AN under-fire council is to re-examine the case of a taxi driver whose licence was renewed despite two convictions for assaulting a disabled child in the back of his cab.
The probe is the latest embarrassment for South Ribble whose handling of other taxi child abuse allegations hit the headlines last month and is now the subject of an independent inquiry.
The father of a profoundly autistic boy has this week lodged a formal complaint with the authority after discovering the cabbie, who twice tied his son up on the way to school, is still driving for a private hire firm in Leyland.
Records show the man surrendered his licence after being convicted by magistrates. But he had it renewed weeks later by the council’s general licensing committee, whose members voted it through unanimously.
“I’m absolutely horrified,” said the dad, who cannot be identified for legal reasons. “A man could do that to a vulnerable disabled child and still be allowed to drive a taxi.
“He should never be allowed to get behind the wheel of a cab again.”
The case has come to light just two weeks after a secret report into concerns about taxi licensing at South Ribble was leaked to the media.
In it were claims that children as young as five were sexually exploited by cabbies in the borough after the council failed to run proper background checks on drivers.
Two licensing officers have been suspended by the authority for the past five months and an independent law firm has been brought in to carry out a full investigation.
But the father of the autistic boy is demanding that the cabbie who assaulted his son in November 2012, when he was 13, is finally taken off the road.
“What happened to my son was appalling and it affected his behaviour so much that he has now had to go into full-time care,” he said at home in Penwortham. “We can’t control him any more.
“He was being driven to a special school in Southport and this man, together with an escort from Lancashire County Council, used to pick him up in a morning and bring him back again later in the day.
“What we didn’t know at the time was that the cabbie was driving off, going round the corner and then getting out and strapping my son into the back seat using elasticated luggage straps, the sort you fasten your case to the roof rack with.
“When he arrived at school in Southport he would drive round the back, so no-one could see him, and then untie him.
“What beggars belief is that the escort never said a word about it. It was only when she was off work ill that a stand-in saw it happen and reported it.
“Also the deputy head teacher at the school had become suspicious and waited round the back and witnessed what was going on, with the taxi driver screaming into my son’s face.”
The matter was reported to the police and the cabbie was charged with two counts of assault. He was fined £90 by South Sefton Magistrates in August 2013 and ordered to pay the boy £50 compensation.
It is understood the driver, who had been suspended by LCC from driving schoolchildren immediately the allegations came to light, surrendered his taxi licence altogether after being convicted.
But with a matter of weeks he applied to renew it and, accompanied by a lawyer, appeared before the council’s general licensing committee in October 2013.
The eight members of the GLC, chaired by Coun John Rainsbury, heard the evidence and agreed unanimously to approve the licence renewal.
Last night Coun Rainsbury, who still chairs the committee, was unavailable for comment.
Council leader Coun Margaret Smith has announced the case will now be referred to the scrutiny committee.
“We treat these matters with the utmost concern, and are determined to ensure swift action is taken when issues are brought to our attention,” she said.
“Decisions such as these are taken by the General Licensing Committee, a cross-party group of councillors which also has legal representation, to ensure a fair hearing takes place. They make judgements based on the facts that are available to them at the time.
“However, we will refer this case to our Scrutiny Committee who will undertake a full review of the reasons behind the decision to allow this driver to keep his licence.
“Our biggest priority is to protect the public. We are currently undergoing a full review of our licensing policies.”
and procedures, to ensure that the service is effective going forward.”