What have we learned from previous history to protect our taxi and private hire industry regards the safeguarding of vulnerable victims within our industry?
The industry reputation as we can all say is not of a favourable nature. In fact it has had been looked as in a negative light for many years and as an industry we really need to give all authority figures who govern the industry a good kick up the backside and make better and quicker safeguarding protocols at a national level and unisons as one mandatory standard for everyone to follow.
But don’t get me wrong, it is not just the people who make the rules and guidelines responsibility, it is the responsibility of every operator, every driver and every associated members to the industry to make sure that not only are the safety protocols followed, but also to make sure constant reviews and enforcement to stamp out such nature are adhered.
Many of us make bold statements and loosely implement rules that they say all their drivers and fleet operators abide by to adhere in making sure and to spot red flags as and when they happen.
The truth is that we are still failing. I will say that steps are being taken by various councils across the country to implement training to create awareness and understanding of these important matters, but in saying that what responsibility are the operators and drivers themselves taking to safeguard their industry and environment.
Many of whom I have spoken to across various parts of the country in the trade have said that we still need stronger guidelines and measures, to being told that it’s not my problem as just want to make my money and go home. When I hear statements like this it really makes me question the seriousness and protectiveness towards our fellow members, community and industry as a whole.
A recent incident this year in February, taxi drivers in Leeds failed to spot red flags of child sex abuse that was conducted as an undercover test by the Leeds local police to see how drivers would notice and respond to red flag behaviours.
Officers from Leeds District Safeguarding’s Child Vulnerability and Exploitation Team worked with colleagues from Leeds North West Neighbourhood Policing Team, police cadet volunteers and staff from Leeds City Council Taxi and Private Hire Licensing to run a ‘test purchase’ style operation targeting hotels and private hire vehicles in outer north-west Leeds.
Detective Superintendent Lee Berry, Head of Crime & Safeguarding for Leeds District, said: “Tackling child sexual exploitation remains a key focus of our work to reduce violence against women and girls.
“Those working in private hire vehicle economy have a key role to play in helping us to identify suspicious behaviour and protect victims from harm.
“The suspicious behaviour demonstrated in this operation was based on our real-life experience of the type of activity we see around child sexual exploitation offences.
“This operation was not about catching people out but about identifying where the risks are and raising awareness so we can work together to prevent, deter, and disrupt this type of offending.
“We already carry out awareness training for staff in these areas, alongside our partners at Leeds City Council, and it would be reassuring to see that increased awareness in action in the examples where staff dealt positively and flagged up their concerns. (Source: https://www.leeds-live.co.uk/news/leeds-news/leeds-taxi-drivers-fail-spot-26144889)
Several places in Swindon and Wiltshire were searched by police for signs of child exploitation. Working with Wiltshire Council, Swindon Borough Council and British Transport Police, officers from Wiltshire Police’s dedicated Exploitation and Missing team visited several taxis ranks and firms on March 20.
Child exploitation, which is still ever present in our society, covers anything from the coercion of young people under 18 into sexual activity to children being forced to work for a County Lines drugs gang. Some are also trafficked and victims of modern slavery.
Detective Inspector Eirin Martin, head of the Exploitation and Missing Team, said: “Often child exploitation sits under the radar and so there are usually only subtle signs that this type of crime is taking place.
“Our intelligence work can help prevent this, but we need the public’s help too. To be our extra eyes and ears. To spot those signs in everyday situations.
“Please also note that those who do the exploiting are not necessarily your stereotypical criminal either. They can be individual men or women, groups or even other young people. (Source: https://www.swindonadvertiser.co.uk/news/23403617.police-speak-swindon-public-transport-staff-child-e).
Other signs of failed responsibility have been incidents happening for decades going unnoticed and even been overlooked by the police, such as in the Telford scandal where the paedophiles used a tried and tested approach to target and exploit their victims – employing what became known as a “loverboy” method.
The grooming often began when the girls were in their early teens, but sometimes when they were even younger. Men would deliberately seek out vulnerable children and would quickly win them round by offering them lifts or by buying them alcohol and cigarettes.
Local taxi industry, largely operated by Asian men, in the town, played a pivotal role in the abuse. The report detailed “numerous accounts of children being subjected to unwanted sexual attention in taxis, which led in some cases to rape or other serious sexual assault by the driver”.
The report also found that taxi drivers had worked together to dupe girls such as in the process of:
“Asian men will pick up a girl in a taxi when drunk, stop at a shop, supposedly to buy a drink, and then drive off, leaving the girl abandoned,” one witness told the inquiry.
“He will then call other men, one of whom will pick the girl up, thereby ‘rescuing’ her, with the others driving to a pre-arranged location in readiness for the second taxi to bring the girl there in order that all the men can rape her.”
The gangs even targeted girls during school lunch hours, picking them up and dropping them off with little concern that their activities would be noticed. (Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2022/07/12/telford-scandal-1000-children-abused-police-feared-investigating/)
Although the Telford scandal is not as recent it holds an important role in identifying the failing in protecting innocent and vulnerable children, and not just that this is just one of many incidents that have crippled our industry in negative light, and in saying that who let who down? Whose responsibility was it to protect, the answer EVERYONES RESPONSIBILITY!
Evidence across many sources shows that taxis are often used to transport children (both girls and boys) between hotels, pubs, and other places where they are exploited. So, it’s not just a good idea for taxi drivers to be able to spot the signs of exploitation, it’s their responsibility. Exploited children are usually too terrified and ashamed to ask for help themselves. Taxi drivers are in a unique position to notice when all may not be right with passengers in their vehicle, pass their concerns on to the police – and potentially save a child from the nightmare of exploitation.
Many councils across the country, for example in Poole, Barnsley, TfL, Wolverhampton, Rotherham, Leeds, just to name a few are taking steps and making it, and have made it compulsory for all the taxi and private hire industry affiliates to set up new mandatory training courses to help protect the most vulnerable people within the local community. These training courses will cover and detail the safeguarding, disability awareness and how to support people with vulnerability. It must acknowledge and focus on mental health, child sexual exploitation, sexual harassment and much more.
Councillor John Rampton, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Licensing, Borough of Poole in January 2020, said: “Taxi drivers are the eyes and ears in our town and as such may spot behaviour or patterns that need to be reported to the authorities. As well as covering safeguarding, the training also deals with a range of conditions and disabilities that passengers may have and how drivers can recognise and deal with these. This will result in an improved taxi and private hire service for everyone.
In London, Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, has confirmed the introduction of safeguarding training for Transport for London (TfL) licensed drivers and applicants.
The mayor was responding to a question from Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon who asked whether “TfL considered offering training to taxi and private hire drivers to help identify and support the reporting of violence against women?”
Mr Khan said, “In addition to safeguarding communications already issued to licensees, Transport for London plans to introduce a number of additional training modules to taxi and private hire drivers on safeguarding and the role licensees can play in keeping their passengers, including women, children, young people and vulnerable adults, safe.”
Taxi firms and its drivers depend on the reputation of how it operates. Rhianon Greenslade, Sexual Violence Prevention Officer, Safer Poole Partnership, added: “Taxi drivers could provide that missing jigsaw piece of information that the Police or social care teams need to take action. We know that taxi drivers witness various incidents that may appear concerning, so by working together we can safeguard those most at risk in our community.”
The one key thing from all this is that we need to be focused and need to have parameters in place that help better the industry into a better light. Truth be told we can’t always stop what someone is to do, or that they are involved in, however any measure in place is better than no measure.
This is where the Safety as a Standard training programme I truly believe gives everyone the core and detailed understanding of safeguarding and the importance of noticing red flag signs of child sexual exploitation. The course material gives every fleet as well as independent drivers the awareness and knowledge of steps that should be taken and what you should be aware of. Even for councils it would give them a solid platform for all their trainees to learn and going forward have a national standard universally opening the driver market and understanding the safety training and awareness in one standard rather than the current independent council self-created standards.
Safety as a Standard corporate membership programmes are relatable to all, but it is up to you as an owner, as a driver to believe in the importance of safety standards in joining the network of people who are already making the industry better for a better tomorrow. The choice is yours!