Crawley taxi drivers could be unknowingly ferrying around children to be abused

TAXI drivers in Crawley are going to be trained in how to spot the signs they could be asked to pick up and ferry around a child who is being sexually exploited in the town or at Gatwick Airport.

To mark Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) Awareness Day on Friday, March 18 it was announced all 850 licensed hackney carriage and private hire drivers in Crawley will undergo new training. CSE is the abuse and manipulation of young girls and boys into sexual activity, potentially in exchange for things such as money, gifts, accommodation, affection or status.

There are concerns Crawley’s links with Gatwick Airport and the number of hotels in the area could mean vulnerable children are being exploited for sex – with drivers unknowingly transporting them.

Councillor Michael Jones, cabinet member for public protection and community engagement at Crawley Borough Council and chair of the Safer Crawley Partnership, said: “Taxi drivers are known to transport vulnerable adults and children.

“While I’ve received no intelligence to pinpoint there being a particular issue in Crawley, we cannot be complacent. We are right next to Gatwick Airport and if there is any sort of trafficking of young people going on it is likely that our taxi drivers are on the front line getting fares to ferry them from place to place.

“We want to take hard action and the training will highlight awareness of CSE and encourage them to report any concerns to the police and council.”

Drivers are expected to complete the training course, funded by the Safer Crawley Partnership and Barnado’s, this year.

The course will highlight the signs to look out for, help drivers understand why a victim may not ask for help and to be aware of how children describe where they are going and why, plus the different grooming processes. Hackney carriage drivers are fully behind the new training.

Martin Feasey, a hackney carriage driver in Crawley with 32 years’ experience, has his own policy when it comes to being asked to take fares for children.

He said: “I refuse to take a child aged under 14 who is alone, they should be accompanied by an adult. I wouldn’t say it is safe for someone that young to be going somewhere alone and I wouldn’t want to put myself in that situation.”

Bob Lawrence, a taxi driver for more than 40 years around Crawley, said: “This is a positive step. I cannot think of an occasion where I’ve ever had a young person in my taxi and felt as though something wrong was going on.

“But at the same time, even with all my years of experience, I cannot be certain that I’ve known what to look out for. This training will change that and I’m fully behind it.

“I’d hate to think I could pick up a passenger who was being groomed but if I ever did I’d want to be in the best position to spot what was happening and do something about it.”

Last year Crawley Borough Council spent £1,800 on handbooks urging taxi drivers to report concerns and what signs to look for.

Next month Sussex Police are launching a further campaign in the area to give extra support to people running and working at hotels and B&Bs to help them look out for the tell-tale signs.

Read more: http://www.crawleynews.co.uk/