Illegal cabbies prey on vulnerable women. Don’t become a victim. WORDS: Daniel Landon
Picture this: you’re a bit drunk after a night out in central London and when it’s time to get home the Tube is shut, a bus is too much hassle and all the black cabs are busy.
Fortunately, a minicab driver standing nearby quotes you a reasonable £20 fare to get home, and you’re on your way.
This is the scenario that confronted Jane, a 26-year-old teacher from New Zealand, after a night out in Leicester Square.
“We’d all had a few drinks and didn’t bother to phone for a licensed minicab,” says Jane, who wants to be identified by first name only.
“We couldn’t see any black taxis so decided to get in the first cab we saw. By that stage all I wanted to do was go home.”
A wrong move
But instead of getting home to Clapham safely, Jane nearly ended up as yet another victim of one of London’s notorious illegal minicab drivers.
After her three friends were dropped off, the driver became aggressive, asking Jane: “How are you going to pay for this?”
He got even more aggro after Jane repeated the agreed price.
“I remember that moment very clearly,” Jane says. “He started speeding, telling me what he was going to make me do to him … it was then I knew I was in trouble and needed to get out.”
Fortunately, the driver slowed down to allow a car in front to do a U-turn, which was when Jane opened the door, got out, and ran to a friend’s house.
“I was terrified. If it wasn’t for that car pulling up in front of us, goodness knows what would have happened to me.”
Not an isolated incident
According to police, Jane’s story isn’t uncommon across London, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights.
“Anyone who takes an unlicensed minicab runs the risk of being a victim of crime,” says Superintendent Derrick Griffiths of the Metropolitan Police.
Across London there were 104 cab-related sex attacks in 2007.
Meanwhile, a Transport for London survey showed almost half of late-night travellers (48 per cent) thought it was legal to get in a minicab that approaches them on the street.
Beware the beast within
“Convicted criminals are known to work as unlicensed cab drivers,” Griffiths says.
It’s illegal for anyone but black cab drivers to pick up passengers on the street. If a minicab driver approaches you, even if their car has a TfL sticker, they’re breaking the law.
Minicabs must be booked over the phone or in the company’s office.
If you don’t book there will be no record of your driver and journey — meaning there’s temptation for the driver to act dodgy.
“The vehicles are possibly unroadworthy and the driver uninsured. Therefore, if you are involved in a crash you will not be covered,” Griffiths says.
As tempting as it might be to jump in the first car you see, there’s a better way, Jane says.
“Especially for girls, always pre-book a taxi, and have a good taxi company firm’s number in your mobile phone,” she advises.
Alternatively, text HOME to 60835 to be sent a message from TfL with the phone number of two licensed cab companies and a black cab company.
“When you pick up an illegal cab on the street, you have no idea who the driver is and there’s no record of your trip,” Jane says. “Anything can happen … which I found out the hard way.”
» See www.tfl.gov.uk/cabwise and www.met.police.uk
» Avoid deserted areas, stay on well-lit streets and always be aware of your surroundings.
» Let someone know where you are going and when you will return.
» Sit on the bottom level of buses or in train carriages with other people around.
» Don’t wear headphones, especially at night. They restrict your ability to hear traffic and other dangers. Special tips for women
» Looking assertive is the best way to deter potential attackers.
» Carry a charged mobile phone and extra cash. Consider getting a personal safety alarm.
» When travelling at night or going to a bar or club, take friends with you.
» Always hold on to your drink or give it to a friend. Don’t accept a drink from someone you don’t trust completely.
» Greater London: 848,033
» Westminster: 62,862 (highest of all boroughs)
» Southwark: 40,859
» Lambeth: 34,923
» Camden: 33,725
» Ealing: 33,075
» Wandsworth: 25,482
» Hammersmith & Fulham: 22,601
» Kensington and Chelsea: 22,600
Violence against the person*
(Includes murder, assault, harassment, actual and grievous bodily harm)
» Greater London: 174,979
» Southwark: 9085 (highest of all boroughs)
» Westminster: 8472
» Lambeth: 7843
» Ealing: 7657
» Camden: 6136
» Wandsworth: 5110
» Hammersmith & Fulham: 4976
» Kensington and Chelsea: 3078
*12 months to November 2008.
Source: Metropolitan Police