Hundreds of thousands of passengers driven in clocked unlicensed vehicles
John Murphy, 66, is believed to be the UK’s most prolific odometer fraudster. Prosecuted for removing at least 7.5 million miles but the true figure could be at least 50 million miles from vehicles under his control, according to The Times. If that isn’t shocking enough, Murphy is also accused of endangering hundreds of thousands of client’s lives by running the UK’s biggest unlicensed chauffeur company.
Murphy was able to run such an unprecedented fraud for years after high ranking police refused to investigate him, according to The Times. Murphy also managed to keep the authorities at arm’s length by claiming that it was “jealous rivals” who were making false claims about him and his businesses.
Like the character played by Kenneth Williams, Julius Caesar in the 1964 romp Carry On Cleo, Murphy like Williams could be found uttering that famous one-liner, “Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!”
Allegations against Murphy and his businesses were simple. A chauffeur company based in Cheshire was running a significant fleet – around 150 vehicles – having hundreds of drivers going through the companies controlled by the Murphy family without any of the required checks associated to private hire legislation. Also, other allegations were given to the authorities including car clocking, where vehicles were doing as little as 2,400 miles per year.
With car clocking Murphy was visited in 2011 by trading standards but succeeded in “fobbing off” the officials by playing the Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me! card. It was a further two years later before trading standards returned to PCS’s Runcorn office, but this time having done their homework they arrived with a warrant.
Following a two and a half year investigation by Warrington and Halton trading standards, believed to have been their biggest car clocking investigation, John Murphy was successfully prosecuted along with PCS Events Limited for removing at least seven and a half million miles from more than a hundred vehicles, predominantly Mercedes.
According to The Times newspaper Murphy failed to properly licence, maintain or insure vehicles, leaving not only high-profile clients such as David Beckham, Wayne Rooney and Emirates passengers at risk, but also his own drivers. During the trial the jury was shown evidence of vehicles in other parts of the country whilst supposedly having an MoT in Preston.
PCS was found guilty in November last year of car clocking and fined £250,000. Prison sentences were given to Murphy and his gang following a successful prosecution of individuals in January 2017. These included his stepson, Paul Arslanian, his daughter Laura partner, Christopher Lunt who was the firms transport manager, head mechanic Trevor Jones and an MoT tester, Simon Williams.
Despite first being based in Manchester before moving to Runcorn, Cheshire, PCS did not hold an operator’s licence with Halton Council. However, PCS did hold a private hire operator’s licence more than 200 miles in Berwick but PCS’s vehicles and drivers were not licensed and PCS bookings and dispatching of jobs were taking place in Runcorn.
PCS claimed no staff was based at Runcorn to take bookings and they were exempt from the licensing of its drivers and vehicles because they had established a structure using Scottish law. To bamboozle police and officials further each vehicle had an official-looking laminated card in the gloveboxes, with drivers told to show them to police if stopped.
Northumberland council, which had merged with Berwick upon Tweed received repeated warnings about Murphy’s conduct and allegations that PCS had no office in the area. The council only moved to rescind PCS’s operator’s licence in 2014 after a complaint from a local landlord that his property, which was supposedly being used as the company’s dispatch centre, had been empty for years and PCS didn’t rent any such office.
However Murphy withdrew his own licence before he could have it revoked, having secured another licence from Transport for London (TfL) — despite having no working dispatch centre in the capital and providing their Runcorn booking telephone number on the application, according to TfL.
PCS and its chauffeurs were then allowed to obtain and operate with TfL licences for more than two years even though one of the authority’s own investigators discovered that Murphy had persuaded a topographical test centre in the capital, where drivers are assessed on their knowledge of London’s roads, to provide the answers in advance and allow tests to be done at PCS offices. The test centre has since closed and led TfL to conducting a major investigation into other test centres across the capital.
Also, Halton Council repeatedly failed to act over allegations of licensing irregularities despite receiving repeated warnings and complaints about the company from business rivals, members of the public and even the local MP.
The Times newspaper obtained evidence that one of the council’s licensing officials received allegations that Murphy was clocking cars seven years ago but no action was taken for a further four years.
The same official was sent documents showing that vehicles were not insured or were using the wrong insurance but again no action was taken against the company. When the official left Halton council in 2015 he went into a job at PCS and has worked for the Murphy family since.
The failure by councils to act against PCS in respect of licensing has left legitimate operators and drivers angry, since the publication in The Times. Officials and lawyers at several councils who investigated PCS considered the Scottish scam to be just that, a scam with some sources nicknaming it the “empty room scam”.
Licensing experts say it allowed Murphy to avoid the scrutiny of regular MoT tests that might have uncovered clocking sooner. Thanks to the inability of officials to act, vehicles could travel the equivalent of 20-30 years annual mileage without ever being independently inspected to ensure they were not only safe, but road legal.
Greater Manchester Police was allegedly reluctant to embarrass the firm’s corporate business partners. Chances to convict Murphy earlier were missed because police and council officers were allegedly worried about upsetting Emirates, the company’s largest corporate client and an important in investor in the north of England.
A task force set up two years before Murphy’s conviction, which included Transport for London, a national vehicle crime agency and multiple police forces carried out an intelligence operation prior to stopping some of his drivers in March 2015 where they discovered insurance and licensing offences but failed to prosecute.
In a statement Solihull Council said: “PCS Events were failing to meet their legal obligations on both insurance and licensing”, yet PCS were allowed to continue to carry passengers.
Bill Bowling from the National Limousine and Chauffeur Association has questioned that decision. He said: “When an operator is found to be either unlicensed or not properly insured there is no option than to prohibit any further operations immediately and not give an extended time to become compliant.
“They were not dealing with a single individual who did not know the rules, but a major multimillion-pound company who appeared to be flouting the law.”
Minutes from the meeting, written by an official from Solihull council and seen by The Times, noted Manchester airport police inspector was ‘worried about any reputational damage towards Emirates, the airport and the police’. The inspector replied: ‘During our conversation I did not commit to any involvement in this.
‘I need to be clear that my stance remains the same that no airport resources will be utilised in targeting PCS/ Emirates and no activity should take place within the Manchester Airport footprint. This is endorsed by the Airport Police Commander.’
Yet, The Times also reports that one individual was threatened with arrest by the same police force for wasting police time is they continued to report PCS. The newspaper investigation also points a finger at Emirates for allegedly ignoring warnings about licensing irregularities and consecutive bankruptcies.
Under pressure from The Times, TfL eventually revoked PCS’s licence after Murphy’s fraud conviction in February last year, but allowed PCS to continue to operate TfL licensed vehicles without a TfL operator licence for several months.
The Dubai-based giant also kept its contract with Murphy going despite his convictions for fraud, drink-driving and tax evasion. PCS also worked for X Factor and even managed to win a contract to transport dignitaries at the G8 summit at Lough Erne, Co Fermanagh, in 2013.
Greater Manchester Police said: ‘Despite requesting details from the licensing official, insufficient intelligence was supplied to begin a formal investigation.
‘We do not take corporate interests into account. We look at the impact of any police or other authority actions on the airport community including the travelling public. Any action must be proportionate to the intelligence. We believe correspondence could have been taken out of context.’
Emirates stated it did not request to see the criminal records of suppliers and added: ‘We received assurances that PCS Events Ltd held valid licences, and we refute claims we knowingly retained a supplier that did not have the necessary licence to operate.
‘We refute any inference that untoward personal relationships were involved in the appointment of PCS Events Ltd and Sapphire Travel Management.’
In a statement to The Times, John Murphy, main picture chauffeuring an Emirates passenger stands by what was described as a licensing scam by officials, stating “the Scottish exemption was legal.”
Murphy said: “Complaints made to Emirates, the police and licensing department at councils were by rival companies motivated by jealously.”
What exactly rivals had to be jealous about remains a mystery.
This week, Thursday 1st March, Tristar Worldwide took over the Manchester Airport contract for Emirates Airline, resulting in the Murphy family having no further connection to Emirates Airline.