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By Peter J Rose

ITV1 have screened a documentary on John Worboys – the Black Cab Rapist, as part of their Real Crimes’ programmes.

Although I have no trouble with this program because of its factual nature. I am however dismayed that in the pursuit of factual information I have hit a stumbling block to a request..

The week before TfL publicised  figures regarding the number of cab-related sexual assaults that had taken place for 2009/10. I, as Secretary of UNITE’s London Cab Section,  put in a request asking how many sexual assaults have been recorded involving taxis and private hire, both legal and illegal over the last year. After having to jump through several hoops, I finally got an answer.

Below is part of the reply I received from the Metropolitan Police officer dealing with my request.

Dear Mr Rose

I write in connection with your request for information which was received by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) on 13/09/2010.  I note you seek access to the following information:

  • I would like some accurate info regarding the number of sexual assaults that have been recorded involving taxis and private hire, both legal and illegal over the last year. A breakdown between the three would be much appreciated. .

This letter is to inform you that it will not be possible to respond to your request within the cost threshold.

In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000, this letter acts as a Refusal Notice. Please see the Legal Annex at the end of the letter for the relevant extracts of the legislation which apply.

Upon receiving your request, searches were conducted within the Specialist Crime Directorate – Sapphire, the Performance Information Bureau and Safer Transport Command.

I have been informed that searches would be conducted on the Crime Reporting Information System (CRIS) and details would need to be taken from each individual CRIS record to establish what category the crime falls under and if this has been defined at all.

If there is no clear indication of the type of hire vehicle involved then the process would be handed over to the specialist Sapphire teams to ascertain if these cases involved illegal/legal or licensed taxi cabs drivers from the details on the case files. This would be a time consuming process as each case would have to be looked at manually to obtain the information required.

To begin with we would need to look at the free text fields within the CRIS records for each ‘cab related sexual offence’ to see if the information was recorded there.  It has been estimated that an analyst can read twelve records an hour.  Therefore, as there were over 140 cab related sexual offences for the financial year 2009/10 this would take over 11 hours.  It may be obvious from some which were committed by taxis and private hire, either legal or illegal, however often these details would not come to light until later in the investigation.  In addition, as this type of detail is very specific to the suspect it may not be included on the original CRIS record as a suspect could later be eliminated from the enquiry.

Therefore it would be necessary to locate and retrieve the case papers of the remaining cases from each of the Sapphire teams tasked to investigate the sexual assault.  A member of staff would then be required to manually extract from them this detail.  It has been estimated by the Performance Information Bureau who are responsible for producing MPS statistics that it would take approximately two hours to produce the list, and between 30 mins and 2 hours of work by the investigating team for each to obtain the case file and go through it.  Given that there are over 100 records for the last financial year, it has been estimated that if it only took only 30 minutes to locate and retrieve each file and extract the relevant detail, this would take around 70 hours.

I have also conducted searches to ascertain whether any reports into this have been compiled on this topic and have been informed that this is not the case.

We therefore estimate that the cost of complying with this request would exceed the appropriate limit. The appropriate limit has been specified in regulations and for agencies outside central Government; this is set at £450.00.  This represents the estimated cost of one person spending 18 hours [at a rate of £25 per hour] in determining whether the MPS holds the information, and locating, retrieving and extracting the information.

Please note that any figures for sexual offences related to cabs include offences committed by unlicensed cab drivers, licensed taxi and minicab drivers and licensed drivers touting illegally. The MPS is unable to provide a definitive breakdown by type of cab (involved in many incidents) for reporting purposes. While it is not always possible to definitively determine whether these offences were committed by unlicensed or licensed taxi and minicab drivers any details of the how the victim approached the suspect or vice versa are used for investigative and analytical purposes.

The Metropolitan Police Service is here for London – on the streets and in your community, working with you to make our city safer.

I will leave the reader to make up their own mind on this one.

Be seeing you.

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