Women warned after minicab rape

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Women have been warned to be more careful about taking minicabs after a rape by a rogue taxi driver. But minicab representatives criticised Scotland Yard's safety tips for women and called for the licensing of drivers.

The woman, who was raped after she left a late-night party earlier this month, was the 67th victim of a sexual assault by a minicab driver in London this year, according to the police. It was the 19th reported rape.

Detectives said the woman fell asleep after getting into the car at Clapham, south London.

She awoke at a petrol station in an unknown location, with her seat reclined and the seat-belt unfastened.

The attacker paid for some petrol before driving to a back road where he raped her.

Scotland Yard yesterday issued a number of safety tips for women, including not travelling alone when possible, booking by telephone, and giving the firm a "code" with which the driver can identify himself.

Detective Superintendent Bill Grahamslaw said: "Although the vast majority of minicab firms are reputable, the number of attacks has gone up this year. We are anxious that 67 more cases don't take place next year. We are hopeful that legislation regulating minicabs will soon be passed, but this Christmas - especially if they have perhaps had a few drinks - women should be extremely careful."

Det Supt Grahamslaw added that under no circumstances should minicabs be hailed on the street or through illegal touts waiting outside clubs. He warned party-goers to plan ahead: "Before you go out, think about it - how are you going to get home."

But John Griffin, chairman of the Private Hire Car Association, dismissed the safety tips as "pointless".

He added: "It is a very, very difficult problem because it is impossible to know who these drivers are or who they are working for.

"Any Tom, Dick or Harry can decide they want to be a minicab driver, get in a car and off they go. You have to have a licence for a poodle parlour, or a scrap metal yard, but there is no licensing for the people who pick you up at 3am and drive you home - it's ludicrous."

Mr Griffin said that black- cab drivers had opposed any partial licensing of minicabs.

"The black cabs think that any form of licensing of minicabs would be the thin end of the wedge in legitimising the trade and providing some form of competition, so they have totally opposed it," he said.

"They have said minicab drivers should have to take the knowledge [the test that black cab drivers have to pass before being licensed] but that is absurd - what we want is a system where every minicab driver has a recognised identity badge which shows who he is and who he works for. If there is a system of identification, regulations can be enforced and the business tightened up."

Earlier this year the Government launched an initiative aimed at driving cowboy minicab firms off the streets, but stopping short of full licensing.

Drivers' backgrounds will be regularly checked and vehicles will undergo safety examinations. London is the only city in the country that does not have a licensing system for minicabs.