A taxi driver in Sunderland has been presented with a commendation for going above and beyond to make sure two vulnerable teenagers didn't come to harm.
Cabbie Anthony Robson, 34, has been a cab driver with Station Taxis since 2009 and was working a shift in Sunderland city centre in the early hours of 24 August.
At about 3am, he picked up two teenage girls from the Doxford Park area and they asked to be taken to a hotel on High Street West.
Robson grew suspicious after a 34-year-old man, who was known to one of the girls, came out of the hotel and paid the fare. He then proceeded to lead them into the premises.
Concerned for the girls’ welfare, Anthony – who along with his colleagues receive regular vulnerability training by officers – rang 999 and passed on the information to police.
The training developed by Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness’s office helps spot signs of potentially vulnerable people in the night-time environment.
Officers swiftly attended the address and the two girls, aged 15 and 16, were safely taken home to their parents after hotel staff also stepped in when sensing something was not right.
This week, Chief Superintendent Sarah Pitt and Sergeant Maria Ord both attended Station Taxi’s headquarters in Southwick to personally thank Anthony for his instinctive actions and present him with a commendation.
“This could easily have resulted in a different outcome and Anthony could have easily overlooked what he had seen,” Ch Supt Pitt said.
“But as a result of the vulnerability training that we deliver to a range of partners including taxi drivers, hoteliers and door staff in the city centre, he thought something was not quite right and contacted police.
“That enabled officers to attend the hotel and subsequently safeguard the two teenage girls. They were taken home and offered advice, while we also spoke with their parents.
“Anthony should be very proud of his actions and we thought it was important to showcase our gratitude on behalf of the Force by presenting him with a Commander’s Compliment.”
Sgt Ord works closely with those who operate in Sunderland’s night-time economy and delivers tailored training sessions to help city centre partners spot signs of vulnerability or city centre flashpoints.
“Our officers have a fantastic relationship with those who work in our night-time economy which ultimately helps us to protect the public,” Sgt Ord said.
“In this case, Anthony spotted that the two girls may be vulnerable as a result of the training he received and gave us a call. That allowed us to react quickly and ensure nobody came to harm.
“Our work in the city centre is not just about reacting to incidents, it’s also about preventing them from happening in the first place, and that was evident here.
“Every month, we deliver vulnerability training for taxi drivers and other city centre partners to educate them on how best to identify and safeguard people who may be vulnerable for a wide range of reasons, and who could therefore be more likely to be a victim of crime.”
Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Kim McGuinness, said Anthony's actions were a "great example" of the public working with police to keep people safe.
She said: “Sometimes people don’t realise they are vulnerable and they can get caught up in a situation which has devastating consequences. It’s a relief to hear that on this occasion a quick thinking taxi driver raised the alarm.
"He could easily have thought it was none of his business but safeguarding is everyone’s business – he phoned the police so the girls could be brought to safety. Anthony’s actions are a great example of how the community can be the eyes and ears of policing.
"If something doesn’t seem quite right, the chances are it isn’t so please contact the police and they will do their job.”
Trevor Hines, managing director of Station Taxis, highlighted the importance of the training delivered to all of its drivers.
He said: “Our priority is the safety of our passengers and drivers, which is why this training is essential to ensure our drivers have the tools and knowledge to identify and report any concerns.
"Our drivers have a unique reach into society and often see and hear things that other people may not see. As a result, we have a huge responsibility in the local community to protect vulnerable passengers.
"The safeguarding training provided by Northumbria Police enables the drivers to be confident in recognising types of abuse and exploitation and how to report anything that they may be worried about.
"We are proud to have drivers like Anthony, who has potentially prevented something bad from happening with his actions. We work closely with Northumbria Police and all of the other stakeholders in the evening economy to make sure that everyone feels safe in the city."
Commendations will also be given to the hotel staff who stepped in and prevented the girls from going upstairs, and waited with them until officers attended.
Two men, aged 34 and 20, were spoken to by police following the incident. They were offered appropriate advice and officers were satisfied that no criminal offences had taken place.
The commendation was announced two days after Taxipoint reported on a Birmingham taxi driver who saved a vulnerable woman from a prostitution ring.
The woman, who was three months pregnant, was put in a cab to be driven to an address which was being used as a sex den.
Cab driver Tahir Mehmood noticed distress signals from the woman and made effort to communicate with her.
Despite her limited English, the driver’s compassion and concerns gave the woman the confidence to explain what was going on.
She told him that she had come to England on the promise of a legitimate job but has been forced into having sex with multiple men.
Mehmood phoned the police, who arrived to comfort the woman.
He is now in line for a commendation from West Midlands Police after saving the married victim from being forced into the sex trade.
The following day officers raided the address and safeguarded several eastern European women suspected of being used as sex slaves.
Romanian ringleader Robert Enescu was arrested from his home in Kingfield Road.
(Ringleader, Robert Enescu)
He denied being involved in trafficking the woman – who arrived at Luton Airport on 16 February – but was charged, found guilty and jailed for nine years in his absence, having skipped court bail on the eve of his crown court trial.
A wanted appeal has now been issued for Enescu and West Midlands Police is working with police across the UK and Europol in a bid to trace him and bring him to justice.
The investigation was conducted by officers on the Public Protection Unit based at Coventry Central police station.
Detective Inspector Wes Martin led the investigation. He said: “The woman responded to an online advert for masseuses – she thought it was a legitimate job but within hours realised she was in danger.
“She was kept locked in a room at an address in Enfield with no food or heating, just a mattress to lie on and a bucket as a toilet.
"She said she had no way to escape: the door was locked from the outside and had no handle on the inside.
"She was too afraid to jump from a window as she was pregnant; she tried to raise the alarm by shouting help but no-one replied. She had a phone but there was no signal.
“Two days later Enescu drove her to an address in Coventry and it was clear he intended to force her into prostitution.
“In Coventry she was kept captive in squalid conditions and subject to degrading treatment. She was eventually informed she would be released to a brothel where she would work as a sex worker and have to give half of her earnings to Enescu.
“When our officers intercepted the taxi – following a call from the concerned driver – all she had in her possession was a bag of around 50 condoms Enescu had given her. He’d earlier smashed her mobile phone and stolen what money she had.
“My officers worked tremendously hard to secure this conviction: they safeguarded the woman, liaised with officers in Romania, helped return her safely home and kept in touch while the case progressed.
"It was this compassionate and sensitive response which reassured the woman and gave her the confidence to come back to the UK to give evidence.
“If anyone has any information on Enescu’s whereabouts I would encourage them to get in touch.”
People can contact Det Sgt Mircetic at the Public Protection Unit in Coventry by calling 101 or via Live Chat at WMP Online. Alternatively, call the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.
Image: Source; Northumbria Police