A BROKEN brake light on a taxi heading out of Middlesbrough sparked the discovery of more than 2kg of heroin being couriered from Teesside.
The Peugeot 307 was moving southbound on the A19 when officers noticed the defective light and saw that the driver wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.
The man behind the wheel, Mohammed Nadeem, was shaking, sweating and “extremely nervous” when he was pulled over at 6.35pm on August 27 last year.
Taxi driver and drugs courier Nadeem, 39, had four half-kilo packages of heroin in the car, Teesside Crown Court heard.
“The total weight of heroin recovered was 2,001g, just slightly over 2kg,” said prosecutor Christine Egerton.
“The street value of those drugs would be £150,000 to £205,000 depending on how it was dealt at the time.”
At first, Nadeem said he had no knowledge of the drugs or how they’d got into the car, which he claimed he’d left unlocked.
He later admitted possessing the Class A drugs with intent to supply – his first offence.
The prosecution accepted his account that he was acting as a courier in a one-off exchange.
He said he was asked by a friend to travel to Middlesbrough, where he met a man and was asked to take a package back to Bedford.
He rang his friend and was told he should “do as he was told”. He was scared and agreed to take the drugs under pressure from “ruthless” people.
Nadeem, of Dunville Road, Bedford, had six references from employers, two councillors and a mosque.
Martin Sharpe, defending, said: “People speak highly of him. He’s a respected man in the local community, a good employee. No one can believe he’s got himself in this situation. He has only himself to blame.
“He suspected it was drugs. He couldn’t think of any other reason why he’d be asked to transfer this package.
“He agreed after telephoning his friend. The call made it clear that these people were not to be messed with. He wasn’t really in a position to decline.
“He was going to receive a fee of £150 to £200 for the taxi journey.
“He lent money from his friend and felt obligated to help him.”
Mr Sharpe added that Nadeem, a British citizen living in a one-bedroom bedsit, supported his estranged family in the UK and his mother in Pakistan.
Judge George Moorhouse told Nadeem: “You had a responsible job as a taxi driver and you abused that position.”
He jailed Nadeem for four years and banned him from driving for the same period.
TAXI drivers have claimed a new fare chart proposed by Guildford Borough Council will threaten their livelihoods.
The authority agreed at a licensing meeting on Wednesday (January 4) that its proposed methodology to decide fare increases was accurate and based on strong calculations with supportive evidence.
But Mark Rostron, vice-chairman and secretary of Guildford Hackney Association (GHA), believes the borough’s calculations are not suitable and will result in a loss of money made by cabbies in the crucial first six miles of journeys.
He told the meeting: “The proposed new rates will discourage taxi use, hit vulnerable groups hard and further impoverish the drivers, and the council should reject it.”
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Rostron said a large percentage of his journeys were under six miles, and with extra costs for fuel surcharges and excess passengers taken away in the proposals, his earnings would reduce despite the council increasing the tariff for the first 16 miles.
The 50p extra for passengers will apply only for more than four, eliminating saloon cars, which Mr Rostron and many other cabbies own.
“The formula that they are using is without merit,” he added.
Mr Rostron also believes the borough’s 35% estimation for dead mileage, which is driving without a paying passenger, is too low and should be around 50-60%.
The council’s proposals came in response to taxi drivers in Guildford using a London-based fare increase of 2.7%, which the authority believed was unfair for residents and was not based on solid factual evidence.
There will now be a three-month consultation period for cabbies and the public to address the suggested methodology and bring forward any responses.
“We really do want the taxi drivers to know that we are on board and that we are listening to them,” said Councillor Matt Furniss, chairman of the licensing committee.
Cllr Stephen Mansbridge, lead member for stronger communities, said: “I could give no justification to the 2.7% London-based increase.”
Another problem Mr Rostron foresees is that the taxi fleet is too large, due to more drivers being licensed in order to reduce waiting times to zero at peak hours.
While this has worked, it has increased the number of cars during off-peak hours, meaning a lot of drivers who are self-employed finding jobs less available.
Members of the GHA may still stage a peaceful protest as the Olympic torch passes through Guildford next year if the council does not satisfy their demands, but Mr Rostron hopes it does not come to that.
Diane Abbott is facing fresh calls to resign after enraging London’s taxi drivers with a claim that they routinely refuse to pick up passengers who are black.
Miss Abbott came close to losing her job as a shadow health minister yesterday and was forced to apologise over her comment on Twitter that “white people love playing ‘divide and rule’”.
It seemed that her apology had deflected the worst of the criticism, which included the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, condemning her as “stupid and crass” and her own party authorities issuing a public rebuke.
However, taxi drivers were outraged to learn of further remarks from the Labour MP in which she alleged that they drive past black people who attempt to hail a cab.
Her comments came in response to a conversation about racism on the microblogging site over the Stephen Lawrence murder trial earlier this week.
Miss Abbott, the MP for Hackney and Stoke Newington, tweeted: “Dubious of black people claiming they’ve never experienced racism. Ever tried hailing a taxi I always wonder?”
Steve McNamara, a spokesman for the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, said Miss Abbott was either “racist” or “stupid” and should resign.
He said he had personally picked up Miss Abbott about 15 years ago and taken her to “a rather trendy mews development” in Stoke Newington.
“We find it amazing that in this day and age someone in Diane Abbott’s position can try to resurrect the stereotypes from the 1960s. At worst she is racist and at best she is stupid in making comments like that. Either way, she should go.”
Mr McNamara said the “knowledge” training schools in which taxi drivers learn the routes around the capital are all equipped with prayer rooms, while a “substantial proportion” of the LTDA’s 9,000 members are from black, Muslim, and other ethnic minority backgrounds.
He said the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, was too “frightened” to sack Miss Abbott. “She is a high profile black woman and he is obviously weak,” he said. “It shouldn’t matter what colour you are, if you make these stupid and crass comments you should go.”
Mr McNamara added: “She might have trouble getting a cab in the future and it won’t be because she’s black, it will be because she is stupid. I certainly won’t be stopping for her.”
Miss Abbott was unavailable for comment but it is understood that she was reflecting on her own personal experiences and had not meant to offend taxi drivers.
On Thursday, Miss Abbott, the first black female MP in the Commons, was ordered to apologise over her remarks, also on Twitter, that white people love playing “divide and rule”.
Initially she had claimed that her comment had been “maliciously” taken “out of context”. But after a “difficult” phone call from Mr Miliband, which interrupted her during a television interview, Labour headquarters issued a statement in which Miss Abbott said she was sorry “for any offence caused”. She has not posted any comments on Twitter since.
A TAXI driver was stunned to be told he must wear his name badge and display a sign on his car at all times, even on his days off.
Mohammed Iqbal Khan, 41, from Luton, was sent a letter informing him that investigations were being conducted after a licensing enforcement officer saw him driving his car on Tuesday, December 20 without a roof sign.
Mr Khan said it was his day off and he was driving home from the shops, so did not realise he was doing anything wrong.
Mr Khan, who lives with his wife in Whitby Road, said: “This is a very unfair matter. They are interfering in my private life. I was not working so why should I have to display a sign or wear my badge? I went to see the enforcement officer and he said I must wear my badge and have a roof sign on my car 24 hours a day, even if it’s my day off.”
If he is caught breaking these conditions three more times in the next six months, Mr Khan will lose his private hire vehicle licence.
Mr Khan said: “It feels like mental harassment. Why can’t I have a day off and not have to be a taxi driver every so often? But if I lose my job, that’s my bread and butter gone.”
A Luton Borough Council spokesman said that once a vehicle is licensed with a local authority, it remains a private hire or hackney carriage until the licence expires or is surrendered and can only be driven by a Luton licensed driver, even if it is for private use.
He said: “Drivers must fully comply with this legislation and other local authority conditions while the vehicle is being driven within its boundaries, even when being driven for private purposes. Therefore, the driver should wear and display the badge in a prominent position and have the correct livery (roof sign) fitted at all times.”
A CAB firm reduced a disabled man to tears by telling him he was too fat to get in their vehicle.
Ronnie Dickson weights 33 stone and suffers from a cellulitis, a skin condition that affects both his legs.
The painful medical condition means he is only able to walk with the help of two crutches and needs to use a disabled ramp to get into taxis.
His failing health means the 64-year-old has been travelling to hospital repeatedly over the last few months and is reliant on the service.
But Edinburgh-based City Cabs have refused to let him travel in one of their taxis, as he could break the vehicle’s ramp.
They said that they sympathised with Mr Dickson, but said the pensioner had broken a ramp on one of their cars just a week before.
Mr Dickson had called on the firm to take him to a doctor’s appointment but was shocked to be told he was too heavy to travel.
He said: “It hurt inside and I burst out crying. I got myself all uptight.”
His wife and carer, Hazel Dickson, 46, said: “My husband needs to use the ramp to get into a taxi on his crutches, but on Wednesday the driver said he couldn’t.
“Ronnie came back into the house and he was actually crying, he was very upset and I was angry.”
She added her husband had had similar problems with other taxi firms in the past.
City Cabs said they stood by their decision on the day. Company secretary Les McVay said: Company secretary of City Cabs, Les McVay, said: “Mr Dickson has been a customer with City Cabs for almost a year. In the past, Mr Dickson has been able to gain access to the taxi with the assistance from the driver.
“Unfortunately, Mr Dickson’s mobility recently has deteriorated and a combination of his weight and the inability to bend his knees has meant that he has recently started requesting the use of the wheelchair ramp to gain access to the taxi.
“The wheelchair ramp is designed to take a load in excess of 33 stone, but spread over the whole ramp. If Mr Dickson was in a wheelchair, then City Cabs could continue to provide a service. Mr Dickson damaged a ramp last week. The vehicle was off the road and the driver had to meet the repair bill at his own expense.”
He added: “City Cabs fully recognise and are fully committed to all of our disabled customers.
“Obviously this incident has caused Mr Dickson some distress and that is regrettable, but due to his failing health, the inability to bend his knees and his weight, he can no longer safely gain access to a normal taxi. He requires specialised help and a specialised vehicle.”
A BID by taxi drivers in St Albans to increase their income by calling for fare extras to be introduced was thrown out by councillors last night.
Members of St Albans District Council’s licensing regulatory committee came together with the St Albans and Harpenden Taxi Association to consider the request.
The taxi drivers say some of the bigger cars, for example seven seaters, should be able to charge extra for carrying two or more persons as the vehicle is more expensive to run.
However councillors on the committee disagreed and rejected their calls. The drivers had also asked for the outside of the cars to carry adverts for local businesses but this was also refused.
Mudassar Yason, secretary of the drivers’ association, said although their calls for fare extras were rejected, the cabbies were glad some other issues were resolved. He added that an agreement was reached about advertisements inside the cabs and to help reduce carbon emmisions no cars below a 1.7 diesel engine would now be granted a licence.
He said: “With the fare extras I guess the decision was fine. At the end of the day we could have gone for a fare increase but we understand that people say the last increase was extortinate and we have lost a few customers because of this.
“We are glad the internal advertising was resolved but at the same time disappointed local businesses, who need all the support they can get at this time of recession, will not have the opportunity to have adverts visible on the outside.”
Figures released by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that 295 motorists who live in the region with 12 points or more still being allowed behind the wheel – in spite of guidance to courts that only under “exceptional” circumstances should they be allowed to continue.
Two of the drivers have amassed 20 points.
Now Councillor Lynda Clinton (Tyburn) is Labour’s Lead Member on Birmingham City Council’s Licensing Committee, has spoken out about taxi drivers with excessive points.
She said: “I would personally like to see the courts get tough with private hire drivers who accumulate more than 12 points.
“They know when they break the law that their job is at stake. But they claim hardship.
“Members of the public should not, in my opinion, be transported by drivers who have excess points. I certainly would not want my grandchildren driven around by somebody with excess points.
“It is unfair that this minority are allowed to continue driving.
“It is not unusual that I am called to interview private hire drivers (not so often Hackney drivers) who, despite exceeding the maximum points, are allowed to keep their driving licence on the grounds of hardship.
“The courts make these decisions and I, along with colleagues, then have a decision to make as to whether they should keep their Birmingham City Council licence.
“It is very difficult for us because the courts have allowed them to continue driving.
“If we make a decision to suspend or revoke the licence they can appeal, which may be successful and will cost the taxpayer even more money.”
“The number of points that some of these drivers have accumulated are really quite high. We are talking about 14, 16 or even 18 points.
“The laws of the land say they are a danger, so they should be off the road.”
But a spokesman for the Birmingham Private Hire Association said the courts do and should continue to allow some drivers the chance to continue working.
He said: “It is right that a driver who is caught driving without insurance has his DVLA and council licence taken away.
“But if it they are caught a number of times for not wearing seat belts or speeding then I think they should be allowed to continue driving.
“I can tell you that the majority of private hire drivers who are driving now with more than 12 points have had offences totted up and that is why they are allowed to continue driving.
“They drive more than 30,000 miles per year and are not going to have stuck to the 30mph limit the whole time.
“The council targets these private hire drivers to take away their licences, but when it does go to appeal the judges rule in favour of the drivers because they have these bills to pay.
“The judges allow them to continue to drive because they still have to feed their kids and pay their mortgages.”
A spokesman for Birmingham City Council said: “Just because a court allows someone to keep a licence for the sake of their livelihood, it does not necessarily follow that licensing will allow them to keep their licence.
“For example the committee’s policy is that any driver found guilty of plying for hire will automatically face licence suspension action, regardless of whether they are at 12 points or whether a court has said they can keep their DVLA licence, or not.
“Generally where a driver has accumulated more than nine points over a period of time, or committed a single offence attracting a significant number of points (6+) officers can recommend members review the licence.
“The committee also looks at far more issues than just traffic offence history in considering what action to take, for example a driver may have a history of licence offences which don’t necessarily attract points (and therefore applied at court) but add to weight of evidence supporting decision to revoke or suspend the licence.”
Road safety charity Brake spokesman Richard Coteau said: “Drivers who repeatedly flout traffic laws have shown complete disregard for the lives of other road users.
“They have had ample opportunity to desist breaking the law before reaching 12 points and facing disqualification.
“It’s time for the Government to get tough with these selfish, irresponsible and potentially deadly drivers.”
CAB drivers are celebrating a milestone in their campaign for standard fares and taxi ranks to be introduced.
The district council is asking people for their views on whether meters set by the council should be installed in Hackney carriages – any cab that can be hailed in the street.
Sanu Azid, 33, the chairman of the Epping Forest Taxi Association, said the consultation was a big step forward.
“We have been speaking to the council for three years about this,” he said. “There has been demand for it before, but no-one constantly creating the pressure.
“As it stands, a driver can charge £100 for a local journey, if he can get away with it, and the passenger can’t legally do anything.
“It gives a bad name to a taxi driver and everybody gets grief.”
The council also wants to know how much support there is for official taxi ranks and suggestions for which roads they should be on.
It has already raised the possibility of setting up a rank outside a parade of shops in Loughton High Road, near the turning for Trap’s Hill, although this raised objections from traders and the council has yet to make a decision.
Mr Azid said his group supported taxi ranks in general, although he would rather see one behind Morrisons that on the High Road.
“Once a rank is established, the public knows there’s a licensed taxi waiting there,” he added.
“In the whole of Epping Forest, there’s one official taxi rank, which holds three cars, in Epping High Street.”
Ron Taylor, 62, a self-employed driver who works around Buckhurst Hill and Loughton, said: “I think it’s the right thing to have meters.
“It’s fair for everybody – customers and the council as well, because if people rip off customers, they’re going to complain to the council.
“Putting bays in can only be a good thing. We’ve been pushing for ages for this.”
The consultation has been sent out to town and parish councils and its questionnaire on the topic can be found by going to www.eppingforestdc.gov.uk and clicking on ‘licensing’.