Up and down the country, taxi drivers are bearing the brunt of late-night drinking and aggressive racist behaviour – and are now turning to self-defence.
On 5 October 2010, Daniel Miller was handed a twelve month community order from an Exeter court for racially abusing and physically assaulting Hackney carriage driver, Mohammed Numan. Miller had been drinking on the night of the assault, which, he had told police earlier, had a tendency to make him ‘abusive’. Of course, Mohammed can confirm this; after Miller didn’t have the cash to pay for his fare, a row escalated in which Mohammed was on the receiving end of not one, but numerous punches to the head.
This is not an uncommon story, and in fact, Mohammed Numan’s were injuries relatively minor compared with the other cases of assault that have been recently reported. In Watford last February, Hackney Carriage driver Said Omid was suddenly strangled from behind by one his passengers, threatened with knives, and finally forced to jump from the moving taxi after the assailants took control of the car.
The IRR’s recent research into racist attacks in 2009 revealed that, of the victims that were attacked while in their place of work, some 10 percent of the victims were taxi drivers, the largest employment category by some margin. There were 32 cases of serious assault on taxi drivers while on duty, all of which involved a combination of racist abuse, assault, theft, and vandalism. Our continued investigations demonstrate a similar pattern developing in 2010. A quick look through newspaper reports reveals at least sixteen serious racist assaults on taxi drivers in the first six months of the year. The actual number, however, is potentially far higher as attacks often go unreported.
In March this year, Riaz Ahmed was attacked by three passengers in the early hours of the morning in Bradford. He dropped off a fourth passenger whom he overheard telling his friends to leave him alone. The friend’s words were not heeded, however. The remaining passengers refused to pay the fare, and then punched Riaz in the face, dragging him from his seat, kicking and beating him, while hurling racist abuse. He was hit repeatedly with a metal bar and stick. His car doors were also kicked in, and his week’s earnings of £280 and the car’s satellite navigation equipment were stolen.
In Yorkshire and Lancashire towns, like Bradford, York, Burnley, and Liverpool, taxi drivers are becoming more aware of the particular dangers that face them at night. East Lancashire’s Hate Crime Unit, which monitored rising levels of racially motivated crime in the area in 2009, says that many of the calls it receives about such incidents are from taxi drivers, who are regularly taking people home who have been drinking and who are quick to become abusive. Mohammed Arif, chairman of the Burnley’s private hire association, agrees that it is one the biggest problems drivers face. He said: ‘They are often taking groups of drunk people home late at night and it can be intimidating, especially if racist abuse is involved’.
In an effort to combat such incidences, police in Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale have teamed up with the charity Stop Hate UK, to run a poster campaign encouraging people to report ‘hate’ crimes in the area. But many taxi firms believe the most effective deterrent is CCTV cameras; in Hastings, East Sussex, the manager of 24/7 Taxis took the decision of putting CCTV cameras in his entire fleet of 70 cars after one his drivers, Kurdish-born Aras Cassidy, was racially abused on the job. With his foreign-born drivers being subjected to racist abuse every day, Chris Vale is concerned about their physical safety and says: ‘The racism from some people is getting out of control. I have lived all over the UK and grew up when the National Front were at large but I have never known anything like this.’
If the use of CCTV as a deterrent or means of self-defence seems controversial, perhaps the emphasis being placed on cameras is better explained by its potential use in prosecutions. In January, Ashley Marlow was convicted and sentenced to eight months in prison for a racist assault on an Iranian mini-cab driver in Nottingham. He is believed to be the first person in the city to be convicted using CCTV from inside a taxi.
In Birmingham, however, a different approach has been taken. One year on from the death of Mohammed Arshad, a father of three who was stabbed in the head and left in a country lane after picking up a passenger, taxi firms in the area have designed the Private Hire & Hackney Carriage Safety Pack, a pocket-sized manual due to be launched this autumn, that will contain personal safety advice and is the first of its kind in the country.
Read an IRR briefing paper: Racial violence: The buried issue
Read an IRR News story: ‘Racial attacks laid bare’
Read an IRR News story: ‘Racial attacks summer report’