Last week a Newport taxi driver was jailed for 12 years after preying on two vulnerable female passengers.
NATALIE CROCKETT, MICHAEL YONG and AILSA CHALK talked to Gwent taxi firms and police about how to stay safe when using taxis alone.
NEWPORT taxi driver Asif Iqbal, who was branded a “predator” by his victims, pleaded guilty to raping two female passengers he had picked up in the city.
Iqbal, 42, of Alice Street, wept in the dock as he was jailed for 12 years at Cardiff Crown Court by Judge David Wynn Morgan.
Judge Morgan said Iqbal, a licensed taxi driver in the city, abused the trust women place in taxi drivers “for the satisfaction of your sexual gratification”.
Following the sentencing, both of Iqbal’s victims said they were glad the case was over, but wanted to issue a warning to other women not to get into cabs on their own.
Newport Council’s outgoing community safety cabinet member William Routley said the council did background checks on all potential taxi drivers before issuing them licences.
He said: “We have a very good organisation in Newport taxi association and many good independent taxi operators. Look for the signs outside the cab for a licence. Use a regulated taxi firm, and use a licensed hackney cab.
Only use cabs which you can see clearly the Newport city logo on them, which they can understand and recognise.
“There are many ways to stay safe. If you can, travel in pairs.
Newport is not an unsafe place to be and taxis are still the safest way to travel here.
Andrew Barley, operations manager at Dragon Taxis in Newport, said the trade was united in its disbelief and anger at Iqbal’s actions, which had tainted a service the public rely on 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.
He said the firm had been inundated with calls from regular customers who travel alone at night, worried that drivers were free to do as they please when they pick them up. Mr Barley said: “I would say that the vast majority of taxi drivers are good, honest people who want nothing more than to earn a living.
“The people of Newport and Gwent should not be afraid to get a taxi, but should choose one of the reputable companies and prebook to guarantee that they are getting a service they can rely on and trust.”
Lionel Morris, chairman of Newport Taxi Drivers Association, said the case had damaged the reputation of taxi drivers. He said: “This should not stop people taking taxis. It might plant in their minds the possibility of this happening again, and they have a right to think that way. Newport, in general, is very safe. It has been years since something like this happened. I certainly cannot remember this in my time here.”
Malik Haseeb Ahsan, association secretary of Newport Taxi Drivers Association, said: “I am so ashamed of his (Iqbal’s) actions. As a taxi driver you don’t feel comfortable about it. It could happen anywhere to anyone, and it has damaged our industry.
People still need to use taxis though, but it will affect our business.”
Darren Anderson, manager of ABC taxis, said: “We have two female drivers in fleet. We normally get about five to six requests a month for them, if they personally request for them.
We’ve had no trouble from our drivers. If we have any suspicions with them, they will not be here, they would be out the door. We’re also licensed by the council.”
Alan Lakey, 58, owner of Dial-acar taxis, said: “Every taxi driver is police checked, and if they are doing schools, they have to do an enhanced police check. I think they should all be enhanced checked.
“Usually the drivers we employ are people who we know or somebody else knows. The police are very thorough with their background checks.”
Rachel Kent, 42, proprietor of City Lion taxis, said: “Quite a few women are more cautious now to make sure they are with somebody or get a taxi from a proper operator.
“We do background checks on our drivers, and most of our drivers have been with the company for quite a few years.”