The latest issue of Private Eye magazine (Issue 1419) contains a feature titled “Ribble Effect”, and tells of an apparently disturbing lapse by Tory-controlled South Ribble council in which a taxi driver was allowed to get his licence back after he had been convicted of assaulting a disabled teenager who had been entrusted to his care.
Margaret Smith, leader of South Ribble council
What the Eye revealed was grim enough: “The father of an autistic boy has discovered that a taxi driver had his licence renewed eve n though the committee dealing with it knew he had been convicted of physically assaulting the disabled 13-year-old on two occasions by tying him up in the back of a taxi … The driver was found guilty of assault in August 2013 by South Sefton magistrates. Two months later he was in front of the licensing committee at South Ribble asking for his licence to be renewed. Although councillors knew about the prosecution, they renewed his licence”.
That was bad enough. But the situation, it can be revealed, has now deteriorated to the extent that a split has opened up in the ruling Tory group on South Ribble council, with the leader of the Labour opposition having difficulty getting so much as an answer out of council leader Margeret Smith. And then there is the review into the affair.
Although the report, on the subject of safeguarding children, and the welfare of taxi passengers in general, was written up in November last year, it has yet to be released to the full membership of the council. So councillors looking to reassure their voters are effectively “flying blind”, facing public concern over the driver in this case, and that two other drivers in the area had been reported for sex abuse of children in their care.
We know that these allegations have been made, as the report that is being kept under wraps has in the meantime been leaked, apparently to a local radio station. Such is the frustration at Margaret Smith’s apparent inaction that Matthew Tomlinson, who sits on Lancashire County Council, and Paul Foster, opposition leader at South Ribble, have contacted Seema Kennedy, the local MP, requesting her personal intervention.
Foster put it directly: “I emailed Mrs Kennedy over a week ago asking for an urgent meeting on the taxi licensing issue at South Ribble. Unfortunately, not only have I not yet got a date for any meeting, I haven’t even received a response to my email”. How has Tomlinson got on? Does being a County Councillor carry more weight?
Sadly not, as he has confirmed: “It is inconceivable that Seema Kennedy MP is not aware of the way in which the good name of South Ribble Borough Council is being damaged by this ongoing controversy. I have written to her and asked her to use her influence to intervene, but as yet, I have received no response”.
One look at the allegations levelled against local taxi drivers suggests something bad has happened in the area, and may still be happening. So someone needs to do something about it, if only to reassure the public as to their safety - and that of their children. It might not be another Rochdale or Rotherham, but rumour flourishes when those in power remain silent and do nothing. There will be much more on this story later.