A TAXI boss has won his test case against “big brother” spy cameras in cabs.
Kevin May triumphed in his legal battle against Southampton City Council’s requirement to fit digital security cameras that record images and conversations in his taxis.
It could pave the way for around 300 other Hackney carriage and private hire taxis with the cameras already fitted to follow suit, while more than 400 who are yet to install the devices might not need to.
Southampton City Council has vowed to appeal, saying cameras ensure higher safety levels for both passengers and drivers.
Mr May, the city’s largest taxi owner and a director of the biggest firm Radio Taxis, argued the licensing rule breached Article 8 of Human Rights Act.
He said this was because the compulsory CCTV surveillance invaded both the driver and the passenger’s right to privacy.
In 2009 the city council became one of the first councils in England bring in a compulsory requirement for cameras in cabs.
Cabbies cannot switch off the cameras, which cost £700 to install, even when they are using them for family or personal reasons.
But district judge Anthony Callaway ruled the CCTV policy showed “insufficient regard to the respective rights of both passengers and drivers”.
And while he said cameras could curb crime, this alone did not show “pressing social need” for them.
SPY cameras are being fitted in taxis to stop yob passengers attacking drivers.
A small number of private hire cars will be fitted with CCTV next month as part of a scheme to reduce incidents of “hate crime” — and police chiefs say they would like to see a camera in every taxi in Bolton.
It comes after a series of attacks on drivers in the town, which prompted one taxi firm boss to put up a £1,000 reward for anyone helping to convict a yob.
Police are cracking down on hate crime, which is defined as crime motivated by issues such as race, gender, disability or sexual orientation.
Taxi drivers, many of whom are Asian, are often victims of hate crime, and police a i m t o s t o p i t using CCTV cameras.
Ch Insp Alan Wood said: “It might lead to our hate crime figures going up, but it could also increase the detection rate.
“The best possible evidence is if we can get someone on CCTV doing it because it will also allow us to prosecute them.
“Eventually the cycle goes round — we stop offenders offending and we reduce hate crime.”
The CCTV pilot scheme will be funded by the Be Safe Partnership, a scheme run jointly by the police, Bolton Council, the fire service and other agencies.
Nick Astley, managing director of Metro Taxis in Tonge Moor, said: “We are hoping to randomly put CCTV in our cars so there’s more security to protect our customers and our drivers.
“I think anything that cuts down crimes against taxi drivers is great because it’s an ongoing problem.
“We want to do something about it before a really serious crime or accident takes place.”
Signs would be put up in the windows of any cars fitted with CCTV. About six hate crimes are reported every week in Bolton, but only about a quarter of them result in prosecutions.
Police have seen a steady increase in detection rates over the last few years but are still working hard to improve the situation.
THE city’s 600 taxi drivers could be forced to install CCTV in their cars to protect themselves and their passengers.
Many drivers have backed the idea of all cabbies being forced to have the £400 cameras and microphones fitted in their vehicles from as early as next year.
Last night, some drivers said it would make them and their passengers feel safer, although there were concerns it could be an invasion of passengers’ privacy.
Taxi driver Richard Barlow, 53, of Kidlington, said: “I am all for it. It will hopefully encourage more female passengers. We don’t get many females.
“Drivers are sometimes accused of conversations and things that do not take place, so it will protect us.
“It will also reduce the chance of us being attacked. I don’t drive nights but, with CCTV, I would.
“I have been attacked three times. A cord was wrapped around my neck. I have had people threaten me and grab me when they did not want to pay.”
Tony Green, director of 001 Taxis in St Aldates, Oxford, installed software in his cabs three years ago so he knows the exact location of every vehicle, with a panic button for drivers.
He said: “It is a good thing for safety. It is going to make drivers and the passengers safer.”
The City of Oxford Licensed Taxi Cab Association said it received a report of serious assaults on drivers in the city, resulting in hospital treatment, every three to four months.
Secretary Alan Woodward said there were serious arguments between drivers and passengers almost every weekend.
In April last year, a driver was robbed at knifepoint of £80 and his mobile phone in William Kimber Crescent.
But one taxi driver, who asked not to be named, said: “It is wrong, it is disrespectful to our passengers. Some might not get in if they are being recorded.
“It will cost us a lot of money.”
Mr Woodward believed the move would not impact on fares, despite the £400 cost.
Any new vehicles needing a licence from April 2012 must have the cameras fitted, but vehicles already licensed have got until April 2015. The scheme is set to be rubberstamped by the city council next month.
Julian Alison, the council’s licensing team leader, said: “We want to ensure that we promote the safety of the public and any initiatives that can assist in this objective are actively pursued by the Licensing Team and the Trade Associations.
“We want to ensure that any projects do not place a heavy financial burden on the licensed trade.”
There are 112 Hackney Carriages and 528 private hire vehicles currently registered in the city. The council charges £115 for a taxi driving licence for both Hackney carriages and private hire vehicles and £351 for a Hackney carriage vehicle licence.
Police spokesman Chris Kearney said: “The installation of CCTV cameras into the city’s licensed taxis will make a night out in the city centre an even safer proposition and provide valuable evidence for officers investigating allegations.”
It is not yet clear how the system in Oxford would work, but similar schemes are used in Huddersfield, Burnley and Hastings.
Mark Horsfall, who has installed CCTV in one of his cabs at Mount Taxis in Huddersfield, said: “The people who have installed it for a while say it’s definitely worth it. It has helped them in several situations.”
Meanwhile, in Staffordshire, the police and council have used technology so they can download CCTV images from the cabs directly to a police station.