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25 June 2014

South Yorkshire 'Freedom Riders' attacked by police

Sharron Milsom

"What are you doing to him? One, two, three, four, five people! Leave him alone. He's an old man!"

These were the cries at Sheffield railway station as five transport police, who'd jumped an elderly Freedom Ride protester, pressed his head downwards and pushed him along, bent double. He eventually hit the ground dangerously close to the edge of the platform.

A pensioner addressing the protest with a loudhailer had it wrenched from his hands. He was dragged by police several metres across the platform, whilst protesters tried to help him, before being pushed down onto a bench. Both were arrested.

A blind woman was pushed over a wheelchair and had to go to A&E. A disabled man supported by sticks was knocked over. I was knocked over and had my foot trodden on. One elderly man collapsed and lay unconscious whilst an ambulance arrived.

Around 60 of us had travelled together by train into Sheffield without paying as part of the continuing Freedom Ride campaign. Through this three month old campaign, together with the filing of a judicial review, Disabled Pass holders have won back our right to go on trains in South Yorkshire for free, and to travel to West Yorkshire via Northern Rail. All the train and bus concessions taken away from us by local councillors in March have been reinstated.

The Freedom Ride campaign has also won a 50% discount for Senior Citizen pass holders on train journeys within South Yorkshire. Without it pensioners would still be paying full fare. Disabled campaigners are supporting pensioners in their fight to have all their concessions restored. Before 31 March elderly people could go by train from South Yorkshire to West Yorkshire for free. Now, on an off peak return from Sheffield to Leeds costs 10.55 - just 25p less than the full fare of 10.80.

With our campaign continuing the authorities have decided to clamp down in a bid to bring it to an end. On arrival at Sheffield station police blocked the exit from the platform before opening the train doors to let us off. I counted 32 transport police, ordinary police and Rail Response staff. Police were from as far away as Liverpool.

Protesters were kept on the platform, and refused permission to go to the toilet. Whilst we chanted and listened to a speaker transport police harassed a woman for her name and address. A reporter from the local paper, The Star, was threatened with arrest under the Terrorism Act for taking photos. Then the grabbing and pushing of protesters began.

Whilst the reporter was forced to delete his footage several protesters and onlookers had filmed the events and taken photos. Outrage at the police's behaviour has led to coverage in the national press as well as on TV and online.

The two arrested protesters, charged with obstructing police and travel fraud, are due to appear in court on the morning of 7 July. The morning the next Freedom Ride had been planned for. What a coincidence! Protest at Sheffield Magistrates Court 9.15am, 7 July.

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 25 June 2014 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.