A WOMAN has been sexually assaulted after she was picked up in the city centre by a man pretending to be a private hire cabbie.
The 31-year-old entered her assailant’s vehicle in Candlemaker Row, next to the Greyfriars Bobby statue, at around 3.30am yesterday.
She was driven to a lay-by – just past Hillend Ski Slope and close to Boghall Farm in Midlothian – where she was assaulted.
Police said the victim was then taken to the city bypass and left the car at a location near Sheriffhall roundabout.
It is not known exactly how the woman was tricked into entering her attacker’s vehicle as all private hire cabs in Edinburgh are required to display signs stating they are for pre-booking only.
Senior figures in the taxi trade said it was likely the victim had negotiated her trip without contacting a genuine private hire firm beforehand.
Tony Kenmuir, director of Central Taxis, said: “I can only speculate that [the assailant] was in a private car and gave the impression that he was from a bona fide private hire company and she has negotiated with him directly, which you should never do.
“If someone has contacted a private hire company and pre-booked the vehicle, they will know the number of the vehicle and the driver.”
The suspect is described as a man of South Asian appearance, aged between 35 and 40, and with an Edinburgh accent.
His height is estimated to be between 5ft 5in and 5ft 6in.
He is also said to have a slim build, with dark cropped hair, and is described as clean-shaven.
The car he used was described as a five-door saloon, which was possibly navy blue in colour.
Political leaders today expressed shock at news of the attack and said it highlighted the importance of initiatives such as the SafeZone bus.
Councillor Mike Bridgman, the Capital’s police and fire scrutiny leader, said: “It’s galling to hear of attacks like this – no-one should be getting into a vehicle that does not have the proper markings.”
Cllr Cammy Day, community safety leader, added: “The council is robust in giving licences to private hire cars. If someone has a chequered past, they take a tough line.”
Detective Sergeant Keith Mackay said: “This was a frightening experience for the woman, who is now in the care of her family. We are eager to trace this man and are appealing for witnesses.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact police on 101.