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13 December 2013, 08:15 | Updated: 13 December 2013, 08:36
A sex assault victim attacked by a bogus taxi driver following a night out in Birmingham has urged Christmas revellers to stay safe over the festive party season.
19-year-old Sarah had been partying with 10 friends on a birthday bash before getting into what she believed was a registered cabbie waiting in Broad Street.
She fell asleep and minutes later awoke to find the driver, Shakeel Ahmed, pinning her down in the front passenger seat and subjecting her to a serious sexual assault.
West Midlands Police tracked down 31-year-old Ahmed, from Newton Road in Sparkhill, through DNA traces found on the teenager’s clothing.
On December 4th he was jailed at Birmingham Crown Court for five years after being found guilty of sexual assault by penetration following an eight-day trial.
And his student victim – from Northamptonshire – has now echoed West Midlands Police’s festive safety messages and is urging partygoers to plan return journeys, book taxis in advance and never accept lifts from unregistered cabbies.
Sarah said: “It was the first time I’d ever been out in Birmingham; we’d been drinking before heading out to bars in Broad Street and to be honest most of the night is a blur but I vaguely remember coming out of Gatecrasher and getting into a car at the taxi rank.
“It turned out this was a man posing as a taxi driver and on the look-out for vulnerable women he could take advantage of. I passed out in the taxi and woke up to find him on top of me; it was terrifying. I ran off bare-footed not stopping to get my shoes from the car.”
Broad Street cameras show Sarah leaving Gatecrasher just after 2.30am on Sunday 31 March and walking along Broad Street; she’s next seen on CCTV at 3am in Commercial Street, near the Mailbox, in a distressed state where security guards go to her aid.
CCTV trawls picked up Ahmed “prowling” Broad Street in his car throughout the early hours and he was arrested just before 5am from his home address on April 16.
Sarah, who was 18 at the time of the attack, added: “I had too much to drink and, because, we’d not booked a taxi back to our hotel, I found myself on the street looking for a lift. In hindsight I shouldn’t have left the club alone and should have made plans in advance to get back to the hotel safely.
“I’ve had panic attacks as a result of the assault, get scared walking in the dark and it’s had an effect on my relationships, including my boyfriend, as I struggle now when it comes to physical contact. I very rarely drink when I go out as I’m worried what could happen.
“Girls are going to want to party at Christmas and have a drink – but I’d urge them to book taxis in advance and never get into an unlicensed vehicle. I don’t anyone else to go through what I did.”
In 2011 and 2012 West Midlands Police recorded 75 offences committed by taxi drivers, or people purporting to be cabbies, against predominantly lone female passengers.
Public Protection Sergeant Sarah Little added: “Putting it into context – given there are several thousand taxis operating in Birmingham – the numbers of offences are relatively small. However, these are sexual offences and the types of incidents that can linger with victims for many years.
“It’s vitally important, especially in the Christmas party season where people are more likely to drink to excess, that return taxi journeys are booked in advance. The old phrase ‘safety in numbers’ applies as offenders will look for lone females, so stick with friends – and only ever get into licensed taxis.
“We want everyone to have a fun, safe festive period – and that can easily be achieved by planning ahead and taking common sense precautions.”