A TAXI driver who left his vehicle unattended while on a toilet break has criticised council officials for prosecuting him after he was fined £25 by magistrates.

Mark Michael Brown said the level of fine was disproportionate to the stress he had been put under by Darlington Borough Council, which could still suspend or remove his licence.

Mr Brown, 37, was reported by traffic wardens after they saw his empty cab on the East Row rank, in Darlington, while he used the toilet in a nearby betting shop, on January 14.

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Appearing before Darlington magistrates yesterday, he admitted leaving a licensed hackney cab unattended on a rank, but said he had no choice because of a stomach condition which can cause him to need a toilet at short notice.

The court heard Mr Brown’s taxi was seen unattended for 11 minutes on the rank by a traffic warden, who later saw the cab driver leave the William Hill betting shop.

Amy Wennington, prosecuting on behalf of the borough council, said: “In an interview with licensing officers, Mr Brown said that he had entered the betting shop, but had done so to use the toilet.

“He admitted that he knew leaving his taxi unattended was an offence. He has previously received two warnings for leaving his vehicle unattended.”

Giving evidence, Mr Brown told magistrates that he suffered from irritable bowel syndrome and produced letters from his doctor and two members of staff from the betting shop to back up his claims.

He said: “On that occasion I was desperate for the toilet. I do admit that I left it on the rank but when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go.”

Speaking after he was fined £25, with a £15 victim surcharge, Mr Brown said: “I’ve had months of stress for a £25 charge. I will now have to go before a committee who could decide to take my licence from me.

“It’s not just me that’s affected by this, all the drivers struggle to go to the toilet or get something to eat because of these rules.”

A Darlington Borough Council spokeswoman said: “Prosecution is often the last resort after following a process of talking to people and issuing a series of written warnings.

“By leaving vehicles unattended on a taxi rank, taxi drivers are hindering other drivers as they cannot access the rank. An efficient working rank benefits taxi drivers and the public alike and we take any breaches of legislation seriously.”

The court decided not to award any costs against Mr Brown.