A Chard man who was charging pupils for driving lessons without being a registered instructor has been ordered to carry out 200 hours unpaid work in the community.
Jeff Arnold Predeth was drowning in thousands of pounds worth of debt when he made the decision not to renew his registration with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA)
Over the course of eight months he taught a number of pupils, charging £25 an hour, but when he presented them to take their driving tests the examiners refused to take them out in his car which had one of the front seats kept in place with a bungee cord.
Predeth, 63, of Henson Park, pleaded guilty to five counts of fraud in that between November 1, 2015 and July 19, 2016 at Chard he dishonestly made a false representation that he was a licensed DVSA driving instructor, intending to cause a loss to his pupils.
Somerset Magistrates, sitting at Yeovil, were told that reports were received from the Yeovil Driving Test Centre in relation to a suspected illegal driving instructor who was later identified as the defendant.
"He was known to the test centre as he had been operating legally for a number of years, however his approved driving instructor badge expired on October 31, 2015," said prosecutor Emma Lenanton.
"He had not renewed it and continued working, but due to the lapsed registration he was no longer qualified to provide driving tuition as he had been removed from the Approved Driving Instructors register.
"He presented all of his learners for testing in the 51 plate Ford Fiesta, but the examiners during this period had refused to conduct a test in the vehicle due to issues they had in that one of the front seats was being kept in place by a bungey cord."
DVSA records showed that Predeth presented a total of 11 candidates for test between November 2015 and March 2016 and the victims stated that they had been charged around £24-£25 for an hour's tuition and had paid the defendant between £500 and £750 each.
Miss Lenanton said: "When Predeth was interviewed he made full admissions and said he was fully aware his registration was due to expire.
"He said he decided not to renew his registration due to financial reasons and accepted he had been in a position of trust and responsibility."
She added that the offences had been committed over a fairly lengthy period of time and there was an element of pre-planning involved.
"Clearly he knew his licence had lapsed but made the conscious decision to carry on working and taking money from the victims," she added.
Probation officer Joe Harper said that the defendant had been diagnosed with diabetes which took a turn for the worse in 2013 and he had difficulties sleeping for around five months.
"This impaired his ability to act as a driving instructor during the day and reduced the number of hours he could work which had the knock-on effect of increasing his debt," he said.
"At the time he was due to re-register as an instructor, which cost £300, but he was struggling to pay his rent and bills and had accrued rent arrears.
"He had to make a choice between his rent or paying his registration and he chose to pay his rent, but realises now he made a big mistake and regrets his actions."
He said that Predeth had been a driving instructor for 37 years with an unblemished record and a few months before the renewal was due he had an assessment which gave him a clean bill of health with an A rating.
He added that the defendant had debts of £19,000 and was guilty of "burying his head in the sand" and not coping with his problems.
In sentencing Predeth to a 12 month community order with 200 hours unpaid work the magistrates said that the offences had been "serious abuse of position and trust" but due to his previous good character they had been able to keep him out of the custody bracket. Costs of £40 and a £60 victim surcharge were also imposed.