Uber has been accused by police of failing to report sex attacks and other “serious crimes” committed by its drivers, and of obstructing officers trying to investigate them.
In a letter obtained by the Sunday Times, Inspector Neil Billany, head of the Metropolitan police’s taxi and private hire unit, said he had “significant concern” that Uber seemed to be “deciding what [crimes] to report”, telling police only about “less serious matters” that would be “less damaging to [its] reputation”.
Billany accused Uber of “allowing situations to develop that clearly affect the safety and security of the public” by keeping from police crimes committed by drivers - including at least six sexual assaults on passengers, two public order offences and an assault.
In at least one of the sex cases, Uber continued to employ the driver, who went on to commit a more serious sex attack against a second woman passenger.
Billany said: “Had Uber notified police after the first offence, it would be right to assume the second would have been prevented.”
The victims complained to Uber and were left “strongly under the impression” it would tell police, but it did not do so, he added.
In the year to February 2017, Scotland Yard recorded 48 allegations of sexual assault involving Uber drivers, mostly reported by passengers but some made via Transport for London (TfL).
Billany said Uber’s failure to report the public order cases meant the Met learnt too late to prosecute.
The letter - dated April 17 and sent to Helen Chapman, head of taxis and private hire at TfL - was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the chairwoman of the London Assembly’s transport committee, Caroline Pidgeon.
She said she was “deeply concerned”, adding: “This apparent cover-up of reports about such serious criminal activity is shameful.”
TfL said the failure was “totally unacceptable” and formed “part of the consideration” about whether it would extend Uber’s licence. It was renewed in May, but only until September 30, amid concerns about Uber’s operations. Billany’s letter may have played a part.
Billany said one incident was a road rage incident classified as a firearms offence. The Uber driver took “what the passenger believed to be a handgun from the glovebox and left the vehicle to pursue the other party on foot”, Billany said. The “gun” turned out to be “pepper spray - legally classified as a firearm”, whose possession “clearly appears to be a criminal offence”.
When police asked for the passenger’s name, Uber “refused to provide any further information” without a formal request under the Data Protection Act. Uber said the “pepper spray” was a legal can of criminal identifier spray. It did help police when asked and said the refusal was a misunderstanding. It reported all incidents to TfL, it added.
“We were surprised by this letter as in no way does it reflect the good working relationship we have with the police,” it said. “We advise people to report serious incidents to the police and support any subsequent investigations, but respect the rights of individuals to decide whether or not to make such reports.”