Joseph Prior is pictured outside Liverpool Crown Court
The 23-year-old, who cannot be named, was “terrified” after Joseph Prior, an unlicenced taxi driver, touched her leg in his Ford Focus on a quiet street. He then took her to the McDonald’s drive-thru and offered her cocaine.
But the Liverpool Echo reports the victim mouthed “help” three times to the McDonald’s employee at the drive-thru window and police were called.
Prior, aged 40, was jailed today for 18 months and handed a five-year Criminal Behaviour Order with restrictions including a ban on him working as or pretending to be a taxi driver.
As Prior was sent down, his brother said “wrong that you know, on every f***ing level”, then screamed as he left Liverpool Crown Court.
Sentencing the thug, Judge Rachel Smith said Prior “misled” the woman and “touched her inappropriately”.
“Members of the public have the right to be safe from harm when they choose to use a taxi,” she added.
“That means that all members of the public but particularly those who are vulnerable, for whatever reason, must be protected from criminals who pose as licensed taxi drivers when they’re not, deceive them into getting into a car and then commit offences against them.”
Joseph Prior was jailed at Liverpool Crown Court
The court heard Prior, a former private hire driver, offered the victim cocaine in the McDonald’s car park.
But the victim had got in the car after a night out in Liverpool on March 8, 2019, as she believed it to be a taxi.
Zillah Williams, prosecuting, said: “The defendant was driving around in the city centre seeking to pick up taxi fares illegally.”
The lawyer said he tried to “take advantage” of the victim’s intoxication and wasn’t acting as a ‘Good Samaritan’.
The woman recalled Prior saying “don’t worry, your mum won’t be worrying, we’ll get you home later” and asking about her boyfriends.
Prior ‘touched the woman inappropriately’
But Ms Williams said the victim “was very uncomfortable and was afraid of what he might do to her”.
She said: “He pulled the car into a quiet street. The defendant put his hand on her leg and squeezed her thigh.
“The accepted plea to common assault reflects the minor nature and brevity of the touching.
“The Crown cannot say what was in the defendant’s head when he did this, but the complainant was clearly terrified by it.
“An inference that could be drawn is that he was over friendly to see if he got anywhere, and when he didn’t, he drove off and they carried on to McDonald’s.”
Prior offered to get the victim something to eat at the McDonald’s in the Walton area of the city.
Ms Williams said: “She caught the eye of and tried to get the attention of the girl serving at the drive-thru and mouthed the word ‘help’ at her.”
After offering the woman cocaine, dad-of-one Prior drove away but police stopped his car in the Mersey Tunnel minutes later.
Officers found the woman “upset and agitated” and arrested Prior.
They seized the Britannia signs, a small bag containing 0.3g of cocaine and caffeine, a wrap containing 0.56g of cocaine, benzocaine and caffeine, valued at £22, and three foil wrapped spoons.
The woman mouthed to staff at McDonald’s (file image)
Ms Williams said: “The operations manager from Britannia Taxis confirmed that the defendant hadn’t worked for them since November 2018.”
The court heard he previously had a taxi licence suspended by Sefton Council in February 2018.
When interviewed, Prior said he saw the victim “crying uncontrollably”, so stopped to ask if she was okay, when she said she was trying to get home.
Prior said he offered her a lift and to get her a coffee from McDonald’s, before she said she would like some cocaine.
He claimed when he was a taxi driver someone left a bag of white powder in his car, which he thought was cocaine but never removed, so gave it her.
Prior said he intended to give the Britannia plates to another driver when he had the chance and his licence was revoked for picking up a fare who hadn’t made a booking.
The suspect said he let her charge her phone and offered to drive her to a friend’s house.
Ms Williams said: “He said he was just being a Good Samaritan.”
The woman said she no longer gets taxis alone and the incident had a “big impact” on her day-to-day life.
Ms Williams said: “She has changed her job so she did not have to come home late in the evenings.
“She describes having panic attacks and feels she has lost confidence and faith in people, which has prevented her from going out socially.”
The prosecutor said a taxi licensing enforcement officer from Sefton Council provided statements from three women.
She said: “They are all women who have been passengers in the defendant’s cab who had made complaints about sexualised comments that he made to them.”
Prior has no previous convictions.
Paul Becker, defending, said Prior’s guilty pleas spared the victim having to give evidence at trial, which she was “very reluctant to do”, when he “could have tried his luck”.
He said at the time unemployed Prior was “at a low ebb, separated from his wife, heading to a divorce”.
Mr Becker said the court knew there had been “concerns in the past about his behaviour as a taxi driver” leading to his licence being revoked.
He added: “It was wrong for the defendant to be pretending to be a taxi driver.”
Mr Becker said that was “dishonest” and arguably “a breach of trust” and an aggravating factor that he gave the impression he was a taxi driver to an intoxicated female.
However, he said: “I would ask your honour not to find that there was any sexual motive in this case. The prosecution have not proceeded on the count of sexual assault to trial.”
Mr Becker said: “The defendant in terms of pleading guilty to common assault was over familiar, over friendly.
“It was an unwanted gesture in touching her leg, it was unwelcome, it has caused upset to the complainant and anxiety, for which the defendant has expressed remorse.”
Prior, who has an 11-year-old son, was originally denied sexual assault, false imprisonment and supplying and possessing cocaine.
However, he admitted common assault and supplying cocaine ahead of a trial, and the other charges were left to lie on the file.