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Any taxi driver who has been plying for hire around London’s streets for more than a few months knows that prospective passengers have more than the obvious way of hailing a cab. That way is, of course, by sticking out their hand. Others might whistle, while some may call out “taxi.” But there are also those who look as though they want you but because you are on the other side of the road, may not do any of the above other than just look in your direction. That’s what happened to Dial-a-Cab driver John Davis (V41) – except that the stare was- n’t what it appeared to be.
John Davis has appeared in Call Sign a number of times over the years, mainly for completing in charity events. Several years ago he jumped out of a plane in aid of a young disabled boy, Jack Pitcher, to help his family buy a converted van. They got one, although Jack sadly died soon after. Then John ran in the London Marathon in aid of the Children with Cancer charity. He also appeared in these pages after helping to free four children from the wreckage of a car wreck as their mother lay trapped and unconscious in the driver’s seat following a three-vehicle smash. He had jumped out of his cab and battled to free the woman’s children and also a man trapped in one of the other cars – that one being on fire! But what happened to John on Lavender Hill this particular evening was as far from charity as you can get.
It was around thirty minutes after midnight and John was heading east along Lavender Hill with his ‘for hire’ sign on. There was virtu- ally no traffic and even fewer prospective pas- sengers. But standing by the kerb on the other side of the street was a lone man. As John was passing, the man looked at him in the way that some do when they want a taxi. John looked in his mirror to make sure there were no other taxis about that this guy may have flagged down. But there were none, so John did a U- turn, pulled up alongside the man and asked if he had hailed him and did he want a taxi? The man said yes and asked for McDonald’s just past Wandsworth Bridge. The man asked how much, John said around £10 but that if it went more, he would cap it at a tenner. So the man got in and off they went.
As the cab reached St John’s Hill, a Mondeo with two policemen inside started flashing their blue light and John pulled over to allow them to pass believing that they were chasing someone. But it was John they wanted. The passenger said nothing.
“I couldn’t understand why they would be stopping me,” John told Call Sign, “I knew I hadn’t been speeding and searched my mind to remember if perhaps the Clapham Junction lights had been red when I crossed, but I just knew they had been green. So I pulled into the kerb and got out. One of the policemen then came up to me, told me to remove the keys from the ignition and switch off my lights.
He then flashed his warrant card and simultaneously said Metropolitan Police Cab Enforcement. I just asked why they had stopped me; after all I hadn’t done anything. But then he shocked me totally by saying that he was arresting me for touting! I asked why because all I’d done was to spot someone who I believed had hailed me and that in fact I was correct in that he did want a cab. I thought I was being helpful by spinning round to pick him up.”
But the police were having none of it. They made John leave his cab where it was and drove him to the police station. It was only then that John realised that the pas- senger was working with the two men in the Mondeo.
Once inside the police station, they took John’s DNA, including swabbing both sides of his mouth, fingerprinting all ten digits via com- puter, doing his palms and sides of his hands. He then had his mugshot take from three dif- ferent angles before they then charged him with touting. John was stunned, what he thought was a good turn had put his livelihood at risk!
“What might have made me smile had it not been so serious was that on the charge sheet it said touting by a private hire vehicle (!!!) before going on to say about not being covered by the minimum third party insurance. I have and always have had fully comprehensive insur- ance. I was later told by a solicitor that incor- rect wording was irrelevant because police can change it any time up to six months after the arrest! The Police kept me at the station until 04.30am and then gave me a date of 25th September for a court appearance. Even then, I just couldn’t imagine that any court in the land would convict me, but there was this tiny thought at the back of my mind that said noth- ing was impossible.
25 September: John’s day in court…
John’s day in court arrived and from the witness box, behind a bulletproof glass shield, he gave his personal details and the registrar then read out both charges. But then a strange thing happened; the duty solicitor representing John got up and whispered something to the bench.
The next thing John heard was the magistrate saying that the case was dismissed and he was free to go!
He was asked if he understood and he said no! The magistrate then repeated that the case had been dismissed, that there was no further action going to be taken and that John was free to leave at any time.
John asked if he could make a statement and used the next few minutes to call the decision to prosecute him a disgrace, saying that he hadn’t been touting and was just trying to assist a member of the public whom he thought had hailed him.
He went on to say that a lot of time, money and effort had been wasted by the police because of this ridiculous arrest. He then told the court that he would be taking the matter further and making an official complaint to the Crown Prosecution Service about the whole incident and the action of the arresting officers.
Reproduced with kind permission of CallSign magazine.