Taxis are set to be fitted with cameras as standard with the boss of one leading firm describing racist abuse to drivers as "out of control".
Chris Vale, who manages 24/7 Taxis, spoke out after a customer who admitted racially abusing one of his drivers avoided prison. The victim, 23-year-old Aras Cassidy, who is Kurdish, said foreign drivers are subjected to racist comments twice a day.
Brian Styles, 49, of Maple Heights, pleaded guilty to racially aggravated harassment and failing to provide a specimen, and he was found guilty of taking a vehicle without consent. He was fined £900, banned from driving for a year and ordered to pay £300 costs. Styles was arrested after driver Mr Cassidy went to collect him from The Rising Sun pub in Battle Road in October.
"I tried to be friendly and have a chat with him but he just started saying things like, 'Why don't you go back to your own country?' I ignored him but he kept swearing so I got out of the car. He jumped in the front seat and removed the handbrake. I was shocked but we get comments like that twice a day and you just learn to live with it. Most people we pick up are really nice but you get some who are aggressive. I sometimes ask myself: 'What am I doing in this country?' but all my best friends are English and I have been here for 12 years."
Mr Vale, 43, was stunned by the sentence.
"They should have put him inside. The racism from some people is getting out of control. I have lived all over the UK and grew up when the National Front were at large but I have never known anything like this."
Chief Inspector Mark Ling said: "We take a positive stance against hate crime of all types. Nobody should live or work with the fear and anxiety that this type of crime can cause. I would urge people who are victimised or abused in this way to report it. If nobody knows about the it then little can be done to stop it happening again."
Mr Vale's company has 70 cars, making it the biggest fleet in the town. About one third of his drivers are foreign nationals and they all report the same kinds of problems.
"Since 2005 issues with racism and drugs and people doing runners have become much worse," said Mr Vale."I have people get in the car talking openly about buying drugs," added Mr Cassidy.
Now Mr Vale is supporting a council scheme, funded by the Safer Hastings Partnership and overseen by the licensing team, to put CCTV cameras into taxis across the town.
A council spokesman said: "It's likely to take place over several phases but we are confident that this is a positive move, increasing safety for both driver and passenger. Any abuse towards drivers, whether verbal or physical, is completely unacceptable and these cameras will go a long way in providing an extra element of protection."
But Reg Torab, 49, who runs New Carmiles sounded a note of caution.
"I do not think cameras should be compulsory," he said. "They do help when there are incidents but we keep very records of every job and there are issues about customers' privacy as well."