Cab drivers accused of stalking female passengers on social media
PUBLISHED: 08:28 08 October 2019 | UPDATED: 14:04 08 October 2019
Reports of cab drivers locking women in cars, making lewd remarks and adding them as friends on social media have sparked calls for tougher regulations.
Almost a dozen women have told this newspaper about frightening experiences with a small number of Ipswich cabbies who they say are ruining the industry's reputation.
The complaints came after one woman's Facebook post about her experiences went viral with hundreds of shares and several complaints about one driver.
Faye Ramsey, 25, recently booked a car with Hawk Express in Ipswich. The next day Miss Ramsey said she saw the man who she claimed was the driver, driving slowly along her street. She then received a Facebook friend request from the same man. But after complaining to Hawk and Ipswich Borough Council, Miss Ramsey was told the man who she identified as having contacted her was not employed by the company and not licensed to drive the car that collected her.
Hawk said the genuine licensed driver "swore blind" he had collected her and that he never gave his car to anyone else. IBC also claimed CCTV showed the licensed driver had been in the car five minutes before the pick-up.
But Miss Ramsey said she was certain the person who collected her was the man who sent her the Facebook request. She said it left her feeling "on edge" - and she feared no one knew who they could be getting into a cab with.
IBC and Hawk said they took complaints very seriously. But complaints about drivers' have increased recently. An August IBC newsletter said there had been more reports from young women alleging drivers made inappropriate comments. Two cab drivers had their licences suspended that month due to serious allegations.
Miss Ramsey said she had been inundated with messages from women who had similar experiences - including several reports about the man who added her on Facebook.
Laura Morris, 28, claimed he locked her in his car after a night out two years ago. Miss Morris said he drove her back to her flat, locked the doors and made inappropriate comments before asking her to "suck his finger". After biting him, she said he unlocked the door. "I got into my hallway, rang my mum and couldn't believe what had happened," she said. "Then I saw he'd sent me a Facebook request."
Miss Morris reported it to police last week after reading Miss Ramsey's post, which she said "sounded so familiar". Police confirmed that allegations had been referred to the Safer Neighbourhood Team.
Faye Dickson, 26, also complained to IBC about the same man. She claimed he behaved "really strangely" after collecting her and another woman from town in August, and kept staring at their chests. She said he also sent her a Facebook request.
Miss Dickson reported it to Hawk but said she had not heard since. After seeing Miss Ramsey's post, she also reported it to IBC.
"These people also pick up children and older people, so it makes you worry what could happen," she said.
Lucie Collins, 26, kept records of messages she received from the man after a booking in 2012, which included "vile comments".
Hawk director Richard Morphew said the driver had not worked for his company for years following customer complaints.
He acknowledged the cab business had "a few bad apples" but these were not tolerated by his company. He also said it was difficult to remove bad drivers altogether. Even if IBC revoked their license, Mr Morphew said drivers could get another from East Suffolk Council, and operate in Ipswich.
One former driver said he believes IBC gave licenses "far too easily", which caused problems.
IBC said it was the strictest taxi licensing authority in Suffolk - and would act on complaints.
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But Bex Watts, 29, said her complaint from December 2016 went nowhere. She said the driver made her "uncomfortable" with his questions and then locked the car doors. She reported the incident to the cab company and IBC - but said she was made to feel like a liar. "I no longer get in a taxi alone," she said. IBC said it had no record of the complaint.
Other women have complained about drivers waiting outside their workplace and sending inappropriate messages. One said her driver offered to waive her fair for a kiss. He then sent her indecent pictures and parked outside her house.
Complaints also included drivers watching pornography or Youtube while driving.
New measures to reassure customers
Hawk Express has introduced new measures to reassure customers by sending details of the driver's badge number to be verified on arrival.
Company director Richard Morphew said it had been done to prevent the possibility of the wrong driver attending a booking - even though he did not believe this had happened.
Mr Morphew said he was sure the driver who attended Faye Ramsey's booking was the licensed driver - and not the man who messaged her..
He said independent drivers often made Facebook requests to find new customers. He suggested it was likely a coincidence that the driver had sent a request to Miss Ramsey soon after her journey with Hawk. He said Miss Ramsey's booking had been made without a name and so no driver would have been able to take her details.
"From our point of view, this is a misunderstanding," he said.
Passengers urged to raise complaints
Ipswich Borough Council said its "top priority" was the safety of passengers and it would thoroughly investigate any complaints about drivers.
"If passengers have been the victim of criminal behaviour they should contact the police immediately," an IBC spokesman added.
"The council does not and will not tolerate any driver who does not comply with the rigorous standards of behaviour that we and the public expect. In this particular case we have reviewed CCTV evidence and found no evidence whatsoever against the driver."
He added: "All taxis have identifiable licence plates and all drivers will have a licence with their photograph on. Customers can check at least one of these before entering a vehicle."
IBC also supported a 'taxi marshal service' operated by Stage Security from Old Cattle Market bus station on Friday and Saturday nights, to help people find a taxi easily and safety.