Mike Bradbury, an agricultural fencing contractor with over 40 years experience in the industry, was served with five summonses in relation to driving his agricultural specification Mercedes Benz Unimog 1600 on the A49 in Herefordshire.
A Unimog is a "High Speed" agricultural tractor, they have been in existence for decades in the UK and indeed worldwide. However to add confusion, there is a lorry version of this vehicle which local Councils use for various purposes.
Mr Bradbury had pointed out the agricultural spec on the side of the vehicle to VOSA - (it read MERC AG). He agreed that there is no doubt the Unimog is considered to be a brilliant invention, it is a hybrid heavy duty vehicle designed to be used both on and off the road.
By virtue of the Vehicles Excise and Regulation Act 1994, (VERA) the Law in the UK states that anyone driving a vehicle on the road including a trailer, with a combined weight of 3,500kgs, requires an "O" Licence (Operators Licence). This licence, costs money and is controlled by VOSA. The driver is also required to hold a C + E licence (equivalent to the old HGV licence).
An exception to the above requirements is a person engaged in agriculture, including an agricultural contractor. This exemption also applies to the requirements for a Road Fund Licence, which is zero.
Mr Bradbury had taken appropriate advice from both the NFU and VOSA, and was confident he was operating within the law.
However, in July 2010 he was stopped during a routine roadside check by VOSA - he was not speeding or committing any offence whatsoever.
Right up until the day before the trial neither Mr Bradbury nor his solicitor knew the details of the case being made by VOSA. It transpired that VOSA appeared to be saying that because Mr Bradbury was using his vehicle for "hire and reward" i.e. because he was carrying some fencing posts, (which incidentally were nothing to do with the job and were rubbish which he had not got round to disposing of), to a job on a farm, that this was a "hire and reward” situation. This was incorrect as there is no definition of "hire and reward" in the legislation, and as Mr Bradbury was an agricultural contractor engaged to do work on the farm for the farmer, this could not possibly have been the case. It would have been different if, for example, Mr Bradbury had been transporting goods/grain to a depot on behalf of the farmer, then he would have needed an "O" licence.
Ros Caldicott – experienced criminal defence solicitor with the firm, who was representing Mr Bradbury says “The day before the trial I was emailed by the solicitor, a high street practitioner based in Walsall, who was acting for VOSA. This solicitor had no idea what a Unimog was, and had presented a skeleton argument which disclosed a completely different basis for which the vehicle was used, i.e. that the Unimog was not an agricultural vehicle. This was clearly not the case, and I had to put together a defence the night before the trial.”
Ros goes onto say “Mr Bradbury, has at all times been operating within the law and the case has caused him great stress and anxiety, and has made his wife quite ill. The consequences for him had it gone wrong would have been very costly in terms of the prosecution costs and fines, as well as the cost of obtaining an "O" licence.”