As the charges against two pensioners are dropped, South Yorkshire’s freedom riders are more determined than ever to win back their travel passes.
Unite Live – Rae Passfield, Thursday, December 18th, 2014
Protestors, George Arthur, 64, and Tony Nuttall, 65, were arrested in June for obstructing police and fare evasion at Sheffield station during a rally against the axing of travel concessions for the elderly and disabled.
They were due to be trialled at Sheffield magistrates’ court on December 8 but the crown prosecution decided not to continue with the case due to a lack of evidence.
“My initial reaction was a great deal of relief,” Arthur said. “Tony and I faced a possible prison sentence, hefty fines and prosecution costs of tens of thousands of pounds, so it was a massive relief when the charges were dropped.”
Despite his relief, Arthur admitted to feeling a little cheated by the decision.
“The things that they had put in their statement were ridiculous and completely untrue,” he continued. “So in that respect I do feel a sense of anger that the case has been dropped – I would have really liked to have seen their lies shown up in court.”
The freedom riders had organized a protest on the day of the trial, but once the charges were dropped, they decided to turn it into a victory rally instead.
More than 150 people attended the rally, and after making a lot of noise outside the court, they marched on to Sheffield train station and interchange.
So far the freedom riders have won full reinstatement of the disabled travel pass and a partial reinstatement of the pensioner pass.
But the fight is far from over.
“It just shows how determined people are to keep the campaign going,” Arthur said. “It’s really impressive. We’re talking nine months now since the campaign started and people are still fired up and prepared to carry on protesting.”
“The protesters are going to continue until we get full travel reinstated,” said Unite community coordinator for South Yorkshire Joe Rollin.
“They’re not giving up and we expect to continue protesting in January,” he added.
“We have justice on our side,” Arthur said. “And we know that we need to fight in order to make sure things don’t get any worse.”
“We have begun to see ourselves as part of a much wider movement against railway privatisation and will be taking part in the nationwide protest against the fare increases on January 5th,” he added.
The privatisation of Britain’s public transport was recently criticized by the shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher.
He described the rushed franchising process as a “betrayal of taxpayers and the travelling public” and said “David Cameron has put privatisation ahead of the public interest.”
But Stagecoach boss Martin Griffiths – who earned £2.2m last year – said pensioner travel concessions was bad for business, and compared it to Tesco giving OAPs free food.
“I won’t provide a service and not get properly paid for it,” Griffiths said. “For the management effort my team put in, we get underpaid.”
Arthur rejected Griffiths’ comments, arguing they were reflective of the ideology of privatisation.
“[Griffiths’] comments really show how the privatised companies are operating,” Arthur said. “Hoarding money at the top at the expense of providing decent services.”
“We’re optimistic that we will win the fight, yes,” he continued. “Though a better word might be ‘determined’.”