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Preyed on by the driving school sex pests: Women want cameras in every car after complaints about predatory instructors TRIPLE in four years
Pictured: Natalie Warner. Her experience is far from an isolated one
To celebrate her 17th birthday, Natalie Warner’s parents did what many others do, and bought their daughter driving lessons as a gift.
As she sat behind the wheel for the first time with her instructor, a married, middle-aged man, Natalie felt nervous, but also excited about learning to drive.
However, any apprehension about getting behind the wheel was quickly replaced by feelings of unease due to the increasingly inappropriate behaviour of her tutor.
‘At first things were fine,’ says Natalie, now a 19-year-old university student. ‘But he started to say how pretty he thought I was. It made me really uncomfortable. It wasn’t appropriate and I was trying to concentrate.
‘He then started to talk in a sexual way about the gear stick. I was repulsed. I tried to focus on learning to drive but he kept leaning over and tickling me in the ribs and he put his hand on my thigh to caress it. I felt really vulnerable as I was alone with him.’
As shocking as this behaviour was, Natalie’s experience is far from an isolated one. In the past year alone, complaints of sexually inappropriate behaviour were made against 246 instructors — a threefold increase since 2015 when there were 75 complaints. Like Natalie, many do not report their experiences, meaning the true figure could be far higher.
In March, Martyn Rees, a 37-year-old instructor, was convicted of 20 sexual offences including rape, attempted sexual assault of a pupil during a lesson and secretly filming intimate parts of his young female students during driving lessons in Manchester.
In September, Neil Addison, 55, of Fife, was jailed for four years for sexually abusing 14 female students while they were behind the wheel of his car. In December 2017, 64-year-old Gary Rolinson’s jail term for abusing male students was increased from four to five years after more teenage victims came forward to say he had abused them during lessons in Dudley, in the West Midlands.
And in 2015, Southampton driving instructor Stephen Mason, 59, admitted sexually assaulting two teenage pupils, 17 and 19, and was jailed for 32 months.
So why don’t more women report the unwanted, sleazy advances of their instructors? Part of the reason is many, like Natalie, feel under pressure to continue with lessons because they are often paid for in a block. It was a significant financial investment of several hundred pounds to which she had helped contribute with earnings from her waitressing job.
‘I was shocked by the way he was behaving. I tried to laugh it off. I wish I’d reported him now,’ says Natalie.
Living in a rural village in Scotland, she knew driving would be her lifeline, so she just tried to get through it.
In the end, Natalie, who is studying for an accountancy degree with the Open University, had nine lessons before she could endure no more. The experience put her off driving for a year before she resumed lessons a few months ago with a new instructor, who is male, but has helped restore her confidence.
Why don’t more women report the unwanted, sleazy advances of their instructors? (stock image)
‘I was really affected by what happened and nervous about learning again, but I have started to enjoy my lessons and hope to pass soon.’
Of course, the majority of driving instructors behave with utmost professionalism and decency, but being alone with someone in a car for hours at a time is an intimate experience and can be open to exploitation and abuse.
And with only a fifth (22 per cent) of the UK’s 39,000 instructors being female, more often than not, young learners will be taught by a man.
So what safeguards are in place to protect them?
By law, all driving instructors have to apply to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) to join its Approved Driving Instructor (ADI) register. This means they have to be over 21, pass motoring conviction checks and enhanced background checks, be able to read a licence plate at 90ft (27.5 metres) and have a full driving licence.
In March, Martyn Rees, a 37-year-old instructor, was convicted of 20 sexual offences including rape
They also have to be a ‘fit and proper person’ and adhere to a code of conduct requiring them to behave professionally and responsibly, to avoid ‘inappropriate language’ and ‘circumstances and situations which are, or could be, perceived to be of an inappropriate nature’.
Anyone who feels their instructor has breached this can report them to the DVSA and they can ultimately be struck off.
As a DVSA spokesman says: ‘Driving instructors found to be threatening the safety of learners will be removed from the register and stopped from teaching.’
But how often does this actually happen? Of the 246 current complaints, just ten instructors have been removed from the register, while 135 complaints are still ongoing. And due to insufficient evidence, 23 were given warnings but allowed to carry on teaching.
As a result of the increasing number of complaints, there are growing calls for instructors to be held to the same standards as academic teachers, meaning any sexual contact would automatically be a criminal offence. Many would also like to see cameras installed in cars.
Victoria Myers, a partner and head of abuse claims at Manchester-based Graham Coffey & Co solicitors, says she is coming across an increasing number of cases where pupils are not happy with their instructor’s behaviour. She says: ‘Driving instructors need to have the same duty of care as teachers and social workers.
‘They have care over some young people who, at the age of 17 or 18, can be very vulnerable. Cameras in the cars should be a must for every instructor as it gives them and their pupils a sense of protection.’
Of the 246 current complaints, just ten instructors have been removed from the register, while 135 complaints are still ongoing (stock image)
Sarah Morris, 26, a mother-of-two, who runs a design business in North Yorkshire, believes cameras would have prevented what happened to her. ‘I’d been bought lessons by my boyfriend for my birthday. There was a heavily discounted deal.’
Sarah says things were fine initially, but as her lessons progressed, so did the unwanted attentions of her tutor, who, she says, was a divorced man in his 50s.
‘Things started to get weird. He would say: “You’re such a pretty girl. Do you like older men? I could show you a better time than your boyfriend.” Whenever I put my hand on the gear stick he would place his on top. I didn’t like it.
‘I just tried to ignore it but on our third lesson, he placed his hand right at the top of my thigh, quite close to my groin. I was absolutely mortified. I asked him to move it but he wouldn’t, he kept it there for about five minutes. I told him I didn’t want him to do that but he said nothing.’
Sarah, who was working as a hairdresser at the time, says she regrets continuing the lessons. She hoped it had been a one-off and, as she had made herself clear, and so desperately wanted to learn to drive, she continued, albeit apprehensively. With money tight, she was mindful of not wasting the £70 already spent.
‘My fourth lesson was fine and nothing happened. But then on my fifth, he put his hand back on my thigh and refused to move it. I was getting really upset. It went on for about half an hour. I told him I was going to get out of the car and walk.
‘I told my boyfriend and he confronted him, but he said I was lying. This is why cameras would help as it’s just one person’s word against another — it would help keep everyone safe.
‘I regret not reporting him. I still see his car driving around and it makes me shudder.’
Sarah, who managed to pass a year later with a different male instructor, says she was nervous about having lessons again but did lots of research and spoke to others taught by her new instructor to make sure he was OK.
Olivia Baldock-Ward, head of training at membership body the Driving Instructors Association, says although the increase in complaints needs to be taken seriously, it still only represents 0.6 per cent of all registered instructors. She adds: ‘Some instructors are using cameras for training to allow pupils to review their performance. Obviously, with these allegations, it can be a good way for an instructor to get protection themselves because they are lone workers.’
She adds: ‘Safeguarding education is not mandatory. Driving instructors should be aware of the potential breaches they can be committing. Putting your arm around someone and saying: “Well done” can really cause offence.’
The impact of such abuse can be lifelong — leaving victims feeling unable to learn to drive.
Novelist Lucinda Hart, 43, says: ‘I was 18 and my instructor, a married man in his late 40s, was driving me back from the second driving test I had failed.
Novelist Lucinda Hart sayid ‘We’d been having lessons for six months and I’d been friendly to him, so I felt like it was my fault. I didn’t want to ruin his life, so I didn’t tell anyone’
‘Our lessons had always been fine and there was nothing inappropriate, but in this instance, instead of taking me home, he drove to a remote clifftop car park.’
Lucinda, who lives in Cornwall, says: ‘I thought what is going on? He didn’t say anything but moved in and started to touch my chest and kiss me and he put his hand on my groin.
‘I said stop, and he replied: “Have I been misreading you?” And I told him he had and I wanted to go home. And then he tried again, but I told him to stop. He then drove me home and said: “I hope you don’t think I was misbehaving.” I never heard from him again.’
Lucinda says: ‘We’d been having lessons for six months and I’d been friendly to him, so I felt like it was my fault. I didn’t want to ruin his life, so I didn’t tell anyone.’
She passed her test a year later with a female instructor and says she can see now, as a mother to two young girls, how wrong his actions were and would like to see cameras installed in cars to protect all who learn to drive.
Meanwhile, Lorraine Barrett, 56, says it took her nearly 30 years before she felt brave enough to try lessons again after being assaulted by her instructor.
Lorraine, a nurse from Basildon, Essex, says: ‘I’d had six lessons without incident and had asked my instructor, who was in his 50s, to drop me at a pub after our lesson as I was meeting friends.
‘He pulled into the car park and suddenly leaned over and tried to kiss me. I tried to pull away but he put his hands hard around my throat and I could feel them tightening. It was scary. Somehow I managed to get out of the car and ran into the pub, and he drove off.’
Lorraine, a mother and grandmother of two, said she was left so shaken by the attack in 1990 she only started to have lessons again last year.
‘I didn’t tell anyone. I was too scared and upset,’ she says. ‘At the time I was a single parent to my daughter Jayne, who was four. He knew my address.’
Lorraine says after her daughter Emily, 26, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last year, she knew she had to conquer her fear and learn to drive for Emily’s sake.
What happened is astonishing. ‘A friend recommended someone, a man, so although I was nervous, I tried again.
‘I explained how scared I was and why, but during our lessons he started to show me pornographic photos on his phone.
‘I couldn’t believe it after my experience all those years ago. It made me feel really uncomfortable. So I quit and started having lessons with a woman. It’s going really well with her so far.’
One female instructor in Norwich says she is seeing an increasing number of girls complain about sexual harassment, and as she has reported the actions of many male instructors, wants to remain anonymous to enable her to continue doing so.
‘I’ve had three girls complain to me in the past six weeks,’ she says.
‘It’s disgusting. I get girls who look for female instructors because they’ve had these experiences. Many feel intimidated, don’t complain and tolerate it longer than they should. I try to encourage them to tell the DVSA.
‘If these instructors are doing it to them, they must be doing it to other girls.’
- Sarah Morris is not her real name. Additional reporting by Stephanie Condron.
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