Socialist Worker

Cops drop charges for Freedom Riders

South Yorkshire Freedom Riders celebrate another victory but vow to restart action against cuts if councils don’t backtrack, says Sadie Robinson

Issue No. 2433

All aboard for the Freedom Ride to Huddersfield at Sheffield train station

All aboard for the Freedom Ride to Huddersfield at Sheffield train station (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Freedom Riders and their supporters celebrated the latest victory in their campaign in Sheffield on Monday of this week.

George Arthur and Tony Nuttall were due in court that day to face charges of fare evasion and obstructing the police. 

They were arrested during a Freedom Ride protest on 23 June.

But days before the hearing, they heard all charges had been dropped.

Tony told Socialist Worker, “Their case would never look very good in court. Their evidence was full of holes. It seems they didn’t want the bad publicity and decided to draw a line.”

Tony was held by two cops with his head pushed down between his knees during his arrest. Footage of the incident caused widespread anger.

George added, “They must’ve been worried about the video evidence. It would have shown the brutality of the police.”

Freedom Riders have been fighting South Yorkshire councils’ decision to scrap free train travel for older and disabled people for over eight months. 

Their “Freedom Rides” have seen them board trains to travel for free.

Their struggle forced councils to return free travel to disabled people earlier this year. Now that George and Tony’s charges have been dropped, campaigners feel bolder.

Around 170 gathered in Sheffield on Monday for a victory rally and a march through Sheffield and into the train station. They finished with a Freedom Ride to Huddersfield.

Woof

George described one officer’s evidence referring to Freedom Riders as being like “wild dogs”—leading to much woofing from the crowd.

Trade unionists also addressed the rally and messages of support came from across the globe, including from transport unions in the US, Canada and Australia.

Freedom Riders Mary and Betty joined the protest. “We’re walkers so we travel to different places for routes,” explained Mary. “We’re trying to keep fit and not be a burden on the NHS.”

Betty added, “It’s important to keep active. But if we can’t afford to get out, do they expect us to just sit in the house?”

Former miner Fred Cooks was also on the march. “I’ve been out on every protest since this campaign started,” he told Socialist Worker. 

“There are a lot of people round here who can’t afford to live never mind pay for travel.”

Val Graham came on a coach from Chesterfield organised by Unite Community. “We never got free train travel but we got half price,” she said.

“But when the Tories took control of Derbyshire council they cut it. Unfortunately we let that happen. It’s so inspiring to see this campaign—it’s incredibly well organised.”

Marcher Alan stressed that the battle has wider implications. “Councils that give travel concessions will look at this and think, if they can cut it, we can too,” he said. “They’re just shifting the burden of the crisis onto working class people.”

Freedom Riders plan to lobby a transport committee meeting in Barnsley on Monday of next week, and a broader council meeting on 5 January.

They are clear that, if no progress is made, Freedom Rides will restart.


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