Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 20 Mar 2019
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complained about the Council suspending his market trader’s licence after it accused him of smoking drugs at his stall. The Ombudsman should not investigate this complaint. This is because there is insufficient evidence of fault on the Council’s part
- The complainant, whom I shall call Mr X, complains about the Council suspending his market trader’s licence after its officers saw him smoking marihuana on his stall. He denies smoking the drug and says the Council’s actions were too severe for this type of offence.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe:
- it is unlikely we would find fault, or
- it is unlikely we could add to any previous investigation by the Council, or
- it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome, or
- we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants.
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I have considered all the information which Mr X submitted with his complaint. I have also considered the Council’s response and Mr X has commented on the draft decision.
What I found
- Mr X was told to leave the local market where he trades when two Council officers told him he was smoking marijuana which is contrary to his licence conditions. He denies this and says he lost the £30 pitch fee he paid and business for seven days while his licence was suspended. He also says perishable stock which he has was lost during the suspension period.
- Mr X asked the Council for vestcam video evidence of his offence but the Council says it does not have this and that it could not release it for data protection reasons if it had. Mr X says the Council acted unreasonably because he had not been convicted for the offence and that it was a matter for the police/criminal courts to decide not the local authority.
- The Council says its officers have authority to suspend licences where there is a suspected breach of the conditions and that its officers’ testimony is sufficient. It also says Mr X had been warned about smoking marijuana on the premises in the past but not at his stall. The licence was suspended for seven days until the investigation could be completed. It was then re-instated following a warning to Mr X about future conduct.
- Mr X wants his pitch fee and lost stock to be re-imbursed because the Council’s actions were arbitrary and over-hasty.
- The Ombudsman cannot decide whether Mr X was smoking drugs or not. That was a matter for the market supervision staff to consider. It was reasonable for the Council to take the action for what it considers to be a serious breach of its market trading terms.
- The Ombudsman should not investigate this complaint. This is because there is insufficient evidence of fault on the Council’s part.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman