Socialist Worker

Support grows for South Yorkshire freedom riders after police violence at protest

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2409

George Arthur addressing a freedom ride protest at Barnsley station in April

George Arthur addressing a freedom ride protest at Barnsley station in April (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Support has flooded in for freedom ride protesters in Barnsley after police arrested two protesters on Monday of this week.

The freedom riders have been protesting since March when South Yorkshire councils removed free travel from disabled and older people. They have been gathering at train stations across the county and travelling for free in protest at the cut.

George Arthur and Tony Nuttall, both pensioners, were arrested by transport police during Monday's protest. Video footage of Tony's arrest, showing officers forcing him to stand with his head between his knees, has enraged ordinary people across Britain.

Tony told Socialist Worker, "I seem to be the focus of a lot of attention, but there were quite a few people being pushed around.

"The transport police were completely over the top. I think there was an element of revenge because we've made them look pretty stupid over the past few weeks. They wanted to teach us a lesson."

Transport police kettled the freedom riders, made up of older and disabled people, on a section of platform at Sheffield train station. When George asked a station manager if some people could leave to go to the toilet, officers moved in.

"They'd obviously decided to make it a really big issue on the day," George told Socialist Worker. "When I wouldn't give my name and address they grabbed me by the shoulders and arms, and arrested me."

A crowd gathered around George to try and stop the arrest. Tony was one of them. "I thought it was a very dangerous situation," he explained. "There were a lot of elderly people in a melee around George."

Held

But then Tony was arrested too. "They held my head down to my knees," he told Socialist Worker. "It was really uncomfortable. And while they were doing that, they were standing on my feet.

"I've got a very sore lower back and a sore neck. I've also got bruises from the handcuffs and on my upper arms from where they were grabbing me."

Two disabled protesters who use walking sticks were knocked to the floor during the chaos. One person collapsed and was laid on the platform for around half an hour before an ambulance arrived.

Disabled people again have the right to travel for free after the freedom ride campaign forced councils to reinstate the concession. Protesters are now fighting for the same concession to be given back to older people.

George said the attacks on protesters on Monday had frightened some - but also made people determined to resist. "It's been a real snowstorm of support," he told Socialist Worker.

"People who were involved when the freedom rides began have been in touch to say they're coming on future protests. Unions have been backing us - I got a message from steel workers in Scunthorpe yesterday in support of the campaign.

"People are infuriated. And they know that if our fight is successful, it gives heart to other struggles as well."

Campaigners plan to protest on Monday of next week at the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive meeting at 1pm, Regent St, Barnsley. They also plan a protest on Monday 7 July at 9.45am outside Sheffield Magistrate’s Court when the two arrested campaigners are due in court. 

George has been charged with fare evasion and obstructing police. Tony has been charged with obstructing police.


Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.