Rape alert over private hire "free-for-all" plans

Merseyside / June 23

Plans to cut red tape for taxi and private hire drivers risk increasing incidents of people being raped and sexually assaulted after a night out, Police and Crime Commissioners across England and Wales have warned.

The cross-party group of Commissioners, including Merseyside’s Police Commissioner Jane Kennedy and led by her colleague from Greater Manchester, Tony Lloyd, have joined forces to lobby Ken Clarke to get the dangerous measures removed from the Deregulation Bill, which is currently going through parliament.

The concerns are backed by licensing officials, police, the taxi trade and organisations that work with victims of rape and sexual assault.

While welcoming long-overdue reform of the regulations surrounding taxis and private hire vehicles, Jane has warned it should never be at the potential expense of public safety.

Jane said:  ““These reforms could potentially open up the prospect of a private hire free-for-all, with no guarantees that the person behind the wheel of a vehicle is a licensed private hire driver.

“There have been terrible cases across the country of people being raped, sexually assaulted and even murdered by bogus private hire drivers. The unintended consequence of these measures is that there is a risk that such incidents will increase.

“Our priority has to be ensuring that taxis and private hire vehicles are a safe and secure way of getting home after a night out.  Measures in the Deregulation Bill endanger this. People on Merseyside should always be confident that they will be safe in the taxi they book.”

The Commissioner for Greater Manchester, Tony Lloyd, added: “Taxi regulation reform is long overdue, but this is not the way to go about it. The current system is far from perfect, but at least there are safeguards there which mean people can have confidence that when they get into a marked private hire vehicle it is genuine and being driven by a licensed operator.

“Taking these safeguards away opens the prospect of a private hire free-for-all. There will be no guarantee that a driver is who he says he is, and the inevitable consequence is that there will be an increase in people being attacked after a night out.

“These current proposals are ill-thought-through - rushed law is often bad law.”

Currently, only licensed private hire drivers can get behind the wheel of a marked private hire vehicle; drivers have to be regularly relicensed and there are restrictions on vehicles operating across local authority boundaries.

But under the Deregulation Bill, these limited safeguards are to be swept away, opening up the prospect of a private hire free-for-all, with no guarantees that the driver of a vehicle are who they say they are.

Ironically, proposals are already in place for major reform of taxis and private hire vehicles after the Government asked the Law Commission to draw up a draft Taxi Bill. It proposes a radical suite of measures to streamline taxi and private hire legislation, but the Government has chosen not to introduce the Bill, instead relying on the piecemeal measures in the Deregulation Bill.

The PCCs who have so far joined the campaign are:

  • Tony Lloyd, Greater Manchester (Labour)
  • Jane Kennedy, Merseyside (Labour)
  • Sir Graham Bright, Cambridgeshire (Conservative)
  • Vera Baird, Northumbria (Labour)
  • Kevin Hurley, Surrey (Independent)
  • Alan Charles, Derbyshire (Labour)
  • Martyn Underhill, Dorset (Independent)
  • Martin Surl, Gloucestershire (Independent)
  • Richard Rhodes, Cumbria (Conservative)
  • Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire (Labour)
  • Ron Hogg, Durham (Labour)
  • Sue Mountstevens, Avon and Somerset (Independent)
  • Anthony Stansfield, Thames Valley (Conservative)
  • Winston Roddick, North Wales (Independent)
  • Stephen Bett, Norfolk (Independent)
  • Barry Coppinger, Cleveland (Labour)