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   Inside Out - North West: Monday October 30, 2006
Read the debate
Manchester at night
Manchester at night but how safe are you travelling home?

Bogus taxi drivers

Inside Out conducts a special investigation into the dangers posed by bogus taxi drivers.

We reveal how some bogus operators are deliberately preying on young women.

Ten years ago 22-year-old Rachel Thacker was brutally murdered in Manchester after getting into a bogus taxi.

Today the culture of binge drinking means more women than ever before are dicing with danger when they try to get a lift home.

We have learned that sex attacks linked to taxis are happening almost every fortnight in the Greater Manchester area.

Inside Out also has evidence which shows private hire vehicles are regularly breaking the law by stopping to pick up passengers for unbooked journeys.

Riding home

Manchester has a huge number of taxis and private hire vehicles which serve an important role in getting people home safely, especially late at night.

On a busy Saturday night there's 100,000 people in the city enjoying themselves.

The trouble is there's just over 900 black cabs and 2,000 private hire taxis to take them home, and a limited number of free buses running through the night.

The Council maintains there's enough taxis for everyone.

"There's no doubt in my mind there's men out there posing as taxi drivers - just waiting to prey on vulnerable young women…"
Det Supt Mick Lay

But some women are so drunk or desperate to get home after a night out, they are prepared to risk their lives by taking lifts home with strangers rather than waiting for licensed cabs.

Detectives call this "night hiking", but by doing it, women are taking enormous risks.

There are also many more women who are conned into thinking that bogus cabs are registered taxis.

So we sent in an undercover team from Inside Out.

Our researchers stood on a corner at Deansgate Locks opposite an official taxi rank.

Within minutes a man driving a white car stopped - it was not a taxi.

Shortly afterwards another car stopped and offered to take our team home for £15 - once again he was not a taxi.

Rachel's story

Medical graduate Rachel Thacker was murdered by a bogus taxi driver in 1996.

Her battered and burned body was found behind the George and Dragon pub in in Ardwick, Manchester, eight days after she disappeared.

Her body was found a mile away from where she was last seen.

Rachel had travelled to Manchester for a friend's 21st birthday party.

Rachel Thacker
Rachel Thacker - tragic victim of a bogus taxi driver

And then Rachel made a mistake that was to cost her life - she mistakenly took a bogus cab home.

Mark Lynch had been out drinking with Rachel and friends:

"I remember this car pulling up and Rachel opening the door and jumping in… I feel so guilty… I had my hand on the car door…"

The car was driven by Duncan Bermingham, a man with a record of domestic violence.

He was out that night posing as a taxi driver.

Former police Detective Supt Bob Huntbach, who was in charge of the murder inquiry, says that it was one of the worst murders Manchester Police has ever seen.

Rachel could only be identified by her fingerprints.

At the trial it emerged Bermingham had borrowed the car he used from a friend to pose as a taxi driver.

Bermingham was found guilty of Rachel's murder - he was sentenced to a minimum of 20 years in jail.

Susan's story

Ten years on, many women still think nothing will happen to them if they get into a bogus cab.

But for Susan the danger was all too real.

She agreed to tell her story as a warning to others - we have changed her name and protected her identity.

Susan is 38-years-old - last year she got into a car that stopped near Canal Street in Manchester.

"I went out with some work colleagues; I'd had a good night but had too much to drink and wanted to go home.

"I got into what I thought was a taxi and he drive me and a colleague home'

'We dropped the male colleague off first and then dropped me off. He helped me to the door and he said he would close the door for me - I kept saying thank you to him."

The driver took her home and then raped her.

"The next thing I remember was waking up and seeing his face in my face - I knew I was being attacked, I just blacked out with fear," she remembers.

'I thought I was going to be killed. The fear of knowing someone else was in my home - I thought he was going to kill me - it was a fear that I just can't describe."

Susan's attacker was caught by the police and sentenced to 11 years in jail.

But the experience has left her traumatised.

"He took away a lot of things to me - my right of saying yes or no - which ever woman has a right to do,

"I still feel like I don't trust anyone - especially taxis. I've got to live with this for the rest of my life. It hurts that all he got was a prison sentence and I got a life sentence.

"I was a really confident person beforehand - now every day is a struggle to try and feel comfortable and confident about myself. I always believed it would never happen to me.

"My night was just an innocent night out and it turned into a nightmare that will stay with me for the rest of my life."

"I would beg any woman out there to be extra cautious about how they are getting home," she advises.

Operation Talon

Operation Talon has been set up by Greater Manchester Police to try to prevent sex crimes in the force area.

Part of their role is to deal with the threat from bogus taxi drivers.

Researchers by bogus cab
Inside Out's researchers were approached by bogus cabs

Police figures, revealed here for the first time by Inside Out, show that in the last year 22 sex attacks are being linked to taxis and private hire cars across the Greater Manchester area.

And these are just the reported crimes - the tip of the iceberg.

The man in charge of the operation is Detective Superintendent Mick Lay who has no illusions about what the police are up against:

"There's predators out there looking for vulnerable women."

Bert Jones is a black hackney cab driver who has been campaigning against bogus cabs for the last 15 years.

In 1991 he formed a voluntary group who successfully prosecuted over 200 bogus drivers called 'the organisation':

"At the time I was very angry personally something could have been done to make the risk less for Rachel, and nothing's been done 10 years on… It made me angry."

Pirate taxis

The police and the City Council Licensing Office are responding to the problem of the pirate taxis.

Operation Aviano is targetting the drivers who come into the city.

For the last few months the team has been gathering information about some drivers who've been seen repeatedly coming into the city centre at night.

"Cars cruising the streets looking for customers are illegal, uninsured and
potentially very dangerous."

They've established their routes and patterns of movement - they are now Aviano's top targets.

Taxi touting is a recordable offence and that could be a crucial breakthrough for the Aviano team.

Police know that there are a small number of people who are sexual offenders operating as bogus taxi drivers.

Teams from Aviano go out working as couples on the streets looking for bogus drivers.

They've got uniform officers as back up close by, and while they're waiting, the CCTV cameras are busy watching.

The Printworks is one of the hotspot areas for bogus taxis in the city centre, and is a major focus for their operations.

Best Bar None

The city is also trying to reduce the risk posed by bogus drivers by introducing an award scheme called Best Bar None.

It's designed to encourage bars and clubs to take a responsible attitude towards the safety of their customers.

Mick Lay
Dep Supt Mick Lay warns of predators on the streets

Nexus runs a night cafe and chill out venue which provides music, food and a cab booking service.

Late night revellers can relax safely at the shelter until their taxi arrives.

The huge volume of people in the city has created a situation where many private hire taxis are now breaking the law by picking up people on the streets.

We filmed people stopping and bartering with private hire taxis before getting in and driving off.

Our researchers were also offered several unbooked lifts home, although it clearly stated on the cars that this should not happen.

Future action

We invited Rachel Christie, the head of Manchester City Council's Environmental Services department responsible for taxi licensing, to come and see the results of our investigation.

She responded as follows:

"We have very high standards for our existing taxi drivers and we're obviously undertaking action at every weekend we're out there undertaking enforcement against these taxi drivers.

"Anything we do is also very much with the help of the public so if anybody knows of anything then please let us know… but we will take action.. as you've seen on the video footage that you've already taken..."

"This is why we're taking the enforcement action because we really want to stamp this out.

"People should not be doing this and particularly women on their own , or just a couple of women, are really at risk when they're doing this..."

"Clearly what we do is undertake prosecutions against them because they are taking people and they are uninsured so we do take action against them.

"And it is disappointing to see that this is still happening so we need to continue to take the enforcement action."


Do - check that the taxi has a taxi registration plate on its rear bumper.

Do - check that the plate matches the vehicle's registration.

Do - check for signs identifying which company the taxi comes from.

Do - carry the telephone number of a trusted, licensed company.

Do - share a taxi with a friend. Sit in the back of the car behind the driver.

Do - ask to see the driver’s identity badge if it is not displayed.

Do - ask the taxi company the name of the driver when you book - and check this on the taxi's arrival.

Don't - flag down a suspicious car which doesn't look like it has full taxi registration details, even if you're desperate and there's a long queue for registered cabs.

Keeping safe

Read the advice in our safety fact file or find out more in our web link to the Suzy Lamplugh Trust.

Preventative action is important so always double check the credentials of a taxi and its driver.

Better still, always carry the phone details of a reputable company that you can trust.

Make sure you save this phone number on your mobile phone.

Share a cab with a friend, if you live close by.

Don't get talking to the cab driver about overtly personal details.

If you get into a taxi and you feel threatened, trust your instincts and get out of the cab, but make sure you have a good escape plan.

Ask the driver to stop in a busy area - if the driver refuses, use a mobile phone to call the police.

If things get difficult, alert other drivers and pedestrians by waving or calling out the window.

Read the Suzy Lamplugh Trust Advice guide on taxis

Help at hand...

If you are the victim of a bogus taxi attack and need to talk to someone, call the Victim Support Helpline on 0845 30 30 900.

Victim Support Line number
See also ...

BBC Manchester
Bogus taxis

On the rest of Inside Out
BBC Yorkshire - bogus taxis in Hull

BBC News - taxi texting to stop bogus cabs

On the rest of the web
Suzy Lamplugh Trust

Greater Manchester Police

Nexus Online

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

A selection of your comments...

I would like to point out there is a company called Pink Ladies which is a womens-only taxi service with women only drivers. This is based in St. Helens and is a franchise operation.

Currently, there is no franchise in Manchester and I am at a loss to explain why. A service such as this would remove the dangers of women travelling home either alone or in unlicensed vehicles.

Pink Ladies operates as a members only club, you pay £1 to join. They do not accept cash in the cars - you pay online after or by an ongoing account and pay by post afterwards. The drivers are all women and they are trained in self defence. The cars are distinctive pink cars.

Could someone please put this forward as an option to Manchester City Council?

I would personally much rather use this type of service - currently I often do not have a drink when I go out and choose to drive myself and pay to park.

This is obviously not always the best way to have a great night out, especially when you are at the liberty of the car park closing times.

Pink Ladies contact details are on their website which is
Nia Vaughan

I am involved with a SMS service called Text a Taxi, this gives users the ability to book a safe secure taxis using just one single text message. It is about to be rolled out across the United Kingdom. There has also been a lot of interest from Australia, and the USA.
Duncan Lawson, Leigh -

I write as a Licensed Hackney Carriage Driver in Halton. Whilst Halton does not have the same level of problems with bogus taxis as in Manchester, it is creeping up on the back of the illegal activities of the Licensed Private Hire.

The problem here in Halton is that when the sole taxi Enforcement Officer carries out an operation, he is lambasted in the press by the crooks and rogues that he is out to catch...

The cast iron simple solution would be to repeal the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 which introduced Private Hire and so in turn created the, 'Tout, or the Minicab' etc etc.

Halton, along with many other authorities, is waiting unwittingly for the tragedy to happen, and it will with these attitudes...
John Gerrard

I was very interested in your television programme regarding unlicensed taxis I thought it was excellent. I am a licensed hackney owner driver in Liverpool.

We have a slightly different problem to Manchester - we have 1,417 licensed black cabs in Liverpool and do not have a problem with bogus cars however we do have a big problem with private hire cars from the borough of Sefton...

Liverpool city council does occasionally prosecute these cars but I believe they do not police this very well.

The licensing section of Liverpool city council is under staffed and they do not work very often at these peak times...
James Johnson

I watched your program with interest, since I find the whole issue of taxis late at night in Manchester to be far from satisfactory. The following are my observations.

1 There aren't enough black cabs to cope with the numbers of people out in Manchester at the weekend.

2. The black cabs on several occasions do not stop when hailed. This was graphically noted in your BBC documentary when some ladies tried to hail a black cab down and they were amazed when it drove away from them. This has happened to me on many, many occasions when out at night in Manchester.

It is annoying and distressing when obviously empty black cabs totally ignore you as you hail them down, after you have been standing in the cold and rain for over 30 minutes at times. You can see why young ladies with not the warmest and most waterproof clothes get desperate and jump into any car that comes along that offers to take them home.

3. Some of the black cabs only seem to bent on heading back to the rank, totally ignoring vulnerable people that are trying to hail them down.

People just do not fancy having to come out of a club,tipsy with alcohol, on to a wet and/or cold Manchester street then have to walk from say Deansgate to the nearest rank on Albert Square or Piccadilly and THEN join a long queue, still in the wet and cold conditions.

It might be worth your while doing a survey by attempting to hail down obviously empty black cabs (sometimes with their 'HIRE' light turned off on purpose) at about 2am and noting how many of them drive straight past you.

4. Back to the numbers factor, there just aren't enough black cabs to cope with the numbers.

Therefore I think people should be able to exercise their choice and flag down a private hire car with livery and licence plate fully visible on the vehicle. Everyone keeps going on about the insurance issue but I think we are placing too much importance on that. If I wish to use a private hire taxi which doesn't insure me then I should be able to exercise my choice to do so.

The OVERRIDING issue here should be safety of the passenger from criminal assault and getting people safely off the streets by a licenced, roadworthy TAXI of the private hire OR black cab variety. Insurance issues in case of an accident should then be tertiary and left to the choice of the consumer.

If people can get off the streets and into a taxi quickly without waiting forever and a day, being ignored in the process by some black cabs, then vulnerable people would not then be tempted by someone dangerous who comes along offering a lift.

This situation usually develops when people are desperate to get home. I think the city council's keenness to prosecute and seek out private hire cabs from picking up desperate punters is actually compounding the issue and a waste of resources in my opinion over insurance issues.

The city council is usually urged to crack down on private hire taxis by black cab owners who are only selfishly protecting their own interests and totally disregarding the fact that there just aren't enough black cabs to get people off the streets of Manchester and that they often drive past people trying to hail them down with their cab empty.

The only way to alleviate the numbers crisis would be to drastically increase the numbers of black cabs from 900 (which is not going to happen easily taking into account the cost of those vehicles) OR give people the choice of using all possible resources i.e. utilise the 2,900 licensed private hire and licensed black cabs, to get people quickly off the streets, safe from violent assault. The latter seems to be the rational choice to me.

The city council should either locally change the regulations regarding a private hire cab picking someone up who has chosen to use one, or reduce the zealousness with which they police the regulations.
Anthony DeWeever

As a black cab driver in Manchester working night time, I see a lot of private hire vehicles coming into Manchester touring for fares. They come from all surrounding areas such as Rochdale, Oldham, Wigan, Bolton, and Blackburn. So it is not only me who sees these vehicles but also the police.

I have seen it time and time again where the police just ignore them illegally picking people up. It seems the police just want to get the streets cleared when the pubs and clubs close.

Then there are the City Council enforcement officers. When they do an operation o catch illegal drivers, they do it in one area at a time so the drivers just go and work in another part of the city.

Why can't they use the city's CCTV system to film them, then pursue them?

On a normal night you can see the enforcement officers driving round in their car, but they never seem to do anything, and come 2am in the morning, when the town is full of illegal drivers, the enforcement officers finish their shift.

It would be interesting to see how many drivers the city council has prosecuted in the last six months as to how many illegal drivers are in the city at weekends. The percentage would be small.

We have these debates every year and once the dust settles, the council go back to their old ways of doing nothing until the local media pick up on it.

The council has just issued another 95 licence plates but have they increased the enforcement? No! Yet they are still taking the licence fees off drivers.

People say that there should be more black cabs in the city, but if these same people were to go into the city on day between Monday and Thursday, they would see all the cabs parked up waiting for fares.

You will get high demand at peak time on the weekend between 2-4am - and no amount of extra cars would meet the demand. To put extra cabs on would cause chaos at off peak times.
Mark Devaney

Thank you for your programme on bogus taxis. I am a young woman who once got into a bogus car in Manchester. It was a very frightening experience - nothing actually happened, but the realisation that something wasn't quite right preyed on my mind all the way home.

I became really anxious that something bad was going to happen. In the end I think the driver was just moonlighting to get some extra cash, but I felt very unsafe.

I really regretted not checking the taxi before I got into the car - and advise any woman always to keep her wits about her and never to take a bogus taxi.
Susan, Cheadle

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