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Crackdown on cowboy cabbies.

North-East taxi drivers say cowboy cabbies are putting lives at risk in the run-up to Christmas.

Legal taxi firms yesterday welcomed a new Government crackdown on illegal mini-cabs which are costing their firms thousands of pounds a year.

Bogus drivers caught touting for business will be fingerprinted and have their DNA recorded under the Home Office scheme, in a bid to reduce the number of sex attacks on female passengers.

Newcastle's Noda Taxis' secretary Mike Smith welcomed the move, saying: "Illegal cabs are a major problem in the city.

"They are costing us a small fortune by stealing our customers and we get dozens of complaints from people who have been overcharged or felt unsafe. People need safety and fly-by-night drivers are coming and putting them in danger."

He added: "The new law sounds like a great idea and I hope we get more licence enforcement officers, as a few bad apples really are ruining the reputation of all of us."

Mr Smith said that "most nights" see Noda drivers going to collect customers and discovering an unlicensed firm has already picked them up.

Taxi touting will become a more serious recordable offence from Monday - giving police greater powers to identify illegal drivers and register them on the national crime database.

Officers hope this will stop bogus cabbies in their tracks and prevent them from dodging the law by working in different areas.

In London alone, police recorded 167 sexual assaults last year and 86 cases of rape in the last two years by men driving mini-cabs.

Sunderland-based Wearside Women in Crisis director Clare Phillipson said: "Illegal taxis are a big worry and, although taxis in the North-East are generally safe, there have been a few examples of women being assaulted.

"They pose an enormous risk to female safety and everyone should be aware of the dangers."

Personal safety group The Suzy Lamplugh Trust has been campaigning for tougher laws governing unlicensed drivers.

Newcastle co-ordinator Alison Gilhespie said: "These drivers are a major danger to women. "If someone was kerb-crawling, you wouldn't get into their car, but because they are parked outside a bar or club, people think it is safe to go home with them."

She added: "The cars themselves can also be extremely dangerous. Because they are unlicensed, there are no checks on the vehicle so they are often uninsured and in a very dangerous condition - they can be complete death traps.

"Anything that toughens the law on illegal drivers is a good thing but women should still keep their eyes open and make sure they are not getting into a dodgy cab, by booking their taxi in advance."

Northumbria Police Chief Inspector Dave Jackson also cautioned women to be careful.

He said: "We warn people to make sure they feel safe and get into a registered taxi."

How to spot a legal taxi

Is your taxi legal?

Newcastle's Noda Taxis' secretary Mike Smith says there is little to stop bogus drivers duping customers by sticking a taxi sign on their car.

But there are other clues to help you avoid potential problems.

Personal safety group The Suzy Lamplugh Trust recommends that you always book a licensed cab before your night out.

And all district councils have a list of legal companies which are available to the public.

But when hailing a taxi from the street, always look out for the licence number.

Taxis in Newcastle have green plates on the back of private hire vehicles and red plates on hackney carriages displaying the driver's licence number. In Durham City and Alnwick, the plates are white for private hire and yellow for hackney carriages.

And Gateshead hackney carriages have white plates with private hire cars displaying yellow plates on vehicles.

Legal drivers also have photo identity badges which you should ask to see if in any doubt.

And hackney carriages in Newcastle, Durham and Gateshead have crests on the sides of the cars showing that they are legitimate taxis.
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Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:News Local
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Nov 28, 2003
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