South Ribble leader forced to speak on taxi driver scandal

The Leader of South Ribble Borough Council has pledged all recommendations from the ongoing review of its licensing function will be implemented.

Speaking at a full council meeting to discuss the issue, Councillor Margaret Smith stressed the independent investigation had yet to be concluded but that the authority had already taken action to act upon its interim findings.

She said: “I want to reassure the residents of South Ribble that nothing matters more to this council than their safety, and in particular that of our children and young people. We acted swiftly as soon as issues relating to the licensing service were brought to our attention and are determined to learn any lessons the report highlights.

“This council is committed to being open and transparent. When we receive the final independent report it will be published in full, which has always been our clear intention. This council is not afraid to open itself up to external challenge, to accept where improvements can be made, and to ensure they are implemented.

“The report which has been publicised over the last week was only ever an interim version. It was certainly not in a suitable format to be shared as widely as it was. It included individual’s names and information that could jeopardise ongoing disciplinary procedures concerning members of staff.

“The interim report has set out a number of recommendations for making sure our licensing service works effectively in the future. We have accepted all of them and have taken them forward.

“The recommendations include a comprehensive exercise to ensure all taxi licence applications have the right documentation in place, and steps to reinforce our staff’s understanding of their role in protecting the public. We will also roll out a refreshed programme of mandatory safeguarding training for all staff over the coming months.

“Over and above the recommendations in the interim report, we have also put in place additional resources, extra checks on taxi licences, reformed our procedures and invested in extra technology to improve the way our licensing service operates. The safeguarding board and the county council have also been given assurances about the swift action we have taken and our commitment to continue working with them and keeping them fully informed.”

Councillors agreed for the scrutiny committee to oversee the publication of the final report, and identify any further lessons that need to be learnt.
Councillor Smith added:

“There is a shared commitment on all sides of the council to public safety. It is important we work together on a cross-party basis to ensure the improvements that may be required in the licensing department are carried out.

“We will put an action plan in place to ensure that any further recommendations from the final report are implemented. I am absolutely determined to protect the public and we will make sure that our licensing functions are absolutely and completely spot on.”

source: http://www.thebee.co.uk/

Uber forced to apologise to blind student after driver refused to let his guide dog in car because it was against his RELIGION

Uber has been forced to apologise to a blind student after one of its drivers refused to let a guide dog in his car – saying it was against his religion.

Social media student Charles Bloch, 22, used the taxi firm’s smart phone app to call a cab to take himself and two-year-old Labrador Carlo to the park.

Once booked, he called the driver to let him know he would be bringing his guide dog but the man refused to take them saying it was an ‘unclean animal’ and might ‘try to lick him’.

When Charles told him it was illegal to refuse a lift to blind passenger with a guide dog, the driver became hostile and asked: ‘Are you threatening me?’ before hanging up.

Social media student Charles Bloch, 22, was told by a driver that his guide dog Carlo, pictured, would not be allowed in his car as the dog was an ‘unclean animal’ and might ‘try to lick him’

Charles – who has been blind with cataracts since birth – complained to the company and the driver called back and offered to give them a lift free of charge.

The offer was refused and Charles booked another taxi.

De Montford University student Charles – who lives in Leicester city centre – said: ‘He didn’t say exactly what religion he was but that his beliefs said that dogs were unclean animals.

‘He asked if my dog would lick him because guide dogs have to sit in the front passenger seat. It was a very bizarre thing to say.

‘I told him no because Carlo is so well-tempered. I told him it was against the law not to carry a guide dog and that the only reason he could refuse was if he was allergic to dogs.

‘But he was quite abrupt and asked if I was threatening him.

‘I felt disheartened and quite let down. It was a shocking moment.

‘It was quite intimidating. It was my first time using Uber but this experience has put me off using them for life.’

In March 2003, the Disability Discrimination Act was extended to make it illegal for minicab drivers to refuse to carry guide dogs for blind passengers.

Charles used the taxi firm’s smart phone app to call a cab to take himself and two-year-old Labrador Carlo to the park

An Uber spokesman said: ‘We would like to again extend our sincere apologies to Mr Bloch.

‘It is not acceptable to refuse guide dogs.

‘While the licensed drivers who use our app are self-employed, we remind them of their legal obligation to take service animals before they can start driving.

‘Any Uber partner-driver who doesn’t accept service animals not only risks having their Uber partnership revoked but also risks having their private hire licence taken away.’

Last week blind Jade Sharpe 23, from Roehampton, London, took Uber to court for a fifth time for allegedly refusing to give lifts to her and guide dog Brodie.

She claims Uber drivers have turned them down nine times since March last year and her evidence has led to the conviction of four of its cabbies for breaching equality laws.

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

Taxi driver hits out at county council for “killing the trade” with tough and costly tests

A TAXI company owner claims the county council is “killing the trade” with tough and costly tests putting off prospective drivers.

James Crowe, who runs Newton Aycliffe-based Horndale Taxis, has called for a meeting with Durham County Councillors and MP Phil Wilson to discuss the raft of hoops that he says would-be taxi drivers are forced to jump through.

Figures from Durham County Council (DCC) show from the beginning of January 2015 until April 21 this year, 122 applications for licences were received and 86 applications were approved.

“It’s killing the trade in County Durham,” said Mr Crowe. “People come to me (for a job) and say it’s too much hassle and they aren’t interested.

“There are people out there who want to work but they don’t want to do the test because it’s a mammoth task.”

Mr Crowe believes the low number of qualifying drivers is leading to a county-wide shortage with around 20 “needed to bridge the gap” in Newton Aycliffe.

A representative for the Hackney carriage trade in the town, he has six vehicles and five drivers but is still looking for three further full-time employees.

However, he says he is unable to fill the vacancies as a result of the difficult nature and overall cost of the tests which can come in at around £300.

To gain a badge in the county, drivers have to pass a medical check, criminal record check, advanced driver course, a knowledge test and locality test.

Mr Crowe said the latter requires knowledge for across the county which he believes is unfair.

“I’ve been doing this job for 20 years and I wouldn’t be able to pass this test,” he added.

Mr Crowe believes the answer could be to issue drivers with a temporary badge to give them time to learn the roads and earn money before embarking on the various tests.

Deborah Plews, one of the owners of Ferryhill’s Clarks Taxis, also believes the cost and “difficult” tests were turning people away.

“With the locality test you don’t learn most of it until you do the job and with sat navs you don’t need it,” she said.

Joanne Waller, DCC head of environment, health and consumer protection, said: “We believe all our licensed drivers should be knowledgeable, professional and competent.

“We therefore consider it both reasonable and appropriate that they should have an acceptable knowledge of the matters covered in the tests whilst ensuring that barriers to entry are not unnecessarily high.”

She added the council had recently made changes for private hire applicants although it remains the same for Hackney licence applicants.

source: http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/

Durham taxi drivers to be trained in spotting child sexual exploitation

Taxi drivers in County Durham are to be trained to spot tell-tale signs of sexual exploitation of children as part of a council scheme.

All Hackney carriage and private hire drivers licensed by Durham County Council are to be required to undergo Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) awareness training, after more than half of people responding to consultation supported such action.

Already 683 taxi drivers – almost 40 percent of the 1,757 drivers licenced by the council – have received CSE awareness training on a voluntary basis.

Further free training sessions have been arranged by the Durham Local Safeguarding Children Board.

In consultation on changes to the council’s hackney carriage and private hire licensing policy, 56.2 percent of respondents agreed that all taxi licence applicants should be required to undergo awareness training to assist in the prevention and reporting of sexual exploitation.

As a result, all applicants will be required to undergo the training before they can be licensed and existing drivers who haven’t already completed one of the training sessions will have to attend one by 1 September 2016.

Knowledge tests for new applicants will also be changed to include questions around CSE awareness.

Coun Brian Stephens, cabinet portfolio holder for neighbourhoods and local partnerships, said: “One of the primary aims of taxi licensing is to protect and safeguard the public, especially our children and young people who are among the most vulnerable groups in society.

“By making it a requirement that all drivers undergo CSE training, we hope that we can help them spot signs of abuse and act on it accordingly.”

A number of other revisions have been made to the licensing policy, which was approved by full council earlier this month.

The policy has been amended to include some new requirements for both licensed vehicles and drivers to improve on existing standards and help safeguard the public.

For example drivers will be required to have their identification clearly visible to passengers and new vehicles will have to meet tougher emission standards.

The use of CCTV in all licensed vehicles will be strongly encouraged and drivers will be required to sign up to the Disclosure and Barring Service Update Scheme.

Basic numeracy testing will be introduced as part of the knowledge test while older vehicles will be required to undergo more frequent testing.

The amended policy will also see drivers have their licence suspended if they do not present their vehicle for testing at a specified time.

The consultation sought the views of members of the taxi trade, trade representatives, taxi service users and all relevant authorities and organisations.

Read more: http://www.sunderlandecho.com/

Private-hire driver jailed for eight years for raping a passenger

A jury found Shapoor Azimi guilty of attacking a 22-year-old student in the back of his cab after picking her up in Nottingham city centre.

And sentencing the 37-year-old cabbie, Judge Timothy Spencer raised concerns over how he was allowed to work on the streets of Nottingham – after he had been in trouble twice before for kerb-crawling, in 2011 and 2006.

After the hearing, a Nottingham City Council spokesman said his previous caution and conviction for kerb-crawling should have been spotted and an investigation had been launched.

The married defendant, an asylum seeker from Afghanistan, picked up his victim in the city after a night out and raped her in the back seat of his private-hire car in Sneinton.

He faced two rape charges concerning the same incident, but the jury cleared him of the first allegation and convicted him on the second on Monday.

Azimi, of Chadwick Road, had denied both allegations, claiming the victim had sexually assaulted him.

Judge Spencer told Azimi, who had his head bowed in the dock, that he had brought depravation on his family and himself.

“On that night, on October 17, you were working as a private-hire driver in this city,” he said. “You were, in my judgement, preying on young women. One of whom was the victim.

“You, in my judgement, were a chancer. You spotted your chance. She filled at least some of your desires.

“In particular she was clearly in a state of disorientation through alcohol and you decided, in my judgement, that she was prey for your sexual desires. Somewhere in that journey you decided rather than take her home, as your duty and obligation was to do, you were going to stop and take advantage of her.”

A manager at the company where Azimi worked had given a statement to the prosecution that said all drivers were checked by private-hire licensing.

“As a business we don’t get directly involved in those checks,” it read. “We get updated on the results.”

However, prosecutor Gordon Aspden told the judge it appeared those checks had not been carried out in this case.

Judge Spencer said: “I know not if he was checked by private-hire licensing, whether he withheld his relevant conviction or caution from private-hire licensing, or whether they checked independently against records that must have been available to them.

“That conviction and caution reveal a situation where this man was wholly unsuitable to be driving a private-hire anywhere and certainly within this city. It seems to me if the authority did carry out any checks they need to look carefully at the system and go to independent records, which I assume are available to them by going to the police.”

A City Council spokesman said: “This driver applied for a licence with us in 2008. His earlier caution and conviction undoubtedly should have been spotted in our background checks and acted on and we are very sorry that this didn’t happen.

“If we were presented with the same situation today, our procedures have improved sufficiently for us to be confident that he would be identified as a person who was not fit and proper to be a private-hire driver, and so not given a licence. Our priority is to protect the public.

“We now demand higher standards of drivers and if there is the slightest doubt about a person’s suitability, we err on the side of caution and don’t issue a licence. “We now carry out DBS checks every year rather than every three and our licensing team is now co-located with the police licensing team where intelligence sharing and closer working will allow issues like this to be identified and acted on.”

source: http://www.nottinghampost.com/

Blind woman who was refused Uber taxis takes drivers to court for discrimination

Jade Sharp & her guide dog Brodie

Uber is designed to be user friendly, one tap and a cab comes to you. It hasn’t been as simple as that for Jade Sharp, who’s blind.

Too often, she’s been treated differently by drivers who discriminate.

Turned down a total of nine times since March last year.

I just find it humiliating because anyone should just be able to call a taxi, jump in and go to wherever they want.

I should not be having these problems just because I’ve got a disability, just because I’ve got a guide dog.

– Jade Sharp

Her guide Dog, 5-year-old Brodie, the reason Jade is refused.

Drivers who are adamant they don’t take pets, are breaching equality laws – because Brodie is a Guide Dog.

I’m just trying to be independent and all these barriers are just getting in the way.

Uber is such a big company, their drivers, they should know what a guide dog is they, should know what an assistance dog is.

It’s against the law to refuse a guide dog.

– Jade Sharp

We spoke to Uber and general manager for London Tom Elvidge who said: “This is not an experience that anybody should have to go through, the law is very clear on this and we, of course, hold exactly the same view. Our expectation of every single Uber driver is that guide dogs are not refused.”

And yet, it keeps on happening. Today Jade and her parents arrived at court for the fifth time, to face the latest driver.

Ratnasingam Thayaparan is the driver who last June, refused Jade.

He was found guilty and ordered to pay a fine.

“I was fined £365 because I didn’t accept a guide dog. The problem is I misunderstood on the phone – that’s why it happened.”

This has to stop happening now, the message has to get to Uber and other Private Hire vehicle offices that it’s unacceptable.

Guide dog owners need their dogs to get around.

The question shouldn’t be asked whether or not they take dogs.

– Rob Harris, Guide Dogs

With more discrimination cases against Uber drivers to come, Jade continues to fight for equality.

source: http://www.itv.com/

Demand for answers on taxi drivers child abuse scandal

Further questions have been raised over South Ribble Council’s handling of a taxi driver child abuse investigation.

After a report over allegations of two taxi drivers exploiting two girls was kept secret, the press and public may face being excluded from a special meeting on the issue.

Labour called the ‘extraordinary meeting’, which will take place on April 27, but the Tory-led council is insisting councillors vote on whether the public can attend.

Officers insist this is a “matter of course” as two members of the licensing department are suspended, pending results of an investigation.

Labour leader Coun Paul Foster said: “The whole point of us calling this meeting is to get things out in the open. We want absolute transparency but they (the council) are still trying to surpress information coming out. It’s appalling.”

At Tuesday night’s scrutiny committee meeting, members who tried to ask questions about the issue were prevented from doing so by council officers.

Committee chairman, Coun Mick Tithertington, said the problem arose when questions were asked about data sharing between licencing and the police, something criticised in the investigation report.

He said: “The director said it was going off the agenda and there was a meeting next week for that. I reminded him that it was perfectly valid to ask questions covered by the partnership, though I did acknowledge we were not able to discuss individual cases.

“The main purpose of scrutiny is to hold the executive to account and it’s important members ask penetrating questions.”

A spokesman for South Ribble Borough Council said: “It is the council’s intention to discuss the issues surrounding the licensing function of the council, including ongoing investigations, in public.

“However, there is an agenda section on Exclusion of the Press and Public. That is not unusual as it is a constitutional requirement when discussing officers and their conduct.

“We are in the middle of a live investigation based on sensitive and confidential information. We have to be extremely cautious about how we could impact, not only on that investigation, but also the disciplinary hearings of two officers. It was, therefore, inappropriate for councillors to discuss these matters at Tuesday’s scrutiny meeting.

“The final report, however, will be published in full – as always intended – when it is completed.

“The council has acted robustly since these issues were brought to our attention. We commissioned the external, independent review and have been working hard to implement its recommendations.

“We are doing a job and that job is not yet complete. When it is we will share our findings.”

Coun Matthew Tomlinson, Lancashire County Council’s member for young people, said he was writing to LCC’s chief executive and leader, asking them to demand reassurances from South Ribble Council that the safeguarding of children has not, and is not, being compromised by the way in which this situation is handled.

source: http://www.lep.co.uk/

Private Hire driver accused of raping stranger on the back seat of his cab

Nottingham driver Shapoor Azimi allegedly raped a former student on the back seat of his taxi in Sneinton, Nottingham Crown Court heard.

He is on trial facing two rape charges involving a passenger in his private-hire car – but claims the stranger actually sexually assaulted him in his car.

The jury heard that he had received a caution for kerb-crawling in 2006, and was convicted in 2011 for soliciting a lone female for sex.

He allegedly attacked the victim in this case, after she got into his car outside a Nottingham city centre club last October.

The ex-graduate fitted the description of another woman Azimi was said to have researched online only days earlier.

Prosecutor Gordon Aspden told the jury the defendant was a man in his mid-thirties who had an intense and persistent interest in seeking out, soliciting, kerb-crawling, and accosting young women.

“It is a sexual compulsion which manifests itself both in public and in private, at work and at leisure, in daylight and in darkness,” he told the trial at Nottingham Crown Court.

“His motive, you may conclude, is a powerful desire to engage in sexual activity with young women who are strangers. The purpose purely his sexual gratification. Such contact is clearly to his taste.

“There is an unhealthy, unsavoury interest in deviant and abnormal sexual behaviour towards women, and a deeply ingrained fixation with their sexual exploitation.

“His car, of course, plays an integral part in all this sexual behaviour. It is the place where he indulges himself; the mobile vantage point from which he can observe young women as he cruises around the city.”

Azimi, 37, of Chadwick Road, Bobbers Mill, was arrested three days after the alleged rapes. His DNA was found on swabs taken from the 22-year-old woman.

He said within 15 minutes of picking up the woman, she had begged him for sex. Azimi said he had refused because he was a “professional man”. He then claimed she sexually assaulted him twice.

Azimi also told the jury in his evidence he was an honest man.

“A man who was capable of exercising iron self-restraint in the face of sexual temptation,” said Mr Aspden.

“A man with almost unparalleled respect for women – he gave himself ten out of ten. And in his own estimation physically good looking and very attractive to the opposite sex.”

The prosecutor asked the jury, before they deliberate next week, whether the defendant had a motive to lie to them.

“He has, you may think, an absolutely overwhelming motive to lie to you. Mainly to get away with rape, so he can go back to driving his taxi around Nottingham serving the public.”

However, he said the victim had “no motive to lie”.

He asked the jury what was in it for the woman to get an innocent man, who she had only met for about 12 minutes, wrongly convicted of rape.

“What’s in it for her?” Absolutely nothing,” he said.

The trial continues on Monday.

Read more: http://www.nottinghampost.com/

FINED: Trafford minicab driver refused to pick up blind customer with guide dog

A TRAFFORD minicab driver has been slapped with a fine after refusing to pick up a blind customer because he didn’t want the man’s guide dog in his car.

Asif Raza Syed was prosecuted under equalities legislation at Trafford Magistrates Court on April 8.

Syed, a private hire driver, had refused to carry out a booking accepted by the operator, because the blind customer was accompanied by a guide dog.

He pleaded guilty to the offence and was fined £270, ordered to pay £580 in court costs.

Helen Jones, Trafford Council’s deputy chief executive, said: “The council is committed to protecting all local residents, especially those who may be more vulnerable. We take our responsibilities extremely seriously and ensure that private hire drivers receiving licences are fit and proper and behave in a safe and appropriate manner.

“It is paramount that anyone using our registered private hire drivers should feel confident in the standard of service they receive.

“It is completely unacceptable for such passengers to be left, stranded, inconvenienced and potentially more vulnerable by the actions of someone in whom the council has placed trust.

“This case must act as a warning to all drivers. The council investigates all complaints it receives and will take the strongest possible action, including prosecuting any drivers who fail to carry out their responsibilities.”

While drivers with a genuine medical condition have the right to apply to the council for an exemption from the duty to convey passengers with an assistance dog, Syed had never applied.

This is the second similar prosecution in recent months by Trafford Council.

source: http://www.messengernewspapers.co.uk/

Out-of-town minicab driver hit with £1,000 bill for trying to illegally pick up passengers in Manchester city centre

Azhar Fiaz was stopped by inspectors while driving a Rochdale-licensed vehicle – but refused to speak or show any identification

A private hire cabbie has been hit with a bill of almost £1,000 after being spotted illegally trying to pick up customers in Manchester city centre.

Azhar Fiaz, in a minicab licensed in Rochdale , was spotted driving in the city centre in September.

When he was approached by a council enforcement officer, who asked him if he had a pre-booked job in the area, he refused to speak or show him any identification – and shut the window.

During the incident, at around 2am on September 12, Mr Fiaz, 32, of Norton Road, Rochdale, ignored a second enforcement officer before the police were called.

When an officer spoke to Mr Fiaz, he finally retrieved his private hire badge before admitting he did not have a booking in the city.

He was told to leave – and was subsequently invited to an interview under caution to discuss his failure to wear his badge and also refusing to cooperate with officers.

But he failed to attend – or even respond to a letter.

Mr Fiaz was hauled before Manchester Magistrates’ Court and hit with a £600 fine, costs of £333 – and a victim surcharge of £60.

Coun Nigel Murphy, Manchester council’s executive member for neighbourhoods, said: “Public safety is of the upmost concern which is why our enforcement officers are out on the city streets ensuring that both taxi and private hire regulations are adhered to.

“This case should act as a wake-up call to any private hire driver tempted to bend the rules.

“Our officers are incredibly diligent and will not hesitate to pursue infractions in Manchester – even if the driver is licensed by another authority.”

source: http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/