by Luke James Parliamentary Reporter BILLIONAIRE Richard Branson’s bid to discredit Jeremy Corbyn backfired yesterday after his Virgin Trains company was placed under investigation by Britain’s data protection watchdog. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) revealed they have launched a probe after Virgin released CCTV images of the Labour leader on one of its trains. The company claimed the footage proved Mr Corbyn had lied about being forced to sit on the floor on its service between London Kings Cross and Newcastle earlier this month. Mr Branson personally weighed into the row, dubbed “train-gate,” by posting a link to the images on social media. “Mr Corbyn and team walked past empty unreserved seats then filmed claim train was ‘ram-packed’,” the Virgin owner wrote on Twitter. In fact, reservation tickets are clearly visible on the empty seats. The Labour leader hit back yesterday, saying: “I’m very pleased Richard Branson has been able to break off from his holiday to take this issue seriously, with the importance it obviously deserves. “I hope he’s very well aware of our policy which is that train operating companies should become part of the public realm not the private sector.” And a spokeswoman for the ICO confirmed it was investigating whether Virgin Trains has breached data protection laws. She said: ”We are aware of the publication of CCTV images of Jeremy Corbyn and are making enquiries. “All organisations have an obligation to comply with the Data Protection Act and must have legitimate grounds for processing the personal data they hold. “Where there’s a suggestion that this hasn’t happened, the ICO has the power to investigate and can take enforcement action if necessary.” The watchdog guidance states that sharing CCTV images “should not generally be done by anyone other than a law enforcement agency.” The development came as Mr Corbyn gave his account of the journey for the first time since the row broke out.
FROM P1: He said: “Yes, I did walk through the train. Yes, I did look for two empty seats together so I could sit down with my wife to talk to her. That wasn’t possible, so I went to the end of the train.
“The train manager, who was a very nice gentleman, came along and we had a chat about the problems of overcrowding and regulations on the trains, and he said he’d see what he could do.
“After he’d already offered me an upgrade to first class, which I’d declined, he then very kindly did find some seats, and after 42 minutes I went back through the train to the seats he’d allocated. “We sat down there and we then conducted a lot of preparatory work for our visit to Newcastle.”
Passengers on the same service have since spoken publicly to support Mr Corbyn’s account, while dozens more people who have suffered overcrowding on expensive trains have leapt to his defence on social media.
“I was there, there were simply no seats available on the train,” said Emma Reece. “That’s why Jeremy sat on the floor for the first part of the journey.”
Sam Tarry, Mr Corbyn’s campaign director, said Mr Branson had concocted the row to protect his company from the prospect of rail renationalisation.
He said: ”I think it’s quite clear — Richard Branson is literally laughing all the way to the bank at the British taxpayer’s expense.
“Let’s be clear about this and exactly what’s going on here. No train operating company in this country would be able to actually turn a profit without the vast subsidies from British taxpayers.”