeeded in extinguishing this inferno in exactly the week I bought my first fire engine, which I also intend to operate commercially.”