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London cabbies protest against convicted killer seeking to drive cabs; say safety would suffer

LONDON - Hundreds of drivers of London's iconic black taxis Thursday protested a decision that could allow a man convicted of manslaughter to become a cabbie.

LONDON - Hundreds of drivers of London's iconic black taxis Thursday protested a decision that could allow a man convicted of manslaughter to become a cabbie.

"I feel very strongly about this. We won't let it erode away our reputation," said Catherine Michael, 51, showing her green badge that allows cabbies to work as licensed drivers. "We want to stay the best in the world."

Long lines of protesting taxi drivers, estimated by police to reach 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometres), surrounded the Public Carriage Office - which is responsible for administering the taxi test - in north London.

The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was found guilty in 2001 and has applied to take a test called "The Knowledge" - which all London cabbies must pass to drive a black taxi.

The 38-year-old, diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic at the time of his trial for strangling his wife, was released in 2005 and is no longer on parole.

Jim Kelly of the Unite union said that allowing the man to become a cab driver could damage London's reputation for having the safest taxis in the world.

"We feel the travelling public would be at risk," he said.

Transport for London officials said there were no grounds to refuse the man's application as he had served his time and passed background and medical checks. It said an independent committee is reviewing the case before a final decision is reached.

"The issue uppermost in our minds is the safety of passengers - nothing more, nothing less," said a spokesman for the transport body who asked not to be named because of departmental policy. "That's why there is an urgent independent review of the facts."

But this has not appeased cab drivers who dismiss the decision to let the man take the test as being too politically correct.

"Everyone is given an equal chance but the cabs' reputation will go down the toilet. We're not prepared to lose it, no way," said Grant Davis, chairman of the London Cab Drivers' Club union.

"I keep asking, would you like to be the woman at the back of this guy's taxi the day he forgets to take his medication?"

 
 
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