A LABOUR Councillor who tried to prevent a convicted taxi driver and sexual deviant from being sent to prison has lost her legal attempts to stop the press from revealing her support.
The scandal relates to Liverpool Labour City Councillor Christine Banks, who attempted to stop the Liverpool Echo from revealing she had provided the “testimonial” for ex-private hire driver Joseph Prior, who was jailed for 18 months after attacking a “drunk” lone woman he had picked up.
Prior had lost his Sefton Council private hire licence in 2018 after eight women complained of him making “sexualised” comments, but he went out late in Liverpool city centre in March 2019 to try and pick up illegal fares when the offence happened.
After the 23-year-old got in his Ford Focus, he pulled into a quiet street, then put his hand on the “terrified” victim’s thigh.
When she rejected his advances, Prior took her to a McDonald’s drive-thru, where she mouthed “help” to staff, who rang police.
40-year-old Prior was later sentenced after admitting common assault and offering a woman cocaine.
This, however, did not prevent Cllr Banks from giving Prior a shining character reference for the court in an attempt to help get him either a reduced sentence, or let-off the hook completely.
The Labour Councillor initially tried to claim that she had given the reference as a private citizen – forgetting that she had signed the reference as ‘Councillor Christine Banks’.
Challenging her attempted cover-up, the Liverpool Echo won the argument in court, with the Echo’s Liverpool Crown Court reporter, Neil Docking, setting out the precedent: “Mrs Justice Whipple’s ruling in the case of ex-MP Charlie Elphicke, who was convicted of sexually assaulting two women, made clear that the default position is character references submitted to court are not confidential documents and should be released to the media upon request.
“The public interest is stronger in relation to character referees who are themselves in public life – as was the case with Cllr Banks, who holds elected office.
Cllr Banks, a former Lord mayor who chairs the council’s licensing and gambling committee and the authority’s taxi driver licensing sub-committee, said: “I work grass roots, I’ve done a hell of a lot of work. I could lose my position as chair of licensing.”
“All the good hard work I’ve done in the past will be of no avail and it will just sit heavily on me and my family.”
Concluding, Judge Smith said: “There is a legitimate and powerful public interest in the public having an understanding of the nature and extent of what Cllr Banks was willing and able to say on the defendant’s behalf.”
Neil Docking of the Echo added: “While securing the release of this character reference came at some cost to the Echo, as because she objected to its release we had to instruct counsel to argue our case, we felt our readers deserved to know the full story as this was clearly in the public interest.”