Taxi driver feared for his life during violent attack

CAUGHT on CCTV is the terrifying moment a taxi driver was bitten in the face during a frenzied and unprovoked attack by a passenger.

Leigh Curtis, 52, of Grange Road, has been unable to work since and continues to suffer flashbacks.

Some of the injuries taxi driver Lee Curtis sustained following the attack

Some of the injuries taxi driver Lee Curtis sustained following the attack

He was left with injuries including cuts and bruising to his face, a broken nose, broken ribs, and requiring stitches to his finger.

The assault was captured in its entirety by CCTV cameras installed in the vehicle, which was instrumental in the prosecution of his attacker James Pilgrim, last Thursday (August 2).

Mr Curtis, who has more than 30 years experience driving a taxi, said he had never experienced anything like it.

he said: “It was so ferocious that I knew it was serious. Normal people don’t react like that.

Still from CCTV showing attack on taxi driver Lee Curtis by James Pilgrim

Still from CCTV showing attack on taxi driver Lee Curtis by James Pilgrim

“I thought he was going to kill me, I was terrified.”

Just after midnight on July 17, he picked 43-year-old Pilgrim up from the Lord Warden pub in Manor Road and drove him home to Newgate Road, St Leonards.

Pilgrim said he did not have the fare on him, so after confirming that he was known to the radio operator, Mr Curtis agreed that he could pay in a few days time.

As he was getting out of the taxi, Pilgrim broke a bottle of wine he was carrying, which appeared to be the trigger for him to turn nasty.

Speaking of his ordeal Mr Curtis said: “I let my guard down, and the radio operator said he was no problem, and the next thing I knew, I was being attacked.”

The violence escalated to the point where Pilgrim had Mr Curtis in a headlock and proceeded to bite him on the face.

It only came to an end when the handbrake was released in the struggle causing the car to roll backwards colliding with parked vehicles. The impact caused Pilgrim to release his grip.

He was arrested at the scene by police, and Mr Curtis was taken by ambulance to the Conquest for treatment.

Pilgrim pleaded guilty to assault occasioning actual bodily harm when he appeared at Hastings Magistrates Court on August 2. He is due to be sentenced at Lewes Crown Court on a date to be confirmed.

Pilgrim also pleaded guilty to possession of cannabis.

A police spokesman said: “This was a shocking and nasty attack which left the driver with a broken rib, bruising and in need of stitches to his finger.”

Mr Curtis said that he remained traumatised by the incident and had been prescribed sleeping tablets by his doctor.

He said: “I’m having flashbacks, I can’t sleep, I can’t get comfortable because of the broken ribs.

“At the moment I don’t know whether I can return to work. I have got to do something, but I don’t know what at the moment.”

Mr Curtis was working for leading firm 247 Taxis, which employs 160 drivers and has nearly 100 vehicles.

Manager Chris Vale said: “Because we are out on the road, we see what is going on.

“In the last three years it’s just gone overboard. It isn’t alcohol, it’s drugs.

He said that the perpetrators of assaults and verbal abuse were usually aged between 17 and 45, and were both male and female, adding that drivers were verbally abused on a weekly basis, with a more serious incident every couple of weeks.

In March 2010 the Observer ran a story in which Mr Vale described racist abuse against taxi drivers as “out of control”.

It was this situation that spurred him on to have sophisticated CCTV installed in all vehicles used by the company.

Whenever the engine is running three or four cameras are recording video and sound, within the vehicle as well as in front and behind it.

Mr Vale said: “Leigh was actually the perfect taxi driver that night, polite and helpful.

“What that person has now caused is that drivers at night are told not to get out of the vehicles.

“A lot of my drivers would not be working unless they had CCTV.”

It costs the company around £500 per vehicle to install CCTV, but he feels that this is a small price to pay for the safety of both the driver and the passenger, and is of the opinion that CCTV should be compulsory in all taxis.

Mr Curtis added: “I was very lucky, sooner or later somebody is going to get killed. It is frightening to think what is going to happen next.”

Councillor Phil Scott, lead member for environmental services and highways said: “As a licensing authority we take allegations of attacks on taxi drivers very seriously indeed.

“We are only ever aware of attacks that are directly reported to the police, which to date have been very few and far between.

“We are committed to working with taxi firms and the police to ensure that licensed drivers and their passengers are safe at all times.”

Click here to view CCTV footage of the attack. Warning: contains scenes of violence.