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.


County Durham gears up for new taxi system

A NEW taxi system, which will see changes to the way hackney carriages and the private hire trade operate, will come into force next month in County Durham.

From September 1, Durham County Council’s new policy will bring about de-zoning across the county and the deregulation of licensed hackney carriage numbers in the Chester-le-Street and Durham City areas.

This means that licensed hackney carriages will be able to pick up and drop off fares anywhere within the council’s area.

Previously there were seven different zones representing the seven former district council areas which came together to form the unitary authority in April 2009.

The council’s head of environment, health and consumer protection, Joanne Waller, said: “Currently if a licensed hackney carriage driver picks up a passenger in for example Barnard Castle or Peterlee and takes that person to a place in another zone within the county, the driver is prevented from picking up a new fare from a taxi rank or by being hailed in the street, when they reach that destination.

“That not only means that empty vehicles are being driven needlessly all over the county, harming the environment and wasting fuel, but it also means that passengers wanting to get a taxi are not able to do so.

“By removing the zones we are bringing County Durham in line with many other counties and ensuring a better service for customers, improving accessibility to taxis at peak times in all areas and enabling operations of a system which is fairer to all taxi operators and to the environment.”

The council has been working with the licensed taxi trade for a number of years and a widespread consultation programme was held prior to the Cabinet adopting the new policy.

But the move proved unpopular with cabbies in Durham, who staged a number of go-slows through the city in protest, claiming it would lead to a “free for all” in the city centre.

The taxi drivers are also opposed to a colour policy which will force them all to drive white cabs.

Ms Waller said: “There have been some concerns raised by operators in Durham City that there is not enough rank space in the city and insufficient custom to go round.

“In response we have provided 15 new spaces after 6pm by extending the rank on Claypath and providing an additional rank in certain hours on Freeman’s Place.

“Clearly we will also be closely monitoring the situation and in the city itself we are using a pilot traffic order, which can be amended if required, so that we can measure how the new systems are working.”

Detailed leaflets outlining the new operating systems are being sent to licensed taxi trade members in Durham City and information for customers is being distributed across the county throughout a network of venues.

Posters are being placed at strategic points and the new scheme will be supported by an increased police presence and enforcement of road traffic and rank regulations where necessary, particularly where non-licensed vehicles are parked on ranks during restricted hours. In addition, the experimental traffic order in Durham City is designed to alleviate potential access issues on Claypath, where the rank will be extended.


Taxi drivers claim TfL delaying Richmond station redevelopment

Taxi: David Hierons, Jim Redhead and Tony Willcox

Questions have been raised over redevelopment plans at Richmond station.

Taxi drivers operating outside the station believe Transport for London (TfL) has been delaying the project to try to force a reversion to original, scrapped, plans for the site that would have meant paving over the station forecourt.

Driver Tony Wilcox said: “Public consultation went ahead and I believe the public voted unanimously to leave it [the front of the station] as it was [but we understand that] TfL bus division has turned around and said we’re not having this we want to overturn the public consultation and go back to the original plans.

“TfL is playing bully boy and we are not going to have it.”

TfL said it was ]still in the process of reviewing revised proposals.

A spokesman said: “Our primary concern is for the safety of commuters and pedestrians in that area and we did have some concerns about the revised plan.

“We have received a new proposal from the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. We will be discussing this with the council and will respond to them as soon as possible.”

Initial plans to pedestrianise Richmond station forecourt were put forward in 2007 but following two public consultations a redesigned was called for.

Issues concerning residents included worries moving the taxi rank would mean passengers would have to cross the road late at night which could be unsafe.

Richmond Council said delays were down to TfL’s concerns over revised proposals.

A council spokesman said: “London Buses/TfL have raised concerns about the council’s revised proposal stating that the scheme is disadvantageous to bus passengers, causes operational difficulties and presents safety risks, particularly location of pedestrian crossing away from public desire line and sitting of bus stops too close to the junction.

“We are currently considering London Buses response and will be discussing the matter further with TfL.


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.


Gunman shoots at Keighley Private-Hire firm’s office

The private-hire office is cordoned off by police

Police are investigating after a mystery gunman opened fire on a private-hire office in Keighley.

A single shot was fired through the window of the Central Private Hire premises at 1.45am yesterday.

The private hire office is located on the forecourt of Keighley’s railway station, a busy town centre location.

Although the premises were occupied at the time of the terrifying attack, no-one was injured.

Shortly afterwards a burnt-out vehicle was discovered in a nearby street, but police investigating the gun attack said they were still determining whether the car was linked to the shooting.

A large part of the station forecourt was sealed off yesterday morning as detectives continued their inquiries into the shooting.

The former owner of the private hire business, P Sakinder, was at the taped-off scene.

He said: “Someone shot through the window. The office was manned but fortunately nobody was hurt. We are just waiting for the police forensic people to come.”

Police are appealing for anyone with information, or who may have seen anything suspicious in the railway station area at about the time of the incident, to phone them on 0845 6060606 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

About 10 minutes after the shooting, the fire service was called out to deal with the burning car in nearby Pitt Street. The vehicle was destroyed.


Rap for illegal pick-ups

Licensing chiefs went undercover as would-be customers and found almost a third of drivers willing to break the rules.

A total of 17 private hire drivers were stopped in Preston city centre and five offered to take the fare.

Today, Preston’s licensing boss said those who had broken the law – by plying for hire and having no valid insurance – would face prosecution.

Licensing officers and special police officers flagged down six drivers outside Yum Yum in Lancaster Road and three accepted hire.

Another two accepted business outside the Assembly pub at the junction of Lune Street and Fleet Street.

Earlier, five drivers refused hire in Fishergate and four refused to pick up customers next to the Flag Market in Cheapside.

And the officers also checked activities outside the Black Bull pub at the junction of Garstang Road and Black Bull Lane in Fulwood.

“They found a row of Hackney carriages but few private hire vehicles.

Mike Thorpe, the council’s head of licensing, said: “The council has a duty to ensure that vehicle proprietors, drivers and operators are licensed to carry out their trade in accordance with the law, bye-laws, statutory notices and licence conditions and all enforcement action is risk-based, proportionate and targeted, which is important with reducing resources.

“A minority of licensed private hire operators are tempted to take unbooked fares which means they are cheating their operators who may be unaware of these hirings and importantly putting the public at risk because their private hire vehicle insurance becomes invalid if the hire is not pre-booked through a licensed private hire operator.”

He said offenders would be reported.

A similar operation was carried out in February and a number of drivers were stopped.

Three of those private hire drivers were due before Preston Magistrates’ Court today

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.

Reading Taxi fares ‘hike’ agreed by councillors

Cllr Jeanette Skeates said: ‘I do have some sympathy with you in that you haven’t put up fares

Day rates for taxi fares in Reading will rise by an average of nearly five per cent after Town Hall licensing bosses gave the green light for cabbies to increase the cost of journeys in the town.

A licensing applications sub-committee at Reading Borough Council gave approval to recommend the change following a proposal by Reading Taxi Association (RTA) and Reading Cab Drivers’ Association (RCDA).

Members of the committee agreed to an average increase of 4.68 per cent on daytime fares and reduction of one second in waiting time when a vehicle is at traffic lights or stuck in congestion before the meter ticks over. The application maintained there would be no change to the £2.20 minimum charge before the taxi moves off or night rates, resulting in an overall average fare increase of 2.34 per cent.

Meters would tick over every 146 yards up to two miles and 142 yards after that distance instead of 160 yards and 152 yards respectively.

RTA and RCDA also put forward their preferred option of increasing day fares by 6.74 per cent which was rejected by the committee at Reading’s Civic Centre last Tuesday afternoon. Taxi drivers claimed fully comprehensive insurance policies had risen by up to 40 per cent and huge fuel increases had forced them to apply to put up fares for the first time since September 2008.

Asif Rachid, chairman of RTA, said: “We have been putting off fare increases for a number of years now primarily because of the climate.

“Everyone is feeling it and we have also been hit by constant rises in fuel prices, cost of living, inflation and insurance costs. Hence just to reach some of that bill we have asked for the fare increase.”

Tahir Abdullah, chair of RCDA, said: “We have done as much as we can to bear the cost but have come to the point that we need some help and fare increases are the way out.”

Tom Kirrabe, a taxi driver of 17 years, told the committee the number of taxis in the rank at Reading station had increased by 40 per cent in three years and members of the committee said that the cabbie’s proposals may discourage people from using taxis.

Councillor Jeanette Skeates said: “I do have some sympathy with you in that you haven’t put up fares.

“You could have done so year on year and maybe people would not have noticed it quite as much if it had been done in smaller amounts.”

Committee chairman Cllr Peter Jones added: “I appreciate you have held back in the past and costs have gone up but we are trying to be fair to the passenger as well, and I would agree that we should recommend the 2.34 per cent increase.”

The committee recommended the council’s head of environment approve the increase subject to no objections being received. Should no objections be raised the new fares will come into force at the beginning of 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.”

Police waste £70K advertising axed marshall scheme

Police bureaucrats spend £70k helping to advertise Southport’s taxi marshall scheme axed in spending cuts

POLICE bureaucrats were forced to spend £70,000 helping to advertise a scheme after it was axed in the cuts.

The Policing Plan for 2011-12 which was posted to thousands of homes across Merseyside in July, advertised the successes of taxi marshalls in Southport.

But taxi marshalls, who were credited with reducing violent crime by two-thirds in the town centre, were scrapped at the start of June to much criticism.

The Merseyside Police Authority produced 650,000 copies of the leaflet.

Councillor Simon Shaw who used to be a member of the Police Authority said: “I’m sure people in Southport would much rather have a taxi marshall scheme working rather than £70,000 being spent on asking their opinion.

“However, apparently the law requires Merseyside Police to circulate the policing plan.”

And Cllr Brenda Porter who helped introduce taxi marshalls in 2003 described the spending as “ridiculous”.

She said: “It is crazy. If we could get £12,500 we could still keep the marshalls on a Friday and Saturday night.”

Merseyside Police Authority Chief Executive, Paul Johnson, said the scheme had not been axed when the leaflets were produced.

He said: “When we were putting this document together, the Community Safety Partnerships submit text in good faith that it is correct, and we accept it as such.

“As for investing resources into the leaflet, it is a statutory responsibility for all police authorities to produce a Policing Plan Summary each year and distribute one to each household in their area.

“While Merseyside Police Authority views the summary as a useful tool to engage with our communities and let them know what we are planning for the coming year, if we did not produce and distribute it we would be failing to meet one of our statutory duties.”