Sunday Life

DoE waging war on illegal taxis
Over 600 bogus cabbies busted in crackdown

By Alan Murray
13 February 2005

MORE than 600 bogus taxi drivers have been busted by the Department of the Environment in a major drive against illegal cabbies.

And the DoE has warned depot owners that they will now face certain prosecution, if they continue to employ unlicensed drivers.

Figures obtained by Sunday Life show that illegal cabbies have been fined a total of more than £60,000, as a special surveillance unit wages a war of attrition against rogue taxi drivers.

The campaign, launched in April 2003, has detected 600 unlicensed cabs so far and seized 200 taxi radios, hitting the pirates where it hurts - in the pocket.

A number of illegal taxis are believed to be operating from 'front' companies, run by loyalist and republican paramilitaries - particularly in north and west Belfast.

The DoE says 120 unlicensed drivers alone were found to be operating from 40 different depots, spread across the two areas.

Currently, there is no requirement for taxi companies to be licensed in Northern Ireland, so it is impossible to close down depots suspected of being fronts for terrorist organisations.

But consideration is being given to strengthening the law to close the loophole from next year.

Attacks on taxis in north Belfast by UVF and LVF elements since Christmas, have highlighted how innocent drivers can become caught up in a turf-war between rival factions.

And, while most of the firms operating in both areas are legitimate, the DoE is paying particular attention to the area because of the influence exerted by terrorist groups.

Said a spokesman: "It is impossible to give an indication of the number of taxi depots that may be operating vehicles that are unlicensed, in any part of the province. However, the department is aware that there is a higher number of illegal taxis operating in certain areas of the province."

Since the DoE's taxi enforcement team was created in April 2003, a successful test case has been taken against a depot for aiding and abetting the commission of the offences committed by drivers operating without a valid licence.

The DoE says the outcome of the case means it can now pursue similar prosecutions, across the province.

The plating of taxis has also added to the legitimising of many illegal driver and depot operations, the DoE added.

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