Private Hire Driver admits to two sex assaults

Bee-Line … not aware of driver’s past

A SCARBOROUGH Private Hire driver was sentenced yesterday for sexually assaulting two female passengers.

Michael Fletcher, 40, of Trafalgar Square, was handed a six-month jail sentence – but walked free from York Crown Court because of time he had already spent in custody.

Judge Michael Mettyear said: “These women thought they were safe getting in to a taxi.

“Women should be able to get in to a taxi without feeling someone is going to take advantage of them while they on their own.

“You were in a position of trust.”

The court heard that Fletcher, who was working for Scarborough-based Bee-line Radio Cars at the time, sexually assaulted his first victim, a woman in her early 20s, on April 6 last year.

Fletcher had initially denied the two charges of sexual assault, but changed his pleas to guilty on the day his trial was due to begin.

Tony Kelbrick, prosecuting, said: “The woman decided to get a taxi back from work.

“She went to get in the car and the defendant said ‘what do you think of my sexy car?’

“During the journey he was very chatty which she found rather strange.”

Fletcher said to the woman: “I bet you are very experienced. I bet you have been with lots of boys.”

He then asked the woman if she was seeing anyone, to which she replied ‘Yes’.

The driver then patted her on her leg before pulling up just short of her home, and asked the woman to go for a drink with him. She refused his offer.

Fletcher then said: “I know you are seeing someone but what’s to stop us being friends? You deserve to be taken out by me.”

He then asked for the woman’s phone number, gave her his card and said she would not be allowed out of the car until she promised to call him.

He then tried to kiss the victim after putting his arm over the woman’s shoulders, and said: “You have very lovely hair and eyes.”

The woman got out of the car and reported the incident to the police.

Three days later, Fletcher assaulted his second victim, a woman in her 40s, who he picked up from her workplace in Scarborough.

Mr Kelbrick said: “He was talking to her about his teeth, which she thought was odd. He continued to touch her leg and at one point grabbed hold of her knee.”

Fletcher dropped the woman off at her home, and she went inside to get money to pay the fare.

When she returned and got back in the car, Fletcher asked if anyone was inside the home. When the woman said no he replied: “Are you going to invite me in for coffee?” and blocked her from getting out of the cab.

He then grabbed her neck and tried to kiss the woman. When the woman swore at Fletcher and said “what are you doing?” he said “alright” and she left.

The court heard that Fletcher had convictions for burglary in 1988, battery in 2003, 2005 and 2006 and a conviction for assault occasioning actual bodily harm in 2004.

Glen Parsons, mitigating, said that his client’s personality had changed after he was injured in a car accident in 2002.

He said Fletcher had had to re-learn what constituted appropriate behaviour and normal social parameters.

Judge Mettyear added: “What you did was unacceptable. You tried to come on to these women and tried to make yourself attractive to them. They did not find you attractive in any way.

“It was awful for these women to go to the safety of a taxi and for this to happen, but these were not the worst sexual offences.”

A Sexual Offences Protection Order, prohibiting Fletcher from driving taxis or cabs containing female passengers for five years, was also put in place.

STORY EXTRA: Carolyn Conlon, owner of Bee-line Radio Cars, said the company had been unaware of Fletcher’s criminal record and that he had been sacked by the firm as soon as he was arrested.

Fletcher was granted a licence by Scarborough Council three years after he was given a suspended jail sentence for assault.


Cumbernauld Taxi firm loses licence

A CUMBERNAULD-based taxi firm was stripped of its licence last week after officials from North Lanarkshire Council visited its base with police last Thursday.

Eastfield Cabs has ceased operating after council licensing bosses refused to issue Licensee Kirsty Munro with the requisite paperwork – after police objected. It is unclear why officers advised the council against the re-issue.

Area Inspector Stevie Hazlett from Cumbernauld Police confirmed that officers had been involved and that an investigation had been undertaken into the company.

As the licence was not re-issued the investigation is believed to have drawn to a close.

Meanwhile the Licensing Committee has shed further light on the process which led to the removal of the licence.

Head of Legal Services June Murray said: “Kirsty Munro applied for a licence for a taxi/private hire radio base trading as Eastfield Cabs. At a meeting of the Corporate Services (Licensing) Sub-Committee on 20 April 2010, this application was refused following an objection from Strathclyde Police.

“Kirsty Munro submitted an appeal but this was abandoned on 21 July 2011 and, therefore, the sub-committee’s decision to refuse the licence application stands so the company is unlicensed,” she added.

However, in a fresh twist, it has now emerged that the firm has been subject to a buy-out by its staff.

It is now trading under the name 730009 and is working with the licensing board and police to ensure that business is completely above board.

Driver-turned-manager Kenny Weir told the News that he was sure that the new venture could succeed especially as he was receiving a lot of positive feedback about the move.

“We have had a lot of support from the police and the licensing board and we’ll continue to work with them to move things forward,” said Mr Weir.


Welwyn Hatfield taxi driver in court

A TAXI driver accused of refusing to take a fare has appeared before magistrates.

Welwyn Hatfield Hackney Carriage licensee Syed Shaheed denies refusing to take a female customer in WGC on January 5.

The 48-year-old from Newark Road, Luton, pleaded not guilty to the charge on Friday, at Central Herts Magistrates’ Court in St Albans.

Ann Tayo, defending, asked for an Urdu interpreter to be present for the trial to aid Shaheed, which was agreed to by magistrates. The case, being brought by Welwyn Hatfield Council, was adjourned and will be heard in October.

Rossendale taxi driver caught speeding 7 times

A ROSSENDALE taxi driver who has been caught speeding seven times in 10 years has had his licence revoked by council bosses.

Brian Whitworth, 59, of Barnes Street, Clayton-le-Moors, racked up 12 points on his DVLA licence for speeding offences but failed to declare the convictions to Rossendale Council as required.

Rossendale Council’s licensing committee decided to revoke his taxi licence back in April as the committee felt that he was not a ‘fit and proper person’ to hold a taxi badge in Rossendale.

Mr Whitworth appealed the decision and the case was heard at Reedley Magistrates Court.

The court dismissed the appeal and upheld the council’s original decision.

Coun Christine Gill, chairman of the licensing committee, said: “There is no excuse for being caught persistently speeding and putting the lives of taxi passengers and other road users in danger.

“He clearly did not learn his lesson when caught for the first offences and continued to drive too fast.

“Mr Whitworth knew the rules and knew that he was at risk of losing his taxi badge if he was caught speeding persistently.

“The overriding consideration for the licensing committee is to protect people from harm.”

Concerns over taxi check changes

Local authorities today raised concerns about new Home Office guidance which could see a reduction in the level of checks imposed on taxi drivers before they are issued with licences to trade.

All taxi drivers must undergo a Criminal Records Bureau check before obtaining a licence, but many councils require them not only to have a standard check – which reveals any criminal record – but to go through the enhanced version of the procedure, which provides additional information about their background.

But the Home Office is concerned that the thousands of applications are clogging up the CRB system, and has issued new guidance that councils should require only the basic check unless the driver involved has a contract to transport children, for instance on a regular school run.

Newcastle city councillor Henri Murison described the new guidance as “narrow-minded”, arguing that taxi drivers are very likely to find themselves carrying unaccompanied children even if they do not have a school transport contract.

”I think people need to look again at this,” Cllr Murison told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “We all think it is pretty mad, when the drivers want to do this and when the local councils want to put them through these checks, that someone else is standing in the way and saying we are not allowed.”

John Mason, director of taxi and private hire at Transport for London, said that around 1,000 applications for taxi licences were processed in the capital each month. He said he was aware of around 240 applications which were rejected because of “sometimes quite horrendous” information uncovered by the enhanced check which would not have been revealed by the basic check.

Mr Mason told Today: “A standard check tends to give you information about convictions – basically what is on the criminal record.

”But the enhanced check provides TFL and other licensing authorities up and down the country with much more information and intelligence – background information about cases that have gone to court but have failed for one reason or another, a check with the local police station and most importantly checks against the lists of people banned from working with children and vulnerable adults. That is what we are most worried about.”

Cabbies working in the evenings and nights in the West End will inevitably pick up adults leaving pubs and clubs in a vulnerable state, said Mr Mason.

He said: “There is absolutely no reason for us for this change to be put upon TFL and other licensing authorities, and we are really worried about it.”

And he said that taxi drivers are also opposed to the new guidelines, even though they will save them money.

”They pay for the enhanced checks, it is more expensive than the standard check, but I have yet to meet a taxi driver who doesn’t believe that they should go through the enhanced check,” said Mr Mason.

”All the taxi driver associations that I deal with are united on this. They want to pay more money because, quite rightly, they want to preserve the very good name they have got.”

Prospective taxi drivers failing to meet standards in literacy and numeracy

NEW recruits to Sheffield’s taxi trade are being referred for adult education courses – after more than 70 per cent failed literacy tests and 40 per cent were found to have inadequate numeracy skills.

Sheffield Council requires applicants for taxi licences to undergo a series of assessments, including the literacy and numeracy tests and criminal records bureau checks, before being granted permission to work in the city.

Out of 517 applicants for a taxi licence between June 2010 and July 2011, only 152 passed the literacy test and 306 reached the standard in numeracy. Just 134 applicants passed both subjects first time.

The council said that of the 383 applicants who failed either or both tests, 298 attended college and only 101 of them later met the required standard of passing both tests following their courses. It meant fewer than half of the original applicants during the period were allowed to work as taxi drivers.

Steve Lonnia, chief taxi licensing officer for Sheffield Council, revealed a new course is now being developed with Sheffield College, which is set to be launched in January 2012, which would be the equivalent of an NVQ qualification.

Mr Lonnia said: “The council is not allowed to grant a licence unless they are satisfied that a person is fit and proper. “Part of the council’s policy to ensure they do not license someone who is not fit and proper is to set tests which currently include an English and maths assessment, knowledge, driving and medical fitness.”

He said Sheffield Taxi Trade Association and private hire operators support introduction of mandatory courses for new drivers. Sheffield College said its course would ‘improve services offered to customers’.

Council funding would be available to cover the literacy and numeracy element of the course but that applicants would have to pay up to £250 to complete further modules, which would also be mandatory.

Hafeas Rehman, chairman of Sheffield Taxi Trade Association, said: “I think it is a good idea to have courses for drivers. One of the biggest issues we have from customers is about poor linguistic understanding.

“A course would be a good thing to introduce new drivers to the profession and ensure they are of the required standard – but I think the charges proposed should be less, and it would be better if they were nearer to the £100 mark.”

The plans for a new course for drivers are set to be considered for approval at a meeting of Sheffield Council’s licensing board on Thursday. Mr Lonnia said the Sheffield course is being designed so that it could be adopted by councils in other areas and may become standard across the country.


Dodgy private-hire driver hauled before committee

A private-hire driver has lost his right to operate after he was caught using an unlicensed vehicle 380 times over a 23-month period.

Council chiefs withdrew Paul Grainger’s private hire licence after he admitted he had been an “idiot” and broken the law.

The driver failed to renew his right to take fares in 2009 and was eventually caught and prosecuted by the Metropolitan Police in February.

Putting his case to Cheltenham Borough Council’s licensing committee on Friday, Mr Grainger said: “I will put my hand up, I was an absolute idiot.

“It was definitely a stupid thing to do and it definitely won’t happen again.”

He said he had returned his licence plate at the request of the council after his authorisation expired but did not submit his renewal application.

However, he continued to take fares with only a private hire driver’s licence.

Taxi operators require a separate licence for their vehicle.

Officers caught him taking a fare at Heathrow Airport on February 11 and he appeared at Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court 11 days later.

He was fined £500, ordered to pay £100 and a £15 victim surcharge.

When he was asked to account for it, he said his car was fully insured to take passengers.

In an interview with licensing bosses, he had previously claimed not having a licence was “merely an oversight”.

Councillor Roger Whyborn (LD, Up Hatherley) said: “You are asking me to take on board that you drove around for two years knowingly and consciously having taken it back before. I want to know why I should take you seriously.”

Councillor Pat Thornton (LD, St Peter’s) asked Mr Grainger why he had carried on, but he replied that he could not answer the question.

Members of the committee voted 6-1 in favour of withdrawing the licence, with only Councillor Paul Wheeldon (LD, St Paul’s) backing him to carry on.

Committee chairman Councillor Diggory Seacome (C, Lansdown) said: “You said about five minutes ago it definitely won’t happen again.

“That vote has told you that it definitely won’t.”

Mr Grainger has 21 days to appeal the decision.


Slough urinating private-hire driver given penalty points

taking the piss

A private-hire driver has been given penalty points by a Berkshire council after being caught on camera urinating in a Slough road.

The driver, who has not been named, admitted the offence and was given six points on his private hire licence.

A Slough council spokesman said the driver had “apologised profusely”.

But Colin Davey, who lives in Kenilworth Close where the offence happened, said he had been “promised” more serious action by the council.

Mr Davey first photographed cab drivers urinating outside his home more than a year ago.

Suspended or revoked’

A letter from the council to Mr Davey in August 2010 stated that it would recommend any drivers caught urinating in the close would have their licence suspended or revoked”.

The 60-year-old said the council’s decision to issue six penalty points instead had been “disappointing”.

“This has not taken in to account the feelings of the residents who have to witness this disgusting behaviour,” he said.

Under current Slough Council policy, a cab driver can clock up 12 points in a year before being referred to the licensing team.

Council licensing manager Mick Sims said: “The driver apologised to the council profusely, and as there had not been any complaints since last year and as the police have not taken any action on this occasion, we took the decision to issue the driver with the six penalty points.”

He added that “more serious action” would be taken if the same driver continued his previous behaviour.


Why is that man shouting at you mummy? Private Hire driver hurled racist abuse at mums outside Jewish school in Crumpsall

PH Driver

A Private Hire driver ranted racial abuse outside a Jewish school after getting stuck in a traffic jam.

Taha Osman shrieked ‘All Jewish children must die!’ after his car was hemmed in by parents picking up pupils outside King David School in Crumpsall.

Two mums on the school run and a teaching assistant were singled out in a foul-mouthed and ‘frightening’ tirade witnessed by kids, Manchester Crown Court heard.

Osman – an Iraqi Kurd who has settled in Britain – also shouted that Jewish people were ‘animals’ who ‘should not be allowed in this country’.

The 36-year-old denied causing religiously aggravated harassment, alarm or distress in a trial, but was found guilty by the jury.

Sentencing him to a community order, Judge David Stockdale QC said it was a ‘particularly nasty offence’ – but did not warrant a jail sentence.

The court heard that Osman, who was off-duty from his job with a Manchester firm at the time, now faces having his private hire licence withdrawn.

The court heard Osman launched his tirade on October 5, after a traffic jam formed on Seymour Road outside King David School.

Osman was on his way to Tesco when he got stuck in the congestion lost his temper at the driver in front of him, Sigal Bar-Ilan.

Caroline Franks told the court that she had collected her children, aged four and six, from the school, when she saw him shouting at Mrs Bar-Ilan.

When Mrs Franks got out of her vehicle to help the woman manoeuvre her car, Osman screamed vile racial insults at them both.

Mrs Bar-Ilan said her daughter began to cry and her son asked ‘Why’s the man shouting at you mummy?’ She told the jury the incident ‘scared the hell out of my children and out of me’.

Mrs Franks said the abuse continued even after she got back in her car, and Joanne Cantor, a teaching assistant, said she was ‘shocked’ by the rant, which led the victims to contact people.

Sentencing Osman, of Roch Bank, Blackley, Judge Stockdale said that his language had been of the ‘utmost offensiveness’.

He added: “Your rant on that afternoon crossed the boundary between what would have been ill-mannered, foul-mouthed loutish behaviour into the territory of criminal behaviour.

“This was because you launched into a racist verbal attack on the Jewish community in general.

“Your behaviour and language was precisely the language and behaviour the legislation is designed to prevent. This was a most serious offence of its type.”


Fewer checks on cabbies

FEWER checks will soon be made on prospective taxi and private hire drivers in Lincolnshire.

The existing policy requires all applicants for a licence to undertake a Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) check to enhanced standard which details criminal convictions and lists people barred from working with children and vulnerable adults.

In March this year the CRB told councils that enhanced checks could only legally be required for drivers who transport children and vulnerable adults as part of a contract to or from schools or hospitals.

Aside from reducing the level of screening available to councils, some applicants may have to pay for two separate CRB checks, one standard and one enhanced.

North Kesteven District Council’s licensing panel is to amend its taxi licensing policy accordingly when it meets next Wednesday to comply with the Government instructions.