CABBIES in South Tyneside claim they are being “treated like criminals” after plans were revealed which they feel forces them to attend child sex abuse prevention sessions as a condition of their licence.
The council is proposing to make attendance at the training sessions a condition for Hackney Carriage and private hire taxi drivers getting a licence to work in the borough and the new rule would also apply to anyone handling calls in a taxi office.
The move comes in the wake of the Rotherham child abuse scandal.
The Jay Report into the scandal said more than 1,400 children were abused in the town between 1997 and 2013 and found taxi drivers played a “prominent role” in the abuse. Many of the victims were ferried to their abusers in cabs and some drivers were also found guilty of abuse.
A South Tyneside Council spokesman denied taxi drivers were being singled out for special treatment and said other selected groups will also be asked to take the course.
But some borough drivers have reacted with anger at the plan.
Hackney Carriage driver Michael Ridley described it as “an insult”.
He said: “It’s just another example of the nanny state and a complete over-reaction. The council are just making us jump through hoops.
“They are basically treating us like criminals. I am a driver with no criminal record – why should I have to attend a course on child sexual exploitation?”
He added: “A few years ago I was contacted by the Criminal Records Bureau because I had the same name and date of birth as an offender, but a different year. I gave fingerprints and palm prints.
“They are on a database. They know exactly where I am if they need to contact me. I have nothing to hide.
“This is the council being over-zealous. It’s a waste of time and money. When I was doing school runs and I was asked to attend a course on child abuse, which I did because I was told it would be beneficial. This is different – this is an insult to the trade locally.”
Another Hackney Carriage driver, who didn’t wish to be identified, added: “Why should we be associated with what happened in Rotherham? This is South Tyneside. We are being tarred with the same brush and it’s wrong.
“We face enough pressures without the council pointing the finger at us in this way. What are the public going to think of this?”
A report, to be presented to next Friday’s Licensing and Regulatory Committee says the measure was being considered to “ensure all private hire and Hackney Carriage drivers are fully aware of issues relating to child sexual exploitation, and other matters which the council may consider important in the future.”
Drivers will be given seven days notice of attendance at the training sessions and “failure to attend without reasonable cause may prevent renewal of a driver’s licence”.
The council’s licensing committee meets at South Shields Town Hall next Friday from 10am.
Cabbies are ‘eyes and ears of community’
A LEADING South Tyneside councillor says taxi drivers have an important role as the “eyes and ears of the community”.
Coun Tracey Dixon, the council’s lead member for area management and community safety, said many members of South Tyneside Hackney Carriage Association were supportive of the proposal for drivers to attend child sexual exploitation training sessions.
She said: “We are seeking the support of key members of the business community in tackling the issue of child sexual exploitation.
Independent reviews into such cases have concluded that tackling this issue should be everyone’s business and the council is committed to taking a proactive stance.
“Raising awareness in key business sectors – including the taxi trade – is part of our wider, ongoing approach.
“We have met with representatives of the trade – including members of the South Tyneside Hackney Carriage Association and a number of private hire operators – who have been supportive of the proposals.
“Taxi drivers have an important role to play as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the community.”
The council says the proposed training events are designed to give a greater understanding of CSE to teach members of the community to ‘spot the signs’ and to advise people how to report any suspicious behaviour so that relevant agencies can build up an intelligence picture.