A Brighton taxi driver has lost an appeal to keep his licence because he is suspected of having had sex with a 16-year-old girl while working.
The incident came to light when Mustafa Zayed, 40, of Trafalgar Terrace, Brighton, applied to Brighton and Hove City Council to renew his licence as a taxi driver.
A criminal records check included a note about a crown court jury trial at which Mr Zayed was accused of rape.
The judge in the rape case, at Chichester Crown Court, stopped the trial because the girl was found to be an unreliable witness and Mr Zayed was cleared with no case to answer.
The girl had lied about a similar case two years earlier, according to Adrian Carter, for Mr Zayed, in a licensing appeal hearing at Brighton Magistrates’ Court.
Despite this, officials remained concerned because Mr Zayed admitted in a police interview that he had had consensual sex with the girl when driving her home from a night out in Brighton.
And although the rape case had been thrown out, there was evidence of DNA from Mr Zayed’s semen on the girl’s thigh.
Mike Tyler, for the council, said that officials decided not to renew Mr Zayed’s licence because he was not a fit and proper person to be a taxi driver.
Mr Tyler said that the fit and proper test could be summarised as a question along the lines of whether you would allow your son or daughter, spouse or partner, mother or grandmother or any other person for whom you cared to get into a vehicle with this person alone.
He said: “You are essentially getting into a car with a stranger and putting your life in their hands.”
Mr Tyler added that the law and the test were intended to protect the public and he urged the magistrates to put aside any feelings about the appellant’s personal circumstances.
The court heard from taxi licensing and enforcement officer Ross Findlay and licensing manager Jim Whitelegg.
Magistrates were reminded about the council’s child protection – or safeguarding – responsibilities and how serial abuse in Rotherham had brought these into much sharper focus.
Mr Tyler said: “The council gives safeguarding the vulnerable the highest priority and does its best to ensure that only a fit and proper person is licensed to drive.
“In my respectful submission you cannot allow Mr Zayed to have his licence back and to do so would put other vulnerable young women at risk.”
Mr Carter, for Mr Zayed, said that not only had the girl in question been an unreliable witness but she had pressed herself on Mr Zayed.
She had had a drunken row in the cab with her boyfriend after a night out in Brighton where she had also become separated from her sister and friends.
She had no credit on her phone and not enough money to pay the fare home.
The incident happened in July 2005, there had been no complaints about Mr Zayed since then and a recent psychologist’s report suggested that Mr Zayed posed no danger.
Mr Carter said: “Mr Zayed is a man who is fit and proper to be a taxi driver and presents no serious risk to anybody.”
The presiding magistrate Joyce Clegg said that the bench was dismissing the appeal and awarded £2,500 legal costs against Mr Zayed.
She said: “There is no doubt that an incident took place in Mr Zayed’s taxi. Sexual contact between the two took place.”
Mr Zayed had given different accounts ranging from complete denial to an admission that he had had sex with the girl.
She said: “Mr Zayed was in the vehicle in a position of trust and didn’t behave in a fit and proper manner.”
Coupled with his subsequent dishonesty about what had happened, she agreed with the council’s decision last August that he shouldn’t have his licence renewed.