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Merseyrail guard found not guilty of "endangering safety"
Tom Woodcock, RMT member
Martin Zee, a train guard working for Merseyrail, has been found not guilty of "endangering safety by wilful omission" by a jury at Liverpool Crown Court.
The jury's unanimous verdict concludes two years of hell for Martin and his family during which he has faced the possibility of being sent to prison.
In July 2015, 89-year-old Edna Atherton fell onto the tracks after attempting to board Martin's train at Hamilton Square station. He immediately rushed to her aid, correctly carried out his safety duties and thankfully Mrs Atherton survived, albeit having sustained injuries.
However two years after the incident he found himself in court being forced to defend himself and seeing his reputation put under the microscope in public.
The case was brought to court by the Crown Prosecution Service despite the fact that he had been exonerated following investigations by his employer and the railway regulator.
The charge against Martin centres around his decision to reopen the train doors for a late passenger which the prosecution argued contributed to the injuries of Mrs Atherton.
But expert witnesses slammed the charge: "In 25 years of working in the rail industry, I've never once encountered someone falling from a train because of opening or closing doors", said one.
So what lay behind the decision to prosecute Martin, who had clearly done nothing wrong? We are currently in the middle of a fight for the very future of guards on trains. The government and rail bosses are attempting to rewrite the safety rules so that they can cut costs by eliminating the second person on board.
The rail unions, spearheaded by the RMT, argue that a guaranteed second person on board is a crucial safety issue which also means that vulnerable and disabled people have access to public transport. A growing strike campaign is spreading across the country involving more and more train companies in defence of the guard's position.
Had Martin Zee been found guilty, the state would have landed a serious blow against the RMT's argument that trains are safer when operated with a guard on board and thus made it easier to get rid of guards.
Questions need to be asked about how this case came to court at great cost with no obvious public interest.
Despite the victory, the battle continues. Merseyrail has agreed to meet the RMT following solid strike action by guards but the campaign continues at Arriva Northern and also at Southern Rail where on 4 April workers will take their 31st day of strike action.
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