13 Mar Telford investigation shows need for tougher tests for drivers
“Only 23 per cent of authorities require minicab drivers to have enhanced DBS: this needs to change” – Zoom.taxi
Following the latest scandal involving systematic abuse of young girls in Telford, all of us should do everything we can to safeguard against such appalling activities.
In the minicab industry we have an opportunity to act as eyes where others cannot and that is why there are two changes to current legislation which, whilst cannot stop such criminal behaviour from happening, can at least help to prevent it. It’s hoped that with an enhanced knowledge and understanding of what to look for and how to report concerns, drivers could play a vital role in helping to protect children who are vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.
The first is the requirement for all authorities to make child sexual abuse awareness training mandatory, which currently only 58%, or 170 out of 293 licensing authorities do, according to the official statistics for England. One of those councils insisting on compulsory training is Reading, which wants drivers to be able to recognise and report possible abuse. In a statement, Cllr Jan Gavin, the lead member for children’s services, said “The safeguarding of children is not just the responsibility of the council but of everyone who comes into contact with young people through their work.
“CSE training for Hackney Carriage and Private Hire licence holders is an excellent initiative which will help drivers recognise when young people may be at risk and keep safeguarding of children in their minds.”
In both the media reports and official investigations, what has become apparent is the use of private hire vehicles to transport victims before and after they are abused. Of course, sometimes drivers are complicit or involved since no industry is entirely free of bad apples and that is why we have been calling for all authorities to require an enhanced disclosure and barring service check, which currently only 23%, or 67 out of 293 authorities, require.
In November of last year one minicab driver Satbir Arora saved a girl he was due to drop of at Gloucester station from a predatory paedophile. The girl, who was in her school uniform, had no one meet her at the station and the situation concerned Mr Arora who tried to ascertain whether the girl’s parents knew where she was and calling the man she was due to be meeting, recording the calls.
The council which authorised his license, Cherwell District Council, provided safeguarding training in December 2016. “The training was really useful. Because of the cases we read about on the safeguarding course I was able to recognise the signs and quickly spot that it was a grooming case” Mr Arora said.
With the deregulation of the private hire industry, there has been an alarming trend in passenger safety, says zoom.taxi’s Fareed Baloch, an industry expert.
“We have seen an influx of untrained drivers with insufficient background checks and coupled with this ‘race to the bottom’ by licensing authorities who are competing for the money from drivers and companies, this combines to create a situation where unscrupulous people could slip through the net,” he said.
In Wolverhampton, less than twenty miles from Telford, there was an increase of 383% in the number of PHV licenses issued.
Following the deregulation of the industry, drivers say that Wolverhampton City Council has been granting licenses to drivers who come from all over the country to exploit the easier tests. In England outside London, the total number of driver licenses increased by only 10.7% with the total number of drivers now registered in Wolverhampton standing at 3772, according to the council’s figures.
Wolverhampton charges £185 a year for a PHV license, meaning its more relaxed rules can generate income for the council. Chairman of the licensing committee Cllr Alan Bolshaw said the numbers were because they have “utilised new technology to provide an online platform enabling us to provide a much faster turnaround of license applications than many other areas.”
But Mr Baloch said drivers were “concerned that the council was handing out badges too easily and without stringent tests which used to be a hallmark for the industry.”
“The industry has always taken passenger safety very seriously and many licensing authorities now include mandatory training on child sexual exploitation or unaccompanied packages,” he said.
“You cannot assess if someone is competent at driving or their awareness of issues like CSE and terrorism from an online form.”
Zoom.taxi has also supported proposals by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust for more regular checks.
“One of the first moves following deregulation was the increase in the duration of licenses from 12 months to 36 months. DBS checks are a requirement before a license is handed out, however some have raised concerns that the the length of time between checks is now too long. I would be interested to know how often the authority which issued Azir Ali Mehmood’s license undertakes checks, and if they require an enhanced DBS check – although of course this only works if the police investigate these crimes.”
“I believe we also need better background checks for drivers. We should move to a model like the United States where minicab companies are required to use ‘Live Scan’, a fingerprint-based background check of drivers. Because drivers are in a position of power when someone gets in their vehicle there should be that extra level of safety for passengers. The UK can regulate such checks using IDENT1 – our national fingerprint database: the systems are already there, what we need is the political will for it to happen.”
The private hire industry has an opportunity to continue to act as the ‘eyes and ears’ but it needs the government to realise the errors made with the deregulation in 2015. Rather than just saturate the market in the name of lower prices it needs to realise the impact it has had on the wellbeing and safety of everyone involved in the industry.