A CONVICTED sex offender has lost an appeal to get his taxi driver’s licence back.

Mohammed Altaf, 32, of Swiss Street, Accrington, was ordered off the road in March following an Obser-ver investigation.

In an exclusive story we revealed that a council committee had voted to restore Altaf’s private hire and hackney carriage licence – despite his conviction for sexually touching a passenger..

The front-page story sparked outrage among our readers and became a major political issue in the run-up to the council elections in May.

Within a week, Altaf was ordered off the road by Hyndburn Council managing director David Welsby, who had stepped in to order a review of the case.

This week, Altaf attempted to get his licence back but magistrates refused the application.

The Observer’s article formed a major part of the case at Hyndburn Magistrates Court on Monday.

Altaf’s solicitor John Wood said that the council had had “another bite of the cherry’’ and had only made the decision to revoke the licence because of the political furore surrounding press coverage.

He said: “The catalyst for Mr Welsby to become involved is this newspaper report and the adverse publicity.

“I am not saying that he doesn’t have the right to revoke the licence, but where is the change in circumstances that has given rise to the review?”

Mr Wood said that the original committee had the full details of Altaf’s background when it made its decision and it was unfair that the council should now go back on that.

He added: “The truth in this matter is that Mr Welsby has acted because he was at the wrong end of a political furore as a result of a press report.”

Altaf, who didn’t speak at the hearing but had a friend acting as an interpreter, had been employed by Adam’s Private Hire of Paxton Street, Accrington.

He was convicted in November last year of sexually touching a female passenger over the age of 16.

He was sentenced to 250 hours unpaid work, fined £150 and ordered to pay £100 costs.

His conviction will not be spent until 2011.

Council solicitor Gordon McMillan said: “Today it is as if the magistrates are standing in the shoes of the Licensing Committee and deciding whether a licence should be revoked.

“There are guidelines to help you come to the decision about whether this man is a fit and proper person to hold a licence.”

Magistrates took 35 minutes to come to their decision.

Chairman of the Bench, Mr Alan Roberts, said: “The committee should ask themselves if they would allow a member of their own family to travel alone in a vehicle with such a person.

“If the answer is no, then we are satisfied that the person is not fit and proper.

Indecent assault on a passenger is a serious breach of trust.”

Altaf, who did not wish to comment as he left court, was ordered to pay £100 towards court costs.

Following the court case, Mr Welsby told the Observer: “The decision that was originally made in this case was a mistake.

“What’s important is that as soon as this was realised, action was taken to review the case leading to the suspension of the individual’s licence.

“From the council’s point of view, the safety of the travelling public is, and always will be, our paramount concern.

“I’m pleased that the court has upheld the council’s decision and we’ll now move on, having learned the lessons from this.”

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