Source: The Guardian
Car 2000 minicab company, which serves area where Asian grooming gangs have operated, says it is catering to demand
Customers ordering minicabs in the town at the centre of Britain’s biggest grooming scandal are being offered white drivers on request.
Residents in Heywood in the Greater Manchester borough of Rochdale have been offered the service after two local drivers of Pakistani origin were jailed for their part in the rape and trafficking of young white girls.
Stephen Campbell, the manager of Car 2000, which took over Eagle Taxis, a firm that employed drivers at the heart of the scandal, said that a consequence of the affair was that many white customers ask for white drivers – or “local” drivers, as they usually describe them.
“We have had quite a lot of customers requesting what they call a ‘local’ driver. A bit insane if you consider that most of the [Asian] lads were born in Rochdale.
“But its a business and we have got a duty to do what the customer asks us to. I don’t think we can discriminate against the customer in the same way. It is a business at the end of the day. We have a large bank loan to pay back,” he said.
If he could, Campbell said, he would persuade people to take any driver. “The Asian drivers are harder working, they do what they are asked and they don’t complain about it. They have a much better work ethic. If the public could actually see these [Asian] people close up and see what they are about, I don’t think they would be asking for white drivers.”
The disclosure comes as MPs in areas where Asian grooming gangs have operated have voiced concern about racial tensions, which have yet to subside some six years after the scandals first emerged.
Heywood was at the centre of the Rochdale scandal after a sex trafficking gang of men of mainly Pakistani origin were found to have preyed on at least 47 girls, all of whom were white. Two drivers from the now defunct local firm of Eagle Taxis were among nine Asian men jailed for their involvement.
Ukip ran a byelection campaign in Heywood and Middleton earlier this month focusing on the issues of child grooming and immigration and came within 617 votes of overturning a near 16,000 Labour majority.
Simon Danczuk, the MP for Rochdale, said: “This is extremely worrying and a stark reminder of the impact that grooming scandals have had on northern towns. This will not be a problem exclusive to our borough, I’m sure.
“It must act as a wake-up call to politicians who just pretend tensions like this don’t exist and bury their heads in the sand. There’s a lot of work to do to improve race relations and if we’re going to build stronger communities then we have to tackle these concerns head-on,” he said.
Campbell, 34, said his father James bought into the Heywood firm in 2011. A few months later, they realised that Car 2000 was at the centre of a major scandal as it emerged that drivers from Eagle Taxis were embroiled in grooming allegations. Mohammed Amin, 45, of Falinge, a driver for 14 years who was known as “Car Zero”, was convicted of sexual assault and received a five-year jail term.
Abdul Aziz, 41, a married father-of-three from Rochdale who was also a driver, was convicted of trafficking for sexual exploitation, received a nine-year sentence. They were two of nine men initially convicted in a complex trial.
“We were dead centre at the centre of that debacle. We bought the business knowing nothing,” said Campbell. “If you had lived through the 18 months that I went through you would understand how difficult it has been,” he said.
Around two thirds of drivers are of Asian origin, but more white drivers work during the day. Campbell said they receive up to 60 calls a week requesting a white driver.
Asked if he was concerned about the possible reaction from MPs and councils who may question the firm’s policy, Campbell said: “They [councils and MPs] can’t tell us what we can do.”
It emerged during the grooming trial in May 2012 that a number of men worked as taxi drivers and would ferry young and vulnerable girls around northern towns for sex with other Asian men.
The gang offered gifts to girls, won their trust and then forced them to have sex. Some victims were driven between Rochdale, Oldham, Bradford and elsewhere to have sex with men for money. Most of the victims came from Heywood, while most of the perpetrators came from Rochdale.
Since the trial, there have been serious racist incidents against drivers including threats with knives and assaults. Campbell said there has been a lack of a response from the police. “The Asian drivers do a great job, given the grief they have had from customers. They can’t say anything back. It is a terrible position to be in,” he said.
Abdul Afiz, 42, a driver at the firm from Rochdale, said that racist abuse happens often but only comes from a minority of customers. “You have to just get on with it,” he said.
But the “white drivers on request” policy does not run contrary to the conditions of the minicab firm’s license and can continue, a spokesman for the council said. Mark Widdup, the director of economy and environment at Rochdale borough council, said: “This is first the council has heard of this company’s policy. However, this appears to be a decision made by the company and there is currently nothing in the conditions of their license which state that they cannot operate such a policy, just as some firms choose to offer customers only female drivers.”