Whose car are you in?
PEOPLE with serious criminal convictions are being granted licences to drive taxis in Comet country. This shocking fact was discovered after The Comet launched an investigation using the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Statistics supplied by Stevenage Bo
PEOPLE with serious criminal convictions are being granted licences to drive taxis in Comet country.
This shocking fact was discovered after The Comet launched an investigation using the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
Statistics supplied by Stevenage Borough Council reveal that 35 out of 203 current private hire drivers in Stevenage - who can be sent to your home - have committed 122 offences between them.
North Herts District Council and Mid Beds Council were unable to satisfy our request for information regarding the criminal convictions of their currently licensed hackney carriage and private hire drivers. We intend to lodge a complaint with the Information Commissioner, should our channels with these two councils be exhausted.
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The crimes in Stevenage include serious driving offences such as death by reckless driving, drink-driving and driving without due care and attention.
A staggering 10 convictions of driving while disqualified have been recorded and 19 fixed penalty speeding convictions have been clocked up.
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An incredible 42 offences of burglary/theft have been committed by private hire drivers, while 10 offences of causing actual bodily harm have been recorded. Other convictions by private hire drivers include common assault, possession of dangerous drugs, possession of a weapon for discharge of noxious liquid gas, handling stolen goods and fraud.
Our investigation also revealed 10 out of 140 current hackney carriage drivers in Stevenage - who collect passengers from taxi ranks - have amassed 40 criminal offences including battery, ABH and possession of dangerous drugs.
A whopping 23 burglary/theft offences have been committed and seven fixed penalty speeding notices served.
A number of crimes have been committed as recently as this year and, while some are considered "spent" under the Rehabillitation of Offenders Act 1974, all convictions, irrespective of age, sentence or offence committed, remain live for somebody applying to drive a hackney carriage or private hire vehicle.
Richard Evans, head of environmental health and licensing at Stevenage Borough Council, said: "Some of the information that The Comet has requested dates right back to 1959 and of the almost 350 Stevenage taxi drivers, 13 per cent have a previous conviction.
"We must treat each application on its own merits but an applicant will normally be refused a licence if he or she has a particular conviction within a certain period of time.
"We will not hesitate to use the powers at our disposal in the interests of public safety but local authorities must balance this with the human right for people to be able to earn a living."
Richard Henry, executive councillor for e-government and environment, said: "We have nearly 350 taxi drivers in Stevenage who provide a very good service.
"We carefully consider all applications for licences, and taxi drivers are subject to rigorous checks because public safety is always our top priority."
In a press release recently issued by the council, regarding the refusal to renew a driver's hackney carriage licence, Cllr Henry said: "We are committed to making sure that taxi drivers are thoroughly vetted and action is taken to remove from the road those who may pose a risk to the safety of the travelling public. This stance is strongly supported by the vast majority of the taxi trade in Stevenage."
However, after speaking to a number of taxi firms in Comet country, it appears the council's decision to grant licences to people with criminal convictions is not widely known.
A spokesman for Boxall Taxis, Nightingale Road, Hitchin, said: "The council does the checks and they don't give people a licence if they have a conviction."
Noreen Rehman, company secretary for Ace Taxis, The Glebe, Stevenage, said: "We take on all licensed drivers and these people go through the council vetting procedure.
"They have to have a Criminal Records Bureau check done at an advanced level. They are quite stringent checks that the council do and I think they are making them stricter."
A spokesman for Dave's Taxis, Pixmore Avenue, Letchworth GC, said: "In order to get plated, people need to have a good track record.
"The council do the checks so I don't need to get involved because they do a thorough job."
l Since May 2006, Stevenage Borough Council has revoked, suspended or refused seven existing hackney carriage or private hire drivers, as well as one new applicant.
They have also successfully prosecuted two unlicensed private hire drivers.