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Sexual assault leads to renewed plea for change to taxi rules

By Dominic Robertson | Telford | Politics | Published: | Last Updated:

Action is being demanded over taxi licensing after a driver was jailed for sexually assaulting a passenger.

Telford & Wrekin council has asked the government to change the law so that drivers have to earn their licence in the area in which they work.

It said it will also be raising the issue with the chair of Telford's Child Sexual Exploitation inquiry.

Currently drivers can be licensed by councils in areas other than those where they operate.

The call comes after Go Carz driver Raja Ahmed, 28, of Hayes Road, Arleston, admitted sexually assaulting a female passenger he had picked up in Madeley, Telford.

Ahmed drove the victim to an industrial estate where he made her change cars, before driving away from her home down the M54 and groping her.

He was jailed for 19 months.

Telford & Wrekin Council has said Ahmed was not licensed by the organisation. It has also said there is evidence that drivers who have had their licences revoked by Telford & Wrekin Council have obtained permits elsewhere and have returned to work in the borough.

The council said around four in five taxi and private hire drivers in the borough are licensed by other local authorities, which may have less stringent licensing criteria.

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It is permitted following de-regulation in 2015.

The council said it has repeatedly urged the government to change the law.

The authority said it is now raising the issue again with new transport Secretary of State for Transport the Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP following Ahmed's prosecution.

In May 2018, the council was told by Parliamentary Under Secretary for State Nusrat Ghani MP that the matter was being considered by a task and finish group, which reported its findings in September 2018.

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Its recommendations included national licensing standards, limits on cross-border working, powers to cap licenses under certain circumstances and higher safeguarding standards.

Councillor Richard Overton, cabinet lead for enforcement, said: “Since the Government changed the law in 2015, drivers can lawfully operate anywhere in the country, regardless of where they are licensed.

“Standards vary widely across licensing authorities. We can refuse to grant a licence in Telford & Wrekin, yet that person can simply walk in to a neighbouring or other authority and obtain one there, but still work within our area.

"We know that some people are applying for and being granted an operator’s licence in another area because the standards there are lower than here.

"We also have evidence that licensed private hire drivers who have had their licences revoked here for not being fit and proper and have subsequently been licensed by another local authority.

“Public safety is at the forefront of any decisions we make and if we refuse to grant a licence, it will be for legitimate reasons in order to protect the travelling public. For that licence to be granted in another authority just because they have lower standards than here is simply not acceptable.

“Councils must be given the authority to protect the communities they serve. We continue to believe a change in the law is urgently needed so that all private hire journeys should either start or end in the controlled district of the local authority which issue the licences. It’s telling that a Government working group last autumn reached the same conclusion.

“Taxis licensing and cross border hiring are part of the Independent Inquiry Telford Child Sexual Exploitation Terms of Reference and we will be raising this issue with Independent Inquiry chair.

“The Government must act now to help councils with higher licensing standards and protect the public.”

The Department of Transport has been contacted for comment.

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