‘Our hands are tied’ insist taxi licensing chiefs

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CAMPAIGNERS are demanding tougher background checks on drivers applying for taxi licences to protect passengers from the risk of sex attacks.

A petition has been launched in Yorkshire to lobby for stricter vetting of immigrant applicants after two young women were raped by foreign cab drivers in the region.

And rape charities are calling for more rigorous checks on all drivers to stop another serial sex attacker like black cab rapist John Worboys from prowling the roads in search of victims.

More than 1,300 people have signed a petition in Hull after a teenager was attacked there by minicab driver Hadi Mohammed.

The Iraqi Kurd, who came to the city in 2000, is now behind bars serving an eight-year prison sentence for raping the 18-year-old.

Peter Nilsson, a black cab driver in the city, launched the No CRB, No Badge campaign in a bid to change licensing laws in the wake of his sentencing last September.

All applicants must have enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks – formerly carried out by the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) – to help licensing authorities assess whether they may pose a threat.

But the checks are limited to a driver’s criminal history in this country, so immigrants’ records in their home countries cannot be scrutinised by UK authorities.

Foreign nationals are instead required to produce a certificate of good conduct from their embassy to vouch for their history there.

But Mr Nilsson said the certificates were often “not worth the paper they are printed on”.

He also claimed that in many cases licences were still being issued even if embassies failed to supply any information, as councils were taking this to mean there was no problem.

“It gives us all a bad name – 99 per cent of taxi drivers are decent, hard-working people but there are some who shouldn’t be on the road because they haven’t had the checks,” he said.

Nadine Fudge, chair of Hull City Council’s licensing committee, said she supported the campaign but the council’s hands were tied by Government legislation.

“I do think it ought to be looked into more. My main concern is for the safety of the public,” she said.

“We depend on these other countries to give us the information and we have to take it on trust. That’s the big problem.”

The issue was highlighted again in January when Bangladeshi-born private hire driver Mohammed Shahin was jailed for seven-and-a-half years for raping a 20-year-old woman he had picked up from a night out in Leeds.

The 28-year-old, who was living in Bradford, is due to be deported after serving his sentence.

Both Hull and Leeds councils stressed that they took passenger safety seriously and put would-be drivers through a stringent application processes.

But rape charities said more needed to be done to keep passengers safe from sexual violence.

A spokeswoman for Support After Rape and Sexual Violence Leeds (SARSVL) said: “Only around 15 per cent of rapes and other sexual offences in this country are reported to police and this, along with the experience of high profile cases such as that of John Worboys, tell us criminal records checks are not foolproof and that this is not an issue only of relevance to foreign nationals.”

Worboys was jailed indefinitely in 2009 for drugging and sexually assaulting 12 women in his London black cab. He told them he had won money on the lottery or in a casino before offering them spiked champagne to “celebrate”.

Police believe he may have attacked as many as 102 victims.

A spokeswoman for Rape Crisis England and Wales said: “A woman should be safe from sexual violation where ever she goes, including cabs. Checks on all drivers should be rigorous and regular, and not only related to criminal records, as so many sexual predators remain uncaught.”