Eight hours of terror: Ilford Uber driver forced on harrowing 220-mile journey by suspected criminals
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An Ilford Uber driver says he was forced to drive 220 miles for eight-and-a-half hours without a break by three passengers carrying out “illegal activities” across London and Essex.
The 31-year-old taxi driver picked up his first passenger in Marks Gate around 3.20pm and finally managed to flee at 12.30am when all three men got out of the car at a petrol station.
The dad-to-be told the Recorder he had only been working for the company for one month before the incident on Sunday, October 13.
How it all started
After picking up his first passenger, he was asked to go to Dagenham Heathway where they picked up two of his friends.
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"Once there were three of them, they started changing locations," the driver said. "They kept asking to do more and more stops."
From Dagenham, they headed to Goodmayes where one of the men collected a package from someone outside Nando's.
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"They said they didn't want to be dropped and said they had changed their plan and their journey would be about one hour," the Uber driver said.
"They started changing locations and demanded that I follow where he changed it to.
"I tried to challenge him one time and ask them what they were doing."
'They said I had to do it'
The driver said he waited 10 minutes each time he was asked to make a stop.
"I didn't see properly what was happening, but they were dropping something and then collecting a card from them - it looked like a bankcard," he said.
"I asked what they do with the cards, but I didn't ask much because I was scared.
"It went on for eight-and-a-half hours.
"I didn't want to upset them in case they harmed me. They said I had to do it."
Despite trying to end the journey on several occasions, the driver was forced to make stops in Romford, Dagenham, Stratford, Hackney, Grays and Clacton-on-Sea.
At 8pm, the driver was asked to go to a street in Hackney and make a stop. A scooter pulled up and one of the passengers dropped something off.
"Then another car pulled up in front of me, shining his headlights into my car to see who was inside," he said. "Suddenly they told me to drive off and get out of there. They shouted 'move, move, move'. I think it was another gang."
The driver, a trainee accountant, never left the car once throughout the entire ordeal.
"I went eight-and-a-half hours without going to the toilet," he said. "I was too scared to leave my car in case they damaged it or locked me out, or left something in there."
'They were really professional'
After the incident in Hackney, despite trying to explain that his shift had finished, the trio forced the driver to make a trip to Clacton-on-Sea.
"It was about 9pm when we started the journey to Clacton-on-Sea and they collected something from a girl," he said. "The girl came out of her home and gave them her Halifax card, but they didn't give her anything in return.
"They shared numbers and said they would be in contact with her. It must have been drugs.
"Something illegal was definitely happening, but they kept pushing me and not letting me stop.
"The person sat next to me in the front had at least 20 bank cards in his hand from people.
"I heard them saying 'I collected already one Monzo and now a Sterling'. They were continuously on the phone, talking in slang I didn't understand."
The driver said the passengers, who he believes were all under the age of 18, would always take him to quiet, dead-end roads to make the stops.
"There was nobody around to ask for help," the driver said. "They were taking us to places where there was no one around.
"They were really professional. They have been doing this for a long time. They know how to cheat the system."
It was only at 12.30am that the driver managed to escape when all the passengers got out of the vehicle at a petrol station in Collier Row.
"I thought, this is my chance," he said. "I locked my windows and doors and left them there.
"I called Uber and said I was scared and felt something was going to happen to me.
"I have a dashcam but it didn't record anything from that day. I don't know if they managed to disconnect it."
The app also shows that the men were not charged for the journey, but it's not clear how they managed to do this.
Going back to work
The 31-year-old is now terrified of returning to work and he is calling on Uber to do more to protect drivers.
"After Sunday I didn't work for four days," he said.
"I'm really nervous getting back in the car. I'm scared to pick people up. I'm scared to go to Dagenham any more.
"I declined more than 40 trips from people who looked like the people who were in the car.
"Another Uber driver I spoke to said it had happened to them. They are just booking the jobs with different accounts.
"The other driver said they had been driven around for six-and-a-half hours.
"I think it's the same people. They are misusing the system for illegal activities.
"I'm mostly a really confident person and I can face any situation, but this has really shaken me. This needs to be stopped."
The driver joined Uber to allow him to earn money in between his studies to become an accountant and invested thousands of pounds in a brand new car, especially for the job.
"I've only been working for Uber for one month and I've put so much money into this," he said.
"I paid £10,000 in down payments for a brand new car and I'm paying £450 every month for it.
"And I bought this car just to work as a cab driver."
Calls for Uber to protect drivers
"Uber should have a system in place where it shows if a driver has been continuously driving for eight and a half hours and hasn't taken a break," he said.
"They should be calling drivers to ask what is happening. What if I was travelling around with a young girl in my car for that long?"
"There is an option to call 999 but they can hear if you are calling them. They would definitely harm me.
"And if you block their accounts, they will make another. There needs to be a change in the system where drivers are called in these situations.
"We should be concerned about the drivers as well as the passengers - they are parents and have family too."
What other Uber drivers have to say
Other Uber drivers have also reported drug dealers using a loop hole to stay in cars for long periods of time to use them as a vehicle for dealing drugs.
One driver who had a three-hour ordeal told the Recorder: "I think it's a mix of credit card fraud and drug runs.
"They threatened me. They said they were going to punch me, going to take my car and my phone. They said I was going to walk home.
"I took them to a supermarket in Goodmayes. They went to steal a doughnut and started running towards the car. I said I wasn't driving them anymore.
"They said 'you're dead'. I locked my doors and drove home. I was traumatised.
"I'm just an Uber driver, I'm not rich, I'm just another guy on the street trying to get on with my life.
"It's breaking my heart."
What the company said
Uber said it provides training to drivers to look for signs of criminal activity and encourages them to report anything suspicious and the company has a a 24/7 law enforcement response team who assist the police with their investigations.
An Uber spokeswoman said: "We take a zero tolerance approach to any illegal activity on our app.
"If we are made aware of any allegations of this nature we reserve the right to immediately terminate access to the app and we work closely with police authorities across the UK."