Saturday, August 30, 2014

Taxi licensing scandal leads to investigation by Milton Keynes Council.

MILTON Keynes Council is tightening up its licensing procedures for hackney carriages and private hire vehicles in the borough, after a taxi driver convicted of rape and other serious sexual offences was given a new licence.

The council's chief executive Carole Mills said: “On August 12, Mike Hainge, our newly appointed service director with responsibility for public realm - which includes taxi licensing - launched a review into taxi licensing arrangements.

“Meanwhile, Peter Marland - leader of the council - received a letter from a member of the public raising specific concerns about taxi licensing in relation to a particular driver. This was promptly passed on to relevant officers on August 20.

“Enquiries were immediately made into the circumstances raised in the letter, and it was established that we had a licensed taxi driver with convictions for rape and other serious sexual offences. 

Milton Keynes Councillor Gladstone McKenzie says he made 'serious error of judgement' in taxi licensing scandal
"Therefore, officers revoked the taxi licence of the driver in question on Friday, August 22, and an investigation started to establish the circumstances in which this individual was granted a licence.

“This investigation has identified the following:

The driver in question applied for a taxi licence in February 2010. An enhanced Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) disclosure dated November 2010 showed that he had four convictions for serious sexual assault, including rape. The applicant was therefore interviewed by officers.

The application was scheduled to be considered by the regulatory sub committee held on January 26 2011, but was adjourned to a later date to allow the applicant to organise and submit additional evidence in support of his application.

The committee reconvened on April 11 2011, and had before it information that made clear the nature of the offences. 

This included a report and interview transcript.In its deliberations, the committee took into account a very strong character reference given by a serving councillor, who described himself as a friend, and vouched as to the driver’s good current character and family circumstances.

Surprisingly, given the nature of the offences, a licence was granted and, following receipt of the necessary paperwork and payments, the licence was issued in September 2011.

In January 2012, we were contacted regarding the driver in question, and were provided with further detail about the nature of the offences. In summary, this driver had been convicted of four serious sexual offences, which happened over three separate occasions, with an accomplice, and he had received a substantial custodial sentence.

As a result of receiving this information, the driver in question was required to attend an interview with officers, who suspended his licence with effect from April 24 2012.

A regulatory sub committee was held on May 21 2012 to review the suspension. 

The Committee had before it the papers from the original meeting, the enhanced CRB details provided by Thames Valley Police and the transcript of the latest officer interview with the driver. Inexplicably, the committee lifted the suspension and the driver was able to continue to operate as a private hire driver.
The driver in question was also licensed as a hackney carriage driver from March 25 2014.

On August 22 2014, officers conducting the review I mentioned earlier revoked both of his licences.
Meanwhile, the wider review instigated by the council has identified a number of less serious, albeit concerning issues relating to other taxi drivers.
Of course, this situation is very concerning indeed, so the council has taken the following action:

This week, a review of taxi drivers with declared convictions has been undertaken. This review has identified a further seven individuals who give us cause for concern from the 1,300 individuals who have taxi licences in Milton Keynes. Of them, one has surrendered his licence and plates and we have invited the remaining six drivers to come in for interview. We will take action dependent on the outcome of those interviews.

A detailed review of all Milton Keynes taxi licence holders is underway and will be completed as soon as possible. If this review identifies any drivers with undeclared information of concern, their licences will be suspended pending formal hearing.
For all new applications, we have strengthened our oversight and approval processes to ensure sound decision making.

We have produced a new draft Taxi Licensing Policy, which will be considered by Cabinet at the earliest opportunity. All councillors serving on the Regulatory Sub-Committee and relevant officers will undergo a full training programme on that policy.

In the case of drivers contracted by the council to transport children, additional checks are applied. Drivers with convictions have an interview with a specially trained senior manager and only if we are satisfied with the information gained at that interview is that driver allowed to work on the council’s contracts.

What has happened in the past is simply not acceptable. And that’s why, on this coming to light, the Council has taken rapid steps to ensure the safety of our citizens travelling by taxi or private hire vehicle. The process we have put in place for all future licence applications will not allow this situation to happen again.

It’s important to remember that the vast majority of hackney carriage and private hire drivers in Milton Keynes are decent, law-abiding and hardworking people. Our taxi drivers are an important part of our local economy and provide a vital service to our community. I’m hoping that drivers will work with us to secure public confidence in the days and weeks ahead.”

However, if anyone has concerns about any criminal activity that they want to report, they should ring Thames Valley Police Enquiry Centre on 101."

Peter Marland, leader Milton Keynes Council, said:

"As leader of the council since May 2014, with officers, I took immediate action to revoke the licence of the driver in question and thank officers for their diligence in undertaking a detailed wider assessment of the situation. Officers are working hard to bring the final phase of this taxi licencing review to a swift conclusion to ensure that the people of Milton Keynes can be confident when getting into a Milton Keynes taxi.

It’s the first duty of any council to strive to keep citizens safe and, in this situation; it is highly regrettable that such significant errors have been made.

It is clear that members of the regulatory sub committee exercised very poor judgement in granting a licence to the driver in question, given the nature of the offences. I can confirm that Cllr McKenzie, who was part of the second Committee meeting referred to earlier, has tendered his resignation as vice chair and member of the regulatory committee with immediate effect.

I’m pleased to confirm that we have cross-party support in relation to the action we have taken and how this will work in future. We are committed to being honest and open."

Cllr Edith Bald, leader of the Conservative Group said: “I was shocked to learn what had happened and immediately called for this driver’s taxi license to be revoked. Passengers’ safety should be the primary consideration in all taxi licensing decisions. 

"The action current officers have taken is right and proportionate and I am very supportive of both the prompt revocation of the license of the driver in question and the wider review. 

"I am confident that officers are working to swiftly bring the review to a conclusion.

"Given the serious nature of the situation, I called for the elected members responsible to resign from their positions and I am pleased that they have done so.”

Furthermore, Cllr Douglas McCall, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “It is right that the council has taken action to revoke the licence of someone with convictions of this nature. 

"I was very concerned to hear about the decisions made by the committee at the two meetings. 

"Cllr Burke has today resigned as chairman of the licensing and regulatory committee and sub committees and has also stepped down from the committee. 

"Cllr Shafiq also recognises his error of judgement in speaking in support of the driver in question, and has resigned from the role of mayor. I am very pleased that steps are being taken to tighten up procedures in future.”

    Source MKWeb.

Friday, August 29, 2014

NEWS FLASH: Police statement, re increase to threat level

National Policing Lead for Counter-Terrorism, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said:

“The threat level from international terrorism has changed from SUBSTANTIAL to SEVERE in response to the developments in Syria and Iraq. 

"This means it is highly likely that a terrorist attack could happen in the UK.

“We therefore continue to urge the public to remain vigilant and to report any suspicious activity to police. We need communities and families to bring to our attention anyone they perceive may be vulnerable, a danger or escalating towards terrorism. Anyone with information is urged to contact the Anti-Terrorist Hotline on 0800 789 321.

“Public safety is our priority and we have a variety of established operational tactics that are regularly used to ensure that the UK is both well prepared and protected. Over the years we have built capabilities and enhanced our security arrangements against a consistently high level of threat. Much of this is already in place. Our aim is to reduce the risk to the public and we keep our security arrangements under constant review in line with the threat we face.

“We have activated the established planning mechanisms across the police service, coordinated by me as National Policing Lead on Counter Terrorism. This will lead to enhanced prevention and preparedness.

“From this afternoon we will begin to increase our levels of visible patrols and implement other security and protection measures. We will also build on existing community relations to provide reassurance and seek their support and assistance in keeping the UK safe.”

Editorial Comment:
Unbelievably, even though the security risk level has been raised to the second highest ever, the police will still ignore lines of cars illegally ranking, illegally plying for hire, outside London's clubs and bars.

It's alleged on this blog that police in Coventry Street have been encouraging minicabs to form an illegal rank and illegally park on the pavement. After this new warning will the authorities revise this decision. We shall see later tonight.

Let's not forget, the car bombs left outside Tiger a Tiger and at the bottom of the Haymarket. 

Only luck prevented car bomb carnage in West End.
Two cars laden with gas cylinders and 130 litres of petrol, each sprinkled with up to a thousand 2in clout nails, should have proved a deadly combination.

Forensic investigators found an overseen gap of less than 1mm between the phones and their detonators broke the initiator circuit.

If the bombs hadn't failed to ignite, we could have been mourning a disaster on the scale of the 7/7 London tube bombings.

Police and local council wardens took no notice of these cars as they were thought to be minicabs. In fact, to the trades horror and disbelief, cars were back outside Tiger a Tiger, illegally plying for hire withing 24 hours.

BREAKING: Mayor Subhan Shafiq resigns in taxi licensing scandal.

MILTON Keynes Council has just announced that mayor Subhan Shafiq has resigned after he gave a reference for a taxi driver convicted of rape and other serious sexual offences who has been working in the city.

Two other councillors, Liberal Democrat Stuart Burke, who represents Shenley Brook End, and Labour's Gladstone McKenzie, from Bletchley Park ward, who were members of the Licensing & Regulation Committee that approved the driver's licence, have also resigned.

The council is now carrying out an investigation into six other drivers accused of other serious offences, that do not include rape.

One of them is being investigated for a sexual offence.

Skyline employed driver convicted of rape - but says it 'didn't know' and blames Milton Keynes Council for giving them a licence
The shock announcement came at a press conference at the Civic Offices today,  where chief executive Carole Mills and Leader of the Council Pete Marland gave statements.

Cllr Subhan Shafiq said: “It is with deep sorrow that I feel that I have no alternative but to resign as Mayor of Milton Keynes as I have lost the confidence of many councillors. 

"Sadly I gave a reference to someone, three and a half years ago, regarding the few years I have known them in Milton Keynes, with hindsight I should not have. Now I am Mayor it is best that I resign as the office of Mayor must be above criticism.

"It has been a great honour for me to have been elected Mayor and it is with regret that I have had to resign. 

"I hope that I have served the residents of Milton Keynes well during my short period as Mayor. My wife and I have been so proud to represent this great city of Milton Keynes.

"I will obviously continue my work as a ward councillor and represent my residents to the best of my ability."

Cllr Stuart Burke, former chairman of Licensing & Regulation, said: “It is with regret that I have decided to resign as Chair of Licensing and Regulation. 

"It is clear that on reflection I made an error of judgement in taking the decision to grant a taxi license in this particular case. I am pleased that there are now much clearer draft rules on how to deal with applicants that have paid the price for their crime.

"I have enjoyed my last four years as Chair of Licensing & Regulation; I would like to thank my fellow committee members and all the council officers who have helped me while I have been Chair. I will continue to work hard for the residents of my ward” ended Cllr. Burke."

More news on this as we get it.
    Source MKWeb.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

LTDA warn wealthy Arab tourists over rickshaws rip offs

The Licenced Taxi Drivers' Association (LTDA) is giving leaflets to tourists, warning them that some rickshaw drivers are charging up to £200 for short journeys, such as that from Selfridges in Oxford Street to Harrods, a distance of around two miles.

Taxi drivers have produced a leaflet in Arabic warning tourists about using rickshaws without agreeing a reasonable price.

The LTDA has now produced a warning leaflet in Arabic to warn visitors of the possible dangers of using rickshaws. It has also used an announcement on the side of a van parked at Marble Arch.

A van warning tourists in Arabic about rickshaws, which the LTDA claims are overcharging tourists.

"The LTDA has received dozens of complaints, via our taxi driving members, from Arab tourists who have been ‘Ripped Off’ by unscrupulous Rickshaw Riders for short rides around London. £200 from Selfridges to Harrods is not uncommon and £50 to go a few hundred yards is regularly reported. In an effort to protect visitors to London and safeguard our Capitals good name the LTDA have produced a warning leaflet in Arabic concerning the dangers of using rickshaws. 

We have produced a similar poster on our Advan which is parked at Marble Arch in the heart of the West End. All day we will be distributing leaflets in this very visual and probably controversial attempt to highlight what is happening to vulnerable non English speaking tourists in London in 2014."

    Source ITV News

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

London cyclists, crashing into blind people and their guide dogs... By Glen Alutto.

Cyclists are increasingly smashing into blind Londoners and their guide dogs after mounting the pavement and jumping red lights.

A survey by the RNIB found one in four blind and partially-sighted people were involved in a crash and seven in ten had experienced near misses.

Deborah Persaud was hurled to the ground by a cyclist who was riding on the pavement.

Ms Persaud, a civil servant who is partially sighted, suffered a damaged shoulder and hip in the collision as she walked home from Highbury tube station.

The force of the collision left her sprawled on the pavement.

She said her Labrador guide dog, four-year-old Lewis, laid down next to her to protect his owner.

To add to her trauma, Ms Persaud said the male cyclist then tried to ride off and only stopped when she called the police.

Letter To Editor, Insurance Excess Rental Contracts.

Dear Jim,
I rent my cab from a garage fleet owner and recently discovered that there is a commercial hire agreement which drivers are asked to sign.

I can understand this is to protect the fleet owner from the responsibility of parking tickets  etc.

However it also requires the driver to pay the garage £250 if the driver is found to have partially be responsible for an accident.

I was wondering if this practice is widespread amongst fleet owners and the legality of, though insured by the garage the driver is still partly responsible for accidents
Mick Smith

Editor reply:
Hi Mick.
The practise of making drivers cough up the insurance excess is a relatively new practise and has become more wide spread as policy excess has grown. Some insurance companies are requiring £300 to £400. I myself have a £350 excess. If I were to rent my TX4 to a day driver, I would have to insist that he/she would be responsible for the excess should they have an accident that was deemed their fault. When I shared a cab with a friend, we had a gentleman's agreement, that who ever had an accident was also liable for the (at that time) £200 excess. 

Would assume that garages are quite within their rights to ask drivers to sign contact.

Female judge says women are raped because they drink too heavily.

Judge Mary Jane Mowat said she expected to be "pilloried" for the comments which came as she retired after 18 years sitting as a circuit judge

The female judge has today been heavily criticised after she claimed the rape conviction rate would not improve until women stop drinking so heavily.

During the controversial interview, she criticised rape victims for drinking too much and being unable to clearly recall what had happened to them.

Her views have been blasted as being "outrageous", "misguided" and "dangerous." 

Oxford Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre service manager Natalie Brook said:
"Rape convictions will improve when those who perpetrate it, who are disproportionately male stop raping and when society stops blaming women for somehow being complicit in this act of violence. Rape is 100 per cent the fault of the perpetrator and to suggest otherwise serves only to feed the myths that do nothing other than deter women from reporting this crime or accessing the support they need.

Editorial Comment by Jim Thomas: 
Unfortunately Natalie Brook said nothing about the ease in which predators are able to acquire official Private Hire Vehicles and join the ranks of minicabs touting outside night venues, searching for fresh victims.

Serious sexual assaults, including rape in Central London are fuelled by the fact that sexual predators can buy a second hand minicab, complete with TfL roundel, even though they may not be licensed as a PH driver, then blend into the lines of illegally plying for hire minicabs and touts outside most night venues to find fresh victims. 

With victim-blaming attitudes like those displayed by Judge Mowat, it is no surprise that conviction rates remain so low."

Central London has the worse statistics regarding serious sexual assaults including rape. Met police openly admit as few as 10% actually report these attacks. 

Rape crisis orgs such as the Havens and Susie Lamplugh trust say most victims feel they will be partially blamed, with perpetrators treated more sympathetically. 

Because of the failure of victims coming forward, very few attackers are eventually caught and convicted. 

The acts of sexual assault and rape are not the fault of women who have been drinking, it's the fault of the predator, encouraged by TfL and the police who do nothing and allow this situation to exist.

A good start in bringing down these horrendous statistics would be the surrender of TfL license plates/roundels when a vehicle is sold on.

Secondly, illegal plying for hire has to be policed and enforced to weed out the predators. 

TfL compliance are never seen checking documentation of minicab drivers outside night venues. Instead they persecute licensed Taxi drivers, holding up working ranks such as Paddington, Victoria and Waterloo.

Just because a person has had too much to drink, doesn't make them fair game to attackers. They do not automatically lose their right to protection by the police or the authorities. 

TfL, local authorities, the Met and City Police must take their full share of the blame for allowing these attacks to continue through constantly turning a blind eye to the situation seen outside clubs and bars every night.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Unlawful and Improper London Taxi Age Limit……by Dave Davies.

          Less NO2 than new Vitos and TX4s

The Mayor of London acknowledged in a written report to the Environmental Audit Committee in 2011 that the new Euro Emissions standards were not delivering reductions in pollution.

He said ‘ A Euro 5 car, for example, emits around five times as much direct NO2 as a fifteen year old car.

He then completely contradicted his own evidence and needlessly scrapped 15 year old taxis.

It is a requirement of Public Law that the Mayor’s decisions are evidence based and for proper purpose.

The London Taxi Age limit is neither: 

It is not evidence based as he conducted no testing whatsoever. If he had, it would have shown that the new taxis (TX4s and Vitos) create MORE pollution.

It is therefore not for proper purpose: 
The Taxi Age Limit was supposed to reduce pollution and the Mayors policy has actually INCREASED pollution.

Boris Johnson was asked on many occasions by London Assembly Members to at least conduct basic testing to prove that scrapping taxis would reduce emissions. 

He point blank refused to conduct any testing whatsoever..

In May 2013 Defra released a report after the Environmental Research Group tested 10,000 taxis which confirmed that the new taxis were creating more pollution than those that had been scrapped.

The Mayor has continued to ignore this further conclusive evidence and continues to force taxis off the road on a daily basis, creating financial hardship for many drivers and doing nothing to reduce pollution

Emissions reduction of Particle Matter, could have been achieved by retrofitting Diesel Particulate Filters.

The Mayor has written to the Environmental Audit Committee boasting that he has reduced pollution in London by scrapping 3000 of the most polluting taxis, even though technical and scientific evidence proves that he has not reduced pollution at all and in fact the new Euro 5 taxis create MORE harmful NO2 than the 15 year old taxis.


Ref to Mayors statement in 2011

11. NO2 levels have not fallen in recent years as modelling had predicted. This is a problem across major cities in the UK and across the EU. 

Emerging evidence, including a report by King’s College London, suggests that this may be due to the failure of recent Euro standards to deliver expected reductions of NO2 [1] 

A Euro 5 car, for example, emits around five times as much direct NO2 as a fifteen year old car.


Tim Yeo, chaired the Environmental Audit Committee Air Quality Inquiry in 2010 which led to the Taxi Age Limit .

At the same time Tim Yeo was chairman of Eco City Vehicles, selling the Mercedes Vito, one of only two Taxi models, drivers were forced to buy as a direct result of the Mayors policy. A clear breach of Parliamentary Rules, yet the Standards Commissioner ignored all complaints and exonerated Yeo of any wrongdoing.


The Mayor of London has ignored all suggestions of valid emissions reduction ideas including: 

• a ban on peak time deliveries, 

• a project to convert taxi to petrol engines, 

• a project to use clean diesel (which is used in Sweden and could reduce pollution in all taxis by 30% overnight) 

• and a diesel engine cleanup programme.

As a result of his failed strategies to reduce pollution the Mayor is now proposing further ridiculous ideas like an Ultra Low Emissions Zone in 2020 which could see ALL current taxis taken off the road.


Allegedly, there are 4267 people a year dying in London from Air Pollution (the Mayors own statistic) which includes heart and lung disease and cancer.


Taxi Drivers are probably the group of workers most affected by air pollution in London ; (how many drivers do you know with one of the above diseases?) and yet the Mayor sees fit to implement improper policies which will not reduce pollution but which deliberately cause financial loss to taxi drivers.

It seems like it is part of his master plan to destroy the London Taxi Trade.


The Cross Party Environmental Audit Committee are currently conducting an Inquiry as to why there has been no improvement in air quality.

They have summonsed the Mayor of London to appear before the committee and he has reluctantly agreed to appear on Wednesday September 10th at 2 pm.













Monday, August 25, 2014

Labour call for review of TfL’s poor value mobile contract.

Transport bosses have been urged to review their mobile phone contracts after Freedom of Information requests revealed they offer worse value than standard consumer deals available on the high street.

Earlier this year an FOI request submitted by MayorWatch revealed that Transport for London’s corporate contract with O2 includes no inclusive minutes.

This means each call to numbers outside the organisation is charged, resulting in members of TfL's senior management incurring hundreds of pounds of call charges each month.

In February transport commissioner Sir Peter Hendy ran up £525.61 of outgoing calls, while in June 2013 head of surface transport Leon Daniels’ bill reached £1,390.

Between May 2013 and February 2014 Mr Daniels’ bills were frequently more than £100, while Sir Peter’s routinely cost taxpayers more than £400.

Responses sent last week in response to separate FOI requests from Labour London Assembly member Val Shawcross and MayorWatch show members of TfL’s lower management ranks also regularly spend more than £100 per month on calls.

The figures compare to a monthly mobile phone bill of around £15-20 each for Mayor Boris Johnson, London Assembly members and their staff.

In a previous FOI response TfL said a benchmarking exercise had confirmed the contract, worth around £2.5m, offered better value than other providers were able to offer. It also insisted staff were moved between tariffs to ensure good value.

However the commonly charged line rental of £16.50pm, which includes no free minutes outside of TfL, compares poorly with tariffs available online and on the high street.

A consumer with no bulk buying power can spend as little as £18 per and receive unlimited minutes and texts with a new Blackberry handset, and in recent weeks O2 has launched a new £10 per month tariff for the public sector which includes a new smartphone, unlimited calls and texts, and 1GB of 4G data use.

Mrs Shawcross has written to Sir Peter urging him to review TfL’s existing contract in light of the better deals available on the market and has asked why TfL is apparently failing to use its spending power to achieve better value for taxpayers.

In her letter, she says: “We are constantly reminded of the need to drive efficiency within TfL, but anyone can walk into a high street shop and pick up a phone on a deal for much less than these contracts are costing.
“With huge bulk buying potential, TfL should be delivering much better value for money for the taxpayer.

“I hope you will take this opportunity to review these contracts, let me know if you believe that they are value for money and also explain why TfL cannot procure cheaper mobile phone packages like thousands of Londoners do every single day."

    Source: MayorWatch, Martin Hoscik. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Elephant and Castle roundabout revamp: TfL to look for ways cyclists can avoid it

TfL has announced that a re-design of a notorious London roundabout will start next year after four fifths of those consulted backed the plans. 

The scheme for Elephant's nothern roundabout entails converting the one-way system to two-way traffic, replacing extensive subways with wide pedestrian crossings, and better interchange between the bus and the tube. TfL is also to investigate the feasibility of limiting the speed limit to 20mph as part of the works. 

However, following concerns raised during the consultation, the original proposals for a segregated cycle lane soundbound on the Elephant and Castle link road have been scrapped and replaced with a 4.5m wide bus lane. 

This will include new road markings to highlight to cyclists the location of potential conflict points where buses will be pulling in and out of the lane. 

TfL will in addition work with Southwark Council and the new shopping centre owners to identify whether footways could be widened, allowing "cycle provision to be reassessed in future". 

Southwark and TfL are also looking at alternative cycling routes on local roads, to see if existing 'bypass options' for cyclists avoiding the roundabout can be made more direct.

    Source: Transport Extra