Taxi drivers have reacted with anger after a police force asked them to snitch on passengers they suspected of beaching lockdown rules.
A letter issued by West Mercia Police to an estimated 300 licensed taxi drivers in Herefordshire has called for drivers to report any incidents of people breaching the 'rule of six'.
Taxi services and industry representatives have criticised the proposal, warning it will place drivers in an “uncomfortable" financial predicament and at greater risk of violent attacks from passengers.
Dave Lawrie, director of The National Private Hire & Taxi Association, said attacks on drivers have already increased during the pandemic with many feeling under pressure to ask that their passengers wear a facemask before travelling.
Mr Lawrie said: “I am painfully aware of the number of attacks that are carried out on drivers on a daily and weekly basis.
“I don’t think it is a good idea to ask taxi drivers to report people breaching Covid regulations, because, if they do that, they are leaving themselves wide open to counter-attack and people coming back to them.”
“Taxi drivers already have enough responsibilities and burdens on them, they are not enforcement officers,” Mr Lawrie added. .
Under current Government guidelines, breaches of the ‘rule of six’ are punishable with a £200 fine.
Taxi drivers in Herefordshire have warned the request will place employees in an “uncomfortable predicament” as they run the risk of alienating their customer base, who they are increasingly financially dependent on.
Jon Dallow, director of Hereford’s largest operator BlueLine Taxis, said: “If they (drivers) inform people of having parties when they drop somebody off, I imagine it would put them in a predicament and make them feel uncomfortable.”
“They just want to try and earn some money as safely as possible, which they need.”
Earnings from taxi drivers are estimated to have fallen by 80 per cent since the start of the pandemic with increasingly stringent Covid regulations disencouraging people from socialising in public.
However others have welcomed the move, arguing it is part and parcel of the industry’s civic duty to reduce the rate of infection in the county.
Herefordshire Conservative councillor Paul Rone, who is group chairman of the county’s taxi co-operative, said: "We're all members of society, we've all got responsibilities there is no good blaming 'big government' and things, youngsters do seem to think it doesn't affect them.
"It's not sort of snitching, it's just making sure people comply with the rules and the laws."
"Have we seen examples of it, yes, would we report it? that's up to each individual cabbie."
Questioned on the reasoning behind the letter, Chief Inspector Edd Williams from West Mercia Police said: “A letter has been shared with taxi drivers across Herefordshire following a multi-agency meeting.
"It was pointed out in the meeting that, due to their line of work, taxi drivers are likely to have information relating to significant breaches of Covid-19 regulations.
"Therefore it was jointly agreed that we would encourage professional drivers to report breaches such as large parties, mass gatherings and raves.
"This added insight enables us to be more efficient in our response and work together to take greater steps in keeping our communities as safe as possible during the pandemic and to stop the spread of the virus.”