THE TRIAL – A London cab driver has been convicted of false imprisonment and dangerous driving after a two day trial at Blackfriars Crown Court.
The jury was told that Channel 4 news reporter Helia Ebrahimi (39) hailed a cab, driven by James Wilkinson (57), in Central London on March 22 – the day of the Westminster terrorist attack.
During the journey, Ms Ebrahimi, a journalist of British Iranian descent, asked for the vehicle’s heater to be turned on but Mr Wilkinson said it was not working.
Ms Ebrahimi then said she was not prepared to pay the fare for the “freezing” journey and told the court:
I said the heater could not have been turned on as there was a lot of air being blown out and I was feeling cold. He (Wilkinson) became frustrated and said to me, ‘If you are going to be like that then you can get out’.
“I felt that was really offensive and I was quite upset. I just didn’t understand why he was being so angry. I said if he was trying to kick me out them I’m not going to pay the fare. At that point he told me, ‘I’m not going to let you out then’.”
Mr Wilkinson, of Faversham in Kent, told Ms Ebrahimi that he was going to take her to a nearby police station, to which she replied: “I felt I hadn’t done anything wrong”.
The Channel 4 reporter added: “Then he said: ‘Don’t you think the police will be busy on a day like this, with the likes of you.’ I didn’t understand and I couldn’t quite see why the police were dealing with the ‘likes of me’. I didn’t see what the connection was.”
Ms Ebrahimi told Wilkinson she wanted to get out of his cab and added: “He started saying things like, ‘This country used to have good people’ and ‘This city used to have class’.
“It seemed like a personal attack on me and that he had an axe to grind, but I couldn’t really understand his motivation. I felt panicked and I couldn’t understand the level of anger directed at me.
“I didn’t understand where we were going, what his motivation was and why he wouldn’t let me out of his taxi.
Ms Ebrahimi added:
I pleaded with him, saying that I felt unsafe and asked him to let me out of his taxi because I was feeling very unsafe. I was pleading to be let out of his cab.
The Channel 4 reporter filmed the final part of the journey and the video was played to the jury. The footage shows her saying repeatedly: “I don’t feel safe, can you let me out of your taxi please?”
Wilkinson replied: “I don’t feel safe either, from people like you, a thief.”
Ms Ebrahimi was dropped off hear to her work place and continued to film to get Mr Wilkinson’s details from inside of the taxi. But, as she did so, the cab lurched forward and then backward, causing her to hit the door and fall to the ground.
THE VERDICT – Wilkinson denied false imprisonment and dangerous driving but the jury at Blackfriars Crown Court took just one hour and 33 minutes to find him guilty of both charges.
The taxi driver was sentenced to four months in jail for each count, to run concurrently, and suspended for 12 months. He was also ordered to pay £1,000 compensation for the false imprisonment of Ms Ebrahimi and told to carry out 210 hours of unpaid work. He was also disqualified from driving for two years.
Sentencing Wilkinson, judge David Richardson said:
You are a blustering bully and you would never have behaved in this way if it had been a man in your cab. You took advantage and bullied someone who was standing up to you about the conditions of your cab. An aggravating factor is your complete lack of remorse and your ridiculous allegations that the video had been tampered with.
The judge accepted that the taxi driver would lose his job, of 20 years with no previous convictions, but added that Ms Ebrahimi had suffered a, “Frightening period of false imprisonment” and that: “In this country, we take loss of liberty very seriously.”