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3 December 2014

Crown drops charges against protest pensioners

Sharron Milsom, Sheffield North Socialist Party

A protest planned outside Sheffield Magistrates Court is now partly a celebration. Cases against pensioners George Arthur and Tony Nuttall, the "freedom riders" arrested at Sheffield railway station on 23 June, have been dropped.

South Yorkshire councils had withdrawn free train travel and bus fare concessions for elderly and disabled people. Freedom riders protested by catching trains in South Yorkshire and refusing to pay.

Disabled people's travel rights were restored in full earlier this year (see issue 811). But elderly passengers only won back partial reductions in some fares.

George and Tony were arrested after three months of protest rides. When around 60 of us got off a train at Sheffield, we found police and security staff blocking all exits.

George was dragged along the platform and arrested. Tony had five police and guards pressing his head down, pushing him along bent double.


What were they charged with? "Obstructing a police officer in the execution of his duty" and "travel fraud". So it's the police's duty to assault pensioners? In addition to these violent arrests, several disabled and elderly protesters were pushed over and injured by police, with four going to hospital. A blind woman was pushed over a young man using a wheelchair.

After five months preparing their case, and finding 19 police to act as witnesses, the Crown Prosecution Service decided to drop it. Not enough evidence, apparently!

Undoubtedly they had also felt pressure from protest actions, national media coverage and the backing of several trade unions. The court case would have reignited all this.

We have complained to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which suspended investigations pending the court cases. Now we'll press them to get moving. Will police be charged with assault? They ought to be. What would happen if a protester pushed a police officer and caused an injury?

Freedom riders were clapping and cheering when Tony announced the victory at our campaign meeting. It's a great boost to us. But we're still fighting for our main aim: to win back free train travel for pensioners, and reverse the restrictions on bus pass use.