After a night out celebrating her 30th birthday in Leeds city centre, Ellie Dolby, 33, did what so many young women do and called an Uber cab.
Seen as a safe option by many, the appeal is that they’re quick to arrive and reassuringly easy to track with the app’s GPS technology — the driver’s name and photograph are even displayed on your mobile phone screen before the cab arrives.
The reality was terrifyingly different. Ellie was sexually assaulted by the driver in a horrific attack in December 2015, which has left her deeply traumatised.
Yet worse was to come. Despite this attack being reported to Uber and the police, the driver remained free to keep working — and attacked another woman just a week later.
It’s a deeply concerning situation that should raise alarm bells for any woman who chooses to travel by Uber — even more so because no criminal charges have ever been brought against the driver, Naveed Iqbal, 41.
Indeed, an out-of-court settlement from Uber last week, amounting to a ‘five-figure sum’, is the sole recognition of their terrible ordeal that Ellie, and the second victim, Rosie Winston, now 22, have received.
As Ellie says of her initial report of the attack: ‘Uber made all the right noises and convinced me it was taking it seriously. But it wasn’t backed up by action because days later he was in a position to attack another woman. What happened to Rosie could, and should, have been prevented.’
West Yorkshire police investigated, but no charges were brought because the cabbie who was named on the app when the women booked their taxis happened to be out of the country at the time.
However, an inquiry by taxi licensing authority Leeds City Council, which had been alerted to the allegations, concluded Naveed Iqbal had used his brother’s Uber log-in while he was in Pakistan, and had picked up Ellie in the early hours of December 6 and Rosie on December 13. There is no suggestion that his brother knew about his actions.
Naveed Iqbal finally lost his private hire licence in November 2017, at Leeds crown court, after Judge Simon Batiste ruled that ‘on the balance of probabilities’ he had carried out the attacks.
The judge said: ‘We are satisfied that he is not a fit and proper person to hold a licence. He’s extremely fortunate that criminal charges have not been brought against him.’
As he has no criminal record for these assaults, Mr Iqbal is, of course, free to do as he pleases, other than drive taxis.
Mr Iqbal shared the people carrier with his brother, working at night while his sibling did the day shift.
He denied assaulting the two women and using his sibling’s log-in, which is not permitted by Uber. He blamed a ‘technical fault’ on the phone or app.
However, lawyers specialising in abuse cases for legal firm Irwin Mitchell, who represented both victims, argued that Uber was liable for what had happened to them because it had a ‘duty of care to protect passengers’, as its drivers are employees.
After initially contesting the claims, the taxi firm agreed to the landmark out-of-court settlement.
Emma Crowther, who headed the legal team, said afterwards: ‘Both women are still deeply affected by what happened to them.
‘While nothing can ever make up for what has happened, we are pleased to have secured these settlements which we believe to be the first of their kind in the UK against Uber. We now hope that the specialist support the women require will help them try to move forward with their lives.’
The impact on both women cannot be underestimated.
On the night in question, Ellie was travelling home alone, and sat in the front of the taxi as always, because she gets travel sickness.
Having had several celebratory cocktails, and as a sufferer of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), Ellie fell asleep minutes into the 15-minute journey — only to wake with a start, feeling a hand on her right breast.
‘Out of the corner of my right eye, I saw his left hand go back to the steering wheel, and said: ‘What the hell are you doing?’ she recalls. ‘He said: ‘You were dreaming, love.’
‘I was sure I wasn’t dreaming, so I tried really hard to stay awake to be on my guard, but I’d had a busy night and, with CFS, the need to sleep is impossible to fight.’
Four minutes from home, Ellie woke again to the sensation of a hand on her right breast. ‘This time he made no attempt to remove it, so I shouted: ‘What are you doing, you dirty b*****d? Get off!’
‘I had to push him away. He said: ‘What, love? I’m a man, I need sex.’ Horrified at the thought of what he might do next, I told him: ‘Well, you’re not getting it from me!’
With her heart pounding, Ellie jumped out and ran the three-minute journey home, convinced he would try to follow and grab her. Once inside, she bolted her door.
Two old university friends, who had bowed out of the celebrations earlier in the evening, were staying over. When Ellie ran in, she shouted angrily at one of them, recounting what the driver had done to her before breaking down in tears.
The following day, she made reports to both Uber and the police, fully expecting her assailant to be suspended from work and charged with sexual assault.
‘I’m haunted by the thought that if I hadn’t instinctively fought back, he could have grabbed me by the throat and raped me,’ says Ellie.
‘I was so relieved to have escaped, but that didn’t stop him haunting my every waking moment for a very long time afterwards.’ So how on earth, despite being reported to the authorities by Ellie, did Iqbal escape detection, allowing him to commit the same crime against Rosie?
When West Yorkshire police investigated Ellie’s report, no charges were brought — because it wasn’t Naveed Iqbal’s name on the cab-booking log. Police remain insistent that this fact means no case could be proven beyond all reasonable doubt.
The spokesman for West Yorkshire police said that the force received two separate reports of women having been sexually assaulted by a taxi driver in Leeds on December 6 and December 13, 2015.
‘Investigations were conducted into both reports and a man was interviewed after voluntarily attending. There were evidential difficulties, some in relation to the identity of the suspect, and both cases had to be finalised on that basis,’ the spokesman added.
Despite being victims of a serious crime, the women claim they were not kept in the loop by police, with calls for updates going unanswered until, around six months later, they were told there would be no criminal charges brought against their attacker.
Rosie had been out at the theatre with friends on December 13, then had gone for a few drinks with them. When the girls finally said their goodbyes, it was 1.30am.
Not far from her home the driver parked up in a dark street. He forced his right hand up her shirt, touching her right breast. His genitals were on display, as he first tried to kiss her, and then force her to engage in a sex act.
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SOURCE: Daily Mail – Helen Carroll