A taxi driver who refused to take a fare from a blind woman with an guide dog is facing a bill of more than £1,000.
Muhammad Imran Ashraf initially agreed to take the passenger when she approached him at a rank on North Road, Durham, last December before driving off when he saw her assistance dog.
A second driver, who witnessed the incident, agreed to take the fare and was able to send the woman details of the first vehicle via text message.
The passenger later contacted Durham County Council to complain and a licensing enforcement officer from the authority was able to confirm the incident had taken place using CCTV footage.
Information provided by the woman helped the officer identify that the vehicle was licensed to Ashraf and a letter was sent to him asking to confirm who was driving it at the date and time concerned.
Ashraf later confirmed in a telephone conversation that he was the driver.
He said that if any complaints had been made about him then his licence should be revoked as he was not willing to attend an interview or appear before a licensing committee.
It was explained to Ashraf that his licence would not be revoked by the officer but that he would be sent a formal request for interview. Ashraf was sent two such letters but did not reply to either.
Ashraf, 44, of Chestnut Avenue, Newcastle, failed to attend Peterlee Magistrates Court when the case was heard on Monday morning after pleading not guilty at an earlier hearing.
Magistrates found the case proved in his absence. He was fined £440 and ordered to pay £711 in costs and a £44 victim surcharge.
Owen Clough, Durham County Council’s consumer protection manager, said: “While we know the vast majority of the drivers we license comply with all relevant legislation, we have received information that suggests Mr Ashraf is one of a small number who are refusing to take passengers with assistance dogs.
"This practice is an offence under the Equalities Act and we will not tolerate it in County Durham.
“We hope that the financial penalty imposed by the magistrates will serve as a deterrent to other drivers who may be minded to refuse passengers. We would also like to express our thanks to the driver who assisted us in this case.
“Although Mr Ashraf is no longer licensed by us, we will continue to investigate allegations of this type and will take appropriate action if any offences are identified.”