When I hailed a taxi after a night out I had no idea of the horror that lay in store…
By Sarah Thompson, 21, from Northamptonshire
Like most young girls in their early twenties, Sarah Thompson had been warned of the dangers of walking home in the dead of night.
So when she jumped into a taxi after a birthday party, the 21-year-old knew she would be transported to safety.
Except she wasn’t.
Instead, Sarah was driven to a secluded road and sexually attacked in the passenger seat of the car.
The carer from Northamptonshire says: “It just didn’t occur to me that a bogus taxi driver would be out on the prowl that night – nor that I would be his victim.
“Whenever you get into a taxi, there is an element of trust there – one that most people take for granted.
“I heard the same sorts of warnings about getting into licensed taxis, but you don’t really take it in when you are a teenager.
“You never really think that something like this is going to happen to you, but it has to me.
“I want to get the message across that it’s just not worth it for the sake of a night out.’
Sarah and a group of close friends had been partying in Birmingham’s city centre in March 2013 when she decided to call it a night in the small hours of the morning.
She explains: “I was working the next day and I’d had quite a lot to drink so I left the girls in the club and headed outside in search for a taxi.
“I wanted a proper night’s sleep ahead of my shift. I didn’t want to have to call in sick.”
Sarah stumbled out of the Gatecrasher club on Broad Street and clambered into the passenger seat of a vehicle parked in the taxi bay.
She told the driver to take her to the Quality Hotel – the group’s accommodation for the weekend – and the driver started up the engine.
Sarah says: “I didn’t know the city well so didn’t notice that the driver had set off in the opposite direction of our hotel.
“I didn’t even realise anything was wrong when he pulled over at the side of the road – until he leant over the passenger seat and started kissing me aggressively.”
Panic-stricken, Sarah kept as still as she could, willing him to change his mind and stop.
She adds: “I froze with fear. I was terrified that if I fought back he might kill me.
“I closed my eyes but could feel the driver’s heavy weight pinning me to the seat.
“I blacked out at that point but when I came round, he was still on top of me.”
After the horrifying attack, the driver climbed off Sarah and unlocked the car doors. Seizing her chance to escape, she fled barefoot, not even stopping to put on her shoes she’d left in the cab.
Sarah says: “I didn’t know what he’d done to me, I just knew I needed to get out of the car – fast.
“I opened the door and ran for my life, screaming and crying. I could barely see for the tears.
“A taxi slowed down beside me but I thought my attacker had reappeared to finish the job and carried on running.”
In fact the cab belonged to a legitimate driver, who on seeing the young woman in distress, sent his two female passengers out to investigate.
The concerned girls alerted police after catching up with Sarah, who was inconsolable.
She says: “I was so hysterical I couldn’t get any words out.
“The girls had no idea what had happened to me, all they knew was that something dreadful had occurred.
“I was taken to the nearby Mailbox shopping centre where we awaited for the authorities to arrive.
“Paramedics also showed up, but on seeing that I didn’t need hospital treatment, the police drove me to the station for an interview and examination.”
Sarah’s mum Mags, 46, was contacted and she arrived in the early hours of the morning to comfort her traumatised daughter.
Sarah says: “As soon as Mum hugged me, I burst into tears.
“While the police officers tried to piece together the night’s events I went to the bathroom.
“I felt sore and tender. I had no idea what he’d done to me.
“By the morning, I’d been swabbed and examined and my clothes taken away for evidence.
“It all felt surreal, calling to cancel my work shift.
“I just wanted the nightmare to be over and for my life to return to what it was before.”
Back home, Sarah tried her best to carry on as normal, but it was hard to escape the shadow of her nightmare night out.
She says: “Gradually, though, the horror of the incident hit me.
“Initially, I was angry at myself for being a bit drunk. Then I realised, tipsy or not, I didn’t deserve what had happened.”
Police were eventually able to identify the sexual predator from DNA found on her clothing and tracked him down using CCTV footage.
Security cameras captured Ahmed prowling Broad Street in his car throughout the early hours.
The phoney cabbie, Shakeel Ahmed, 31, was arrested in April 2013.
Sarah says: “I was advised to attend a sexual health clinic where a pregnancy test came back negative but I faced an agonising wait to find out if I had contracted an STD.
“When they told me he was a drug user I was beside myself with worry that I might be HIV positive.”
Sarah breathed a huge sigh of relief when her HIV test eventually came back negative. But she still had a trial to face.
She says: “As if I hadn’t been through enough.
“I gave evidence from behind a screen and it was awful having to relive it all. It was horrible hearing how he had set out to find a victim that night.
“I’d always wondered why I had sat in the passenger’s seat that night but police are convinced he locked the backdoors so I had no choice.”
Following an eight-day trial in December 2013, Sarah’s sick attacker was jailed for five years for sexual assault by penetration. He was also ordered to sign the sex offenders register for life.
Detective Constable Sarah Little, from the force public protection unit, said: “Sarah’s life has completely changed since this horrific attack took place.
“Many of these offences are committed by people falsely purporting to be taxi drivers. They are sexual predators and it can be easy pickings for them because there are females of all ages, often intoxicated and occasionally alone.”
Although the sentence has provided some sort of closure for Sarah, she still struggles to grasp what happened to her.
She says: “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 to get back to the hotel safely.
“Girls are going to want to party and have a drink – but I’d urge them to book taxis in advance and never get into an unlicensed vehicle. I don’t want anyone else to go through what I did.”
Sarah has been so affected by the assault her nights out haven’t been the same since.
She takes her car everywhere and will ferry her friends home at the end of the evening.
Sarah says: “I have panic attacks and struggle with physical contact.
“I haven’t been drunk since the terrifying attack and I won’t even let my friends get in taxis alone.
“Now, I’m always the designated driver on nights out – I always take my car to parties.
“Out of all the ‘taxis’ to get into that night, I can’t believe I was unlucky enough to pick that one. I just assumed I’d be fine because it was parked in the correct bay.
She adds: “I’m speaking out to warn others – never get in an unlicensed cab. It simply isn’t worth the risk.”