Grace Macaskill, Mirror, April 17, 2016
Children as young as five were “sexually exploited” by taxi drivers after a local council failed to run background checks, a new report claims.
Drivers in South Ribble, Lancashire, have been accused of violating children while carrying out council-funded school runs, according to an interim review of the licensing of hackney carriages and private hire vehicles by South Ribble Council.
The horrifying report–which bears troubling similarities to the Rotherham sex abuse scandal–claims children were being put at risk on their daily commute.
It classes the failure of authorities to vet 44 of its drivers as particularly severe, since a report into the Rotherham attacks had warned 1,400 victims were picked up by taxis from school and children’s homes.
The report–ordered by the Cabinet after a string of local government failings–details one shocking case involving a five-year-old girl whose family claim she is so disturbed she can no longer socialise with other children.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided the five-year-old victim was too young to give evidence–even though
the report noted that “police believed the driver had committed the offence”.
And for months the accused driver was allowed to keep his taxi licence until a few weeks ago when the girl’s family won a fight to make the council revoke it.
Two licensing officers who allegedly issued licences without checks have now been suspended in light of the report, but the victims’ families claim it is not enough.
The aunt of the five-year-old girl said: “My niece has been left totally traumatised.
“She’s gone back to wetting herself and sits alone in the playground during breaks.
“She told her mum this man had touched her inappropriately.
“He was on police bail but he kept his licence and was still driving around until a few weeks ago when the authority finally stepped in and revoked his licence.
“It’s an absolute disgrace.
“He’s been driving around picking up schoolchildren and all the while the council did nothing.”
In another incident, a 16 year old, who was taken to school as part of a contract with Lancashire County Council, feared she was going to be raped by a driver.
“It is claimed he propositioned the “vulnerable” teen but the council failed to revoke his licence.
The report reads: “Driver in case A transported a vulnerable 16-year-old girl as part of a school contract for Lancashire County Council.
A complaint was received by the county council that this driver made inappropriate sexualised remarks to the girl.
“The driver in case B was arrested for a sexual offence against a primary school age girl.
“The CPS decided not to proceed with prosecution against the driver because of potential difficulties in such a young witness giving evidence.
“However, police have been clear that they consider the driver did commit the offence.
“It is reasonable to assume the driver poses a safeguarding risk.”
Yet licensing officers tasked with investigating the alleged abuses failed to take action and didn’t interview the drivers “under caution” or take statements from the witnesses. Instead, their report states, they appeared to allow the police investigation to “lead their own”.
It also states no “significant data sharing” took place between the Tory-led South Ribble Borough Council and police.
And a handwritten note by the 16 year old “expressing fears of being raped by the driver” was present in a paper file but never presented to the General Licensing Committee.
Lawyers brought in to carry out the independent review, said they had spoken to a number of council officers and examined documents.
The report also found “inadequate appreciation” of the council’s duty to protect children and members of public who use taxis.
South Ribble’s statement
In a formal statement, South Ribble Borough Council said: “We are currently investigating a number of issues within the licensing section.
“The council takes matters of public safety extremely seriously and we are currently undertaking a full review of all taxi licences, including drivers and vehicles.
“Where issues have been highlighted, these have been rectified without incident.
“Two licensing officers are currently suspended subject to ongoing disciplinary proceedings.
“We continue to operate a full licensing service in the meantime.
“An independent investigation is ongoing and will be published in due course.
“We are unable to comment further at this stage.”
‘Covering the initial issue gets you in a mess’
South Ribble councillor Matthew Tomlinson, who is also a Lancashire County Councillor and Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Schools, said he was “appalled” by the report.
He said: “If something goes wrong with regard to child safeguarding you should throw the doors open and say, ‘My God, this is terrible’ and ‘We need help,’ but this looks as if the council has tried to bury it for as long as it possibly could. Trying to cover the initial issue is what gets you in a mess.
“We all must look at what’s happened in other places like Rotherham and be vigilant that it’s not happening on our doorstep, but it appears South Ribble has failed in that respect.
“I was only made aware of this interim report at the end of last week from colleagues at South Ribble and, as far as I’m aware, as a County Council we still haven’t officially been told about the difficulties.
“I’ve heard everything second-hand.”
Revelations a reminder of Rotherham
Is Rotherham repeating itself? The latest revelations are particularly chilling in light of the widespread sexual abuse that occurred in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, between 1997 and 2013.
Then, the local council, police and other authorities effectively covered-up the sexual exploitation of an estimated 1,400 children, mainly by men of Pakistani-Muslim heritage–many of them were taxi drivers.
Local investigations began into alleged abuse in 1999, but reports were lost, stolen, never finished or made public.
The Home Affairs Select Committee later slammed the handling of the hundreds of cases of rape, abduction, sex trafficking and torture of young people. Home Secretary Theresa May blamed the failures on “institutionalised political correctness”.
The leader of Rotherham Borough Council, Roger Stone, resigned, as did the council’s Chief Executive, Martin Kimber, and the Director of Children’s Services, Joyce Thacker.
Around 25 taxi drivers lost their licences over fears they helped trafficked victims.
Sarah Wilson was 11 when a man raped her in a school playground at night. She was driven across the country to be raped by multiple men. Asked what she thought of police and her social workers, she said:
“Crap, they’re just crap.”