Travel campaigners celebrate ‘victory in round two’
Yorkshire’s heroic Freedom Riders are celebrating a resounding victory after prosecutors dropped all charges against two pensioners who were roughly arrested by transport police at a protest in Sheffield.
Tony Nuttall and George Arthur are leading figures in the Freedom Riders campaign that saw disabled people and pensioners boarding trains from Barnsley to Sheffield once a week and refusing to pay.
The action was launched by Barnsley Retirees Action Group in March as a protest against the decision by South Yorkshire passenger transport executive to withdraw free rail travel from disabled people and pensioners due to government cuts.
British Transport Police and train operator Northern Rail responded by blockading the station. But the protesters simply went to another platform and boarded a different train.
After one Freedom Ride in June more than 50 campaigners found themselves “kettled” on a platform in Sheffield by transport police and Northern Rail security guards.
The protesters staged a spontaneous rally before police moved in and roughly arrested organisers Mr Nuttall and Mr Arthur, charging the pair with obstruction and fare evasion.
They appeared at Sheffield magistrates’ court in August, declaring their intention to plead not guilty.
A five-day trial was scheduled to begin on December 8 but the Crown Prosecution Service dramatically dropped the charges on Friday, stating that “there is not sufficient evidence to obtain a prosecution.”
Mr Nuttall said: “This is another win for the Freedom Riders in our ongoing battle. We won round one in June when we got back free travel for disabled people and half-price on the train for older people.
“Now we have won round two.
“Round three is coming up and we intend to keep on fighting as hard as we can.”
The Freedom Riders have decided to carry on with a planned rally outside Sheffield magistrates’ court at 8.45am on Monday December 8 — but to turn it into a celebration of the decision to drop charges.
Free transport is being laid on from Barnsley, Huddersfield, Rotherham and Doncaster, paid for by South Yorkshire Unite Community.
The Freedom Riders are stepping up their efforts to get the authorities to reinstate free train travel for older people.
They will lobby a South Yorkshire transport committee meeting from 1pm on Monday December 15 and the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority on January 5, when budget decisions for next year are expected to be made.
Mr Nuttall said campaigners would restart their freedom rides if the committees did not commit to reinstating free train travel.