CCTV campaigner is barred from meeting

A MAN who has dedicated his life to fighting Big Brother officialdom was barred from a meeting by city council chiefs.

Nick Pickles travelled from London on Wednesday specially for a meeting where cabbies and city council licensing officials were to discuss controversial CCTV plans for taxis.

But he was turned away because the meeting was deemed “private” by council chiefs.

The city council says the scheme is needed to protect taxi drivers and passengers.

The meeting, with city council executive member Colin Cook and other officials, was organised by private hire driver Khalil Ahmed and colleagues who invited Mr Pickles to join their delegation.

More than 250 people have signed a petition against the scheme.

Mr Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “The whole point was to follow up the petition.

“It is quite clear the scheme does not have support and it now seems clear that the council is not intending to enter into meaningful conversation.”

Mr Ahmed spent more than an hour and a half discussing the scheme with Mr Cook and representatives from the city council licensing department and the City of Oxford Licensed Taxicab Association.

He said: “They never told me this was a private meeting. I am absolutely gutted we were not allowed to bring Nick in.

“They did not want someone in there who is qualified in these issues of privacy and it shows ill intent, but we will continue fighting.”

While the meeting was going on, several taxi drivers stood across the road outside the Town Hall in St Aldate’s waving banners demonstrating their opposition to CCTV.

Speaking after the meeting Mr Cook said: “I am more than happy to have a meeting with Nick Pickles but that was not the basis for this meeting, which was for taxi drivers.”

Following the meeting, Mr Ahmed said: “They have confirmed to us that they are going ahead with the scheme.”

The CCTV scheme will begin on Sunday, April 1, from which time all newly registered taxis will have to have CCTV in them.

Cabs which are currently registered have until 2015 to implement the change.

Herefordshire taxis to fit CCTV within three years

Taxi drivers in Herefordshire could be required to fit CCTV to improve safety for passengers and drivers.
Herefordshire Council said it was looking at phasing in the requirement over the next three years.
John Jones, chairman of Hereford’s High Town Taxi Group, said he was in favour of the proposal, and vehicles already had cameras in the cabs.
“What we have to get over is the public’s perception of CCTV – it’s not there to spy on them,” he said.
Herefordshire Council said it has begun talking to the county’s 650 drivers and 40 operators regarding the proposals.
‘Teething problems’
Councillor Adrian Blackshaw said: “We can achieve much more by working in partnership with the drivers.”
Mr Jones said a voluntary system operating in Hereford had run in to technical issues with cameras not working properly.
He said he would work with the council to overcome any “teething problems” as CCTV was “worth its weight in gold”.
The council said it was also considering the introduction of taxi marshals to control taxi ranks in Commercial Road in Hereford city centre on Friday and Saturday nights.
Taxi license fees are likely to rise, according to the council, as “current budget pressures” meant it will have to stop subsidising the sector.
The Conservative-controlled council has made in excess of £20m of savings over the past two years.



CCTV plans for Bournemouth taxis are shelved over privacy fears

Bounemouth taxis

PLANS to make all Bournemouth taxis carry CCTV cameras have been shelved because of fears the move would invade people’s privacy.

The proposal was put forward by council officers following a series of incidents in which taxi drivers had been held at gunpoint, attacked with CS spray, subjected to racist abuse, spat at,  threatened and attacked.

A report to the licensing board heard that the council could foot the installation bill of between £600 and £700 a cab, then charge owners a leasing fee of around £15 a month, or 75p a day.

It said: “CCTV cameras provide protection for both drivers and passengers. They deter assaults, theft and non-payment by passengers and protect passengers from inappropriate actions of drivers.”  The footage would have only been made accessible to investigating officers looking into alleged criminal offences.

Councillor Andrew Morgan, the council’s chairman of licensing, said: “The board considered the issue closely and decided that the installation of CCTV would be a disproportionate step and a real  infringement on privacy.”

After the decision, taxi driver Bill Prescott said: “We can ill afford any unnecessary expenses at the moment. I run 13 cars and have hardly had any incidents.”

Driver Stephen Walker said: “People want privacy. We see people who shouldn’t be together and people in a drunken state, including councillors, judges, doctors.

“Also we should have the right to if we so wish – we shouldn’t be forced.”

Another driver, Ian, who did not want to reveal his surname, said: “I think everybody would feel safer, customers and drivers.

“I experience crime all the time, but it’s a waste of time calling the police.

“These guys out here are working for £3 an hour, doing a 15 hour day just to earn a living.

“We can’t afford 75p a day.”


Basildon taxi fleet to be fitted with CCTV cameras

A FLEET of taxis are to be fitted with CCTV cameras following two knifepoint attacks on cabbies.

Basildon-based company A&B Taxis is proposing to fit all 150 of its vehicles with the cameras to help prevent further attacks or catch crooks targeting drivers red-handed on film.

After one of the firm’s drivers was recently stabbed in a terrifying attack, Gary Brand – one of the owners of A&B – met with his employees to discuss their safety.

They have agreed to install the specially designed cameras in each of their vehicles. Staff will take a vote on the proposals next week.

The cameras will cost £960 per vehicle to install and the company will foot half of the bill while drivers will be asked to pay the rest.

Despite the expense, Mr Brand said the safety of his staff and customers was priceless. He said: “It has become a nightmare out there for taxi drivers and it’s sad we are having to do this.

“But we care for the safety of the people we employ and also we want the public to know our cabs are safe.

“These cameras will be in the public’s interest, as people can feel safe in the knowledge the cab they will be travelling in has cameras and audio equipment recording everything. So if something happens we will have the evidence to take to court if necessary.”

The move has received the backing of A&B drivers as well as taxi industry officials.

Dave Downton, chairman of the Basildon Private Hire Association, said: “This is a positive thing and I think every other cab driver in the area should have CCTV in their taxis.”

A Value Cars driver was allegedly threatened and robbed at knifepoint in Ryedene Close, Vange at 2.50am on Monday.

A 24-year-old man has been charged with theft in connection with the incident and will appear in court later this month.

It comes after a 31-year-old A&B driver was stabbed by a gang of robbers in Redgrave Road, Vange at 10pm on Friday February 10. Three men have been arrested and bailed in connection with that attack.


Oxford cab driver told cameras plan will happen

Khalil Ahmed

A driver campaigning against controversial plans to record all conversations in city cabs has been told the system is here to stay.

Oxford City Council told Khalil Ahmed, pictured, that most drivers support the camera plan and it was vital to improve safety.

The Oxford Mail reported on Tuesday that Mr Ahmed had secured 100 drivers’ signatures opposing the scheme.

It comes as a former taxi chief says he believes an increasing number of drivers are now opposed to the plans.

Council licensing leader Julian Alison told Mr Ahmed in a letter: “The argument relating to ‘privacy’ is not so relevant in this matter.

“Once a vehicle is licensed, the level of privacy expected is not the same as for a private motor car.”

He said the scheme – to record audio and sound as soon as the ignition is switched on – was requested by drivers.

Mr Alison said: “Any concerns raised have been discussed and resolved.”

As more than 900 drivers are licensed to drive the city’s 665 taxi and private hire vehicles, he said the petition did not represent the views of most.

Recordings would only be accessed by council officers over a “specific incident” and sound is needed for evidence of antisocial behaviour

And he said recordings will also help tackle breaches of council codes for drivers.

He said: “Unfortunately, the level of non-compliance (with driver codes) is of great concern, and exceeds one incident each day.”

Supporters also say recording will provide vital evidence for passenger allegations against drivers.

But Mr Ahmed, a part-time private hire driver for 001 Taxis in St Aldate’s, said the response showed “disdain” for drivers’ views.

He said: “There is a big, big majority of opinion against this. It is not just drivers who are saying it, it is members of the public.”

Former City of Oxford Licensed Taxi Cab Association general secretary Alan Woodward backed cameras when they were agreed last year.

But he said: “Once they (drivers) realised what it involves, they are not interested.”

The £400 cameras must go in new cabs after April 1 and be fitted in all by March 2015.

Richard Barlow, a private hire driver for 001 Taxis said he would get a system this year. The Kidlington resident said: “I’m all for it. You will get more passengers, women will travel more.”

Yet he said recordings should start when meters are activated, rather than the engine.

During his 35 years working on and off in the city, he said he suffered minor attacks three times and passengers had “occasionally” refused to pay.

He said: “What have they got to hide? I’d rather have my safety than anything else.”

The Information Commissioner, the UK’s official data watchdog, is in talks with the council in a bid to force a u-turn on the CCTV plans.


Watford taxi driver attacked and robbed

A Watford taxi driver who was viciously attacked and robbed by three passengers has called for CCTV to be installed in the town’s cabs.

Shakeel Ahmed said he feared for his life as he was set upon in the early hours of Sunday as he dropped off three men he had picked up outside Oceana in  Watford.

The assailants made off with over £700 worth of valuables and equipment including Mr Ahmed’s satnav and watch.

The 31-year-old said the ordeal had left him shaken and fearful of going back to work.

“I feared for my life,” he said. “I have been back to work, but I was not happy. With every customer that sits behind you you are suspicious.

“When I leave the house I don’t know if I am going to come back.

“They would not do it if there was CCTV in the taxi and there would be more chance of them being caught as well.”

The Metropolitian Police is investigating the robbery, which happened in the Archway area of London around 3am on Sunday.

Officers said after Mr Ahmed had stopped in Merryweather Court, in Poynings Road, he was grabbed by one of them and beaten by another.

While he was being assaulted, police said a third suspect took his satnav and other items.

All three suspects then got out of the car and are believed to have run into Fell House.

Police carried out a search of the area but could find no trace of the suspects.

Mr Ahmed sustained a cut to his inner lip.

The suspects are described as three black men. Two of them were said to be aged between 23 and 25 and were both wearing black jackets.

The third suspect is described as wearing a white jacket.

Mr Ahmed’s call for CCTV was backed by the Watford Hackney Carriage Driver’s Association, which has been lobbying for cameras in cabs since last year.

The association has already had requests for Watford Borough Council to fund the scheme rejected.

Councillor Jan Brown, chairman of licensing at Watford Borough Council, said: “The council’s specific  role is to license taxis. We don’t provide CCTV cameras to private businesses like taxis, in the same way that we don’t pay for CCTV cameras in shops, offices or homes, for example.”

However the association has been directed to the Safer Watford Partnership to apply for funding.

Shafiq Ahmed, the chairman of the Watford Hackney Carriage Drivers’ Association, said attacks on taxi drivers were increasing as they are easy to isolate and criminals know they have cash and  expensive items like satnav on them.

He said: “More and more attacks are happening and some are lucky to be alive.

“No one should go to work knowing it could happen to them.”

Pilot taxi CCTV schemes have already been trialled in Southampton where the council introduced a license stating cabs had to have cameras installed.

The move has been opposed by privacy campaigners and some taxi firm owners.

Mr Ahmed added that if there was already CCTV on public transport such as trains and buses, he did not see there being a problem with it in taxis.



Taxi cameras: Bournemouth cabs could have CCTV installed

Bournemouth Taxis

STATE-of-the-art CCTV cameras could be installed in all Bournemouth taxis, in a bid to protect both drivers and passengers.

Licensing chiefs will consider a proposal that could require taxi drivers to pay £15 a month to have cameras fitted in their cabs.

It follows a series of incidents, in which taxi drivers have been held at gunpoint, attacked with CS spray, subjected to racist abuse, spat at, punched and kicked and threatened.

Under the plans, Bournemouth council would buy the CCTV camera system, which costs between £600 and £700 per vehicle, and lease it to taxi owners for around £15 per month.

A report to Bournemouth’s licensing committee, states: “CCTV cameras provide protection for both drivers and passengers in a number of situations.

“They deter assaults, theft and non-payment by passengers and protect passengers from inappropriate actions of drivers. Digital evidence with video and audio recording can be used to prove or  disprove the content of complaints made to the council.”

The cost, which works out at around 75 pence per day, is “a reasonable cost when considering public and driver safety.”

The CCTV footage would only be accessible to investigating officers and would only be accessed to investigate criminal offences.

If councillors on the licensing committee approve the proposal, it will be a condition of taxi licences that owners install the CCTV cameras and produce copies when requested by a licensing officer  or police officer.

Alternatively, councillors could reject the proposal outright or suggest a period of consultation.

Yesterday’s licensing committee was cancelled so the issue will be considered at the next meeting.


Drivers campaign against taxi CCTV

Private hire drivers, from left to right, Khalil Ahmed, Mukhtar Hussain and Mohsin Cheema with the petition against plans to video and sound record passengers in taxis

A HUNDRED cab drivers have signed a petition against controversial plans to film all conversations in Oxford’s taxis.

They have handed the petition to Oxford City Council over its plan for video and audio recording in the city’s 665 taxis from April and comes  as the Information Commissioner continues to review whether the scheme is lawful.

The council says that the scheme would provide greater safety for both drivers and passengers.

Petition organiser and private hire driver Khalil Ahmed, 51, said: “The overwhelming view is that the taxi drivers are against the cameras.

“To me it is an invasion of my, my family’s and my customers’ privacy and our safety.”

The High Wycombe part-time driver said customers are against the plans.

He said: “They do not want their privacy invaded.”

The recordings could only be accessed on request by police or council licensing officers for a specific crime or licensing issue, the council has said.

The plans, approved last year, were backed by the City of Oxford Licensed Taxi Cab Association, which was not available for comment.

Yet Mr Ahmed said: “There are enough laws, there are enough safeguards and there are enough CCTV cameras in Oxford as it is.”

Firms record where the fare was picked up and dropped off and any telephone numbers for security, said Mr Ahmed.

He said drivers are prepared to “chip in” to challenge it in the courts.

Cab firm boss Kevin May lost a legal challenge against Southampton City Council, which is running the same recording system, in December. A district judge said he did not have the power to throw  out the plan but said he considered it unlawful and it could be heard at the High Court.

Part-time taxi driver Mohsin Cheema, 30, said: “Most of our local customers are saying they will feel uncomfortable with someone watching them.”

Recording will start when the key is turned in the ignition and stop 30 minutes after it is turned off. Systems must be in place by March 2015.

Clark Brundin, chairman of the council’s hackney carriages and private hire licensing sub committee, said: “The original request for having audio visual recording came from the Hackney carriage and  private hire people.

“You might find a single isolated private hire driver who doesn’t like the idea but the companies are keen these should be in cars.”

But the Information Commissioner will have the final say, he said, adding: “I can’t tell you absolutely positively that it is going to go ahead.”

Commissioner spokesman Greg Jones said: “We don’t feel that audio recording is necessary all the time.”


Braintree: Camera funds pass district’s cabbies by

Braintree: Camera funds pass district's cabbies by

Cabbies who have campaigned for CCTV are outraged they have been overlooked in favour of Uttlesford drivers.

Braintree Taxi Association has pushed for cameras to be fitted in cabs following a number of late night attacks.

Uttlesford have been given £10,000 from Essex County Council to install CCTV in 15 cars.

Braintree Taxi Association was in talks with the county council and Braintree Council, but said the county council withdrew its offer of money  because the association did not have a data protection manager.

Chairman John Ahmed said: “We were not told until after the deadline for funding had passed that we had to nominate one of members to manage the data.

“Our drivers are very busy and all work, we were disappointed we were not given time to sort this out.

“It is completely unfair on our drivers that Uttlesford cabbies have been given this funding and we were overlooked.

“Especially as we have been lobbying to get CCTV cameras for the past two years.”


Taxis in Uttlesford are the first in county to get CCTV

CCTV Camera

Taxis in Uttlesford will be the first in Essex to be fitted with CCTV, ensuring greater safety for passengers and drivers alike.

The scheme, initially in 15 taxis and private hire vehicles from eight fleets operating in the district, sees video and audio equipment installed which monitors both the front and rear of the vehicle.

It is a joint venture between Uttlesford District Council, Essex Police, Essex Fire and Rescue and the Uttlesford Licensed Operators and Drivers Association, which work together as the Quality Taxi Partnership. Funding for the scheme, totalling £10,000, was provided by Essex County Council.

Cllr Robert Chambers, Uttlesford District Council Cabinet Member for Finance and Administration, is the council’s lead member for licensing matters. He said: “This is an excellent example of partnership working that will bring a real difference to people in the district. Uttlesford has the lowest crime rate of any Essex district and initiatives such as this can only help make it even safer.”

Barry Drinkwater, Chairman of trade body the Uttlesford Licensed Operators and Drivers Association, said: “‘We are very grateful to Essex County Council for their generous funding – taxi drivers who have signed up to the scheme have not had to pay anything towards the purchase or installation of CCTV in their vehicles.

“It’s great that our leading taxi operators in and around Saffron Walden, Great Dunmow, and Stansted Mountfitchet all appreciate the potential benefits.  One operator reported that last weekend his new CCTV helped him not lose his fare when a group of passengers threatened to run off.”

Chief Inspector Alyson Wilson, from Essex Police, said: “Essex Police is strongly in favour of this initiative, and we believe the benefits are potentially substantial for both drivers and passengers.

“For the driver, CCTV provides a massive deterrent against the risk of a passenger making off without paying his fare, or even of being robbed or assaulted.

“In addition, because CCTV provides an objective record of events, it protects both drivers and passengers from any malicious claims of inappropriate or criminal behaviour.”

Councillor Tracey Chapman

Essex County Councillor Tracey Chapman, Cabinet Member for Highways and Transportation, added: “Following requests from taxi drivers in Uttlesford, I am pleased that we have been able to financially contribute towards the installation of CCTV cameras. The Uttlesford Quality Taxi Partnership is the first in the county to benefit from this funding and I hope the installation will reassure drivers and passengers about their personal safety.”

The Uttlesford Quality Taxi Partnership was set up in 2009 to help the relevant authorities, agencies and members of the trade work together more closely and improve standards.