String of sex attacks by Plymouth 'taxi cab drives'
DETECTIVES are investigating a string of sex attacks on young women by suspected cab drivers.
Officers are currently studying around half a dozen cases, the latest being in the early hours of Thursday. They say lone women have been sexually assaulted – and even offered free rides if they remove clothes.
Investigators say they fear more than one cabbie – or men posing as taxi drivers – are to blame.
In the latest early-hours incident, a woman flagged down what she described as a black cab in Western Approach, opposite the Sainsbury's store.
The cabbie drove her to an address in Pennycomequick sometime between 3.30am and 4am.
But when he arrived he got into the back seat with her and locked the doors.
The woman, in her 20s, was left terrified as he then placed his hand on her thigh, police say.
She managed to push him away and demanded he open the door, before fleeing the vehicle.
The driver was described as black, with short or shaven hair, aged around 30, around 5ft 8ins tall and of thin to medium build.
Detective Sergeant Paul McCoy, of the Sexual Offences Investigation Team, told The Herald a number of similar cases were now being looked at.
He said: "In the months before Christmas we have had four reports where supposed taxi drivers have either sexually assaulted women or have made very inappropriate and worrying comments or requests.
"These incidents involve lone girls, picked up after nights out, by a mixture of what they believe are Hackney cabs and private hire vehicles.
"At some stage in the journey, usually as they reach their destination, the incident occurs.
"One case was where the driver told the victim 'if you strip off I will take you all the way home for free', but in other cases the suspects have made physical contact and sexually assaulted the victim."
Det Sgt McCoy said victims had given police a mixture of vehicles and descriptions. They include men aged between 20 and 40, of varying race and with a range of accents, he said.
The investigation will be passed to the same detectives probing a string of sex attacks in North Hill.
The Herald revealed last month how Operation Kingsand had been launched in the wake of a series of sexual assaults on lone young woman, targeted after nights out.
Det Sgt McCoy said officers were liaising with Plymouth City Council's taxi licensing department as well as the police's own licensing officers.
He was keen to stress police could not say for certain whether the drivers were legitimate cabbies or bogus drivers.
"The vast majority of Plymouth's taxi firms and drivers are safe and secure," he said. "We would rather lone women go home by a taxi than walk home through the streets at night.
"However, we want women to be aware of these investigations. We would urge them to try and share taxis with friends, to pre-book their taxi from a reputable firm and, if they hail a cab, check for the taxi licence which must be on display."
Det Sgt McCoy also urged any further victims to come forward immediately – regardless of how serious they believed their incident to be.
A Plymouth City Council spokesperson said: "We are helping the police with their enquiries and will wait for the results before taking any relevant action."
Anyone with information should call police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously, on 0800 555111, quoting crime reference ED/13/325.