Manchester Council has approved 292 taxi licences for convicted criminals since 2007, including rapists, sex offenders and paedophiles. The figures were uncovered by a freedom of information act request lodged by the Manchester Evening News. The Council insist that they take offences “incredibly seriously”, but the local MP said the figures were “alarming”.
In order to become a licenced hackney carriage or private hire driver, applicants must declare past criminal convictions on the licence application. The application is ruled on by a licencing committee, made up of councillors sitting on Manchester Council, who weigh up a number of factors including age, when the offence was committed and date of the conviction. They must satisfy themselves that the applicant is a “fit and proper person to hold such a licence.”
A spokesman for the council told the Manchester Evening News that they were satisfied with the procedure, saying “We take certain kinds of offences, including dishonesty and sexual offences, incredibly seriously, and it is very rare for people who have committed these offences to obtain a licence.
“If anyone holding a conviction of this nature applies to us for a licence, they need to not only demonstrate that they have not committed any offences for a significant period, but also to provide us with significant evidence that they are now suitable people to hold a licence.”
However, Graham Stringer, Member of Parliament for Blackley and Broughton was critical, saying “I think these are alarming figures. When I was on the licensing committee there were people who had previous convictions for sex offences, and they simply did not get either private hire or hackney carriage licences. And I can see no reason why that should change.”
The figures include four drivers who were granted licences in 2013 despite having past convictions of sexual offenses – two of whom had been convicted of sexual assault. They also include a driver who had made “sexual contact” with an underage girl, another who had had sex with an underage boy, and four people convicted of assault.
Manchester Council refused to release the names or personal details of the drivers, including the full details of their crimes, on the grounds of privacy.
Paul Brent, chairman of the National Taxi Association, told the paper that he didn’t believe that anyone with a past history of sex offences should be allowed to hold a licence.
“For me, anybody with a proven sexual offence shouldn’t be moving vulnerable people and disabled children around. The city council should make it policy that they don’t grant licences to sex offenders,” he said.
His colleague Wayne Casey added: “You have to ask, would that person feel safe being driven by that cabbie? It’s a difficult one, because some of these offences could be historic. In this case, with offences like rape, soliciting and assault I personally would not feel comfortable in a cab with that person driving.”