Socialist Worker

One year on after police attack - South Yorkshire Freedom Riders 'as strong as ever'

by Sadie Robinson in Sheffield
Issue No. 2459

Left to right: Betty Lea, Mary Creasey and Pat Woodcock, part of the Freedom Riders campaigning for the reinstatement of free train travel for older people in South Yorkshire

Left to right: Betty Lea, Mary Creasey and Pat Woodcock, part of the Freedom Riders campaigning for the reinstatement of free travel for older people in South Yorkshire (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Up to 80 Freedom Riders joined a protest at Sheffield train station on Tuesday of this week.

The action took place a year to the day after British Transport Police arrested two Freedom Riders, Tony Nuttall and George Arthur, at the same station.

Tony told Socialist Worker, "One year on we've had no apology and no justice.

"A lot of people made complaints to the British Transport Police. We just get letters religiously every month saying they are still investigating."

George told Socialist Worker, "Today is a big day for us. Our campaign is as strong as ever and we keep winning concessions. But our main focus is still on regaining free train travel."

Mary Creasey said the arrests last year were "disgusting". "It was planned," she told Socialist Worker.

"We were enjoying ourselves, singing and chanting. Then the transport police came. A lot of disabled people got pushed around. We want to remind them that we're still here."

Freedom Riders have been protesting across South Yorkshire since March last year after councils took away train travel concessions for older and disabled people.

Groups of protesters have gathered at stations, boarded trains and refused to pay the fares.

The action has got results. Councils have returned the concession to disabled people.

And last month Stagecoach buses announced a trial scheme that will allow older pass holders in Barnsley free bus travel to hospital appointments any time of day.

Others have brought in a flat fare of £1 for bus journeys before 9.30am.

But protesters are continuing to fight for the full reinstatement of the concessions.

Freedom Riders protest at platform 4

Freedom Riders protest at platform 4 (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Protester Betty Lea told Socialist Worker that the cut is petty and the councils could easily afford to reverse it. "It means nothing to them," she said. "But it means everything to us."

Sheila Parkinson joined the protest from Barnsley. "If we don't have free travel we feel housebound," she told Socialist Worker.

"You can't get out and socialise or visit family.

"I think the councils thought pensioners would be easy pickings and they'd just get away with it. I think they've been quite surprised."

Pat Woodcock added, "We want our free train travel back. And the arrests last year were disgusting. George and Tony definitely need compensation."

Grace Parry explained why the free travel matters for disabled people. "When you've got a disability you've got a lot of extra expenses.

"You might need equipment or extra support. Free travel makes a difference."

Protesters rallied outside Sheffield station chanting, "Transport police, hear us say - free train travel, here to stay!"

They marched into Sheffield station and rallied at the British Transport Police office before marching to platform 4, where the arrests took place.

Freedom Riders plan to keep campaigning until they win back free train travel for older people.

Tony said, "Police tried to frighten us. But a year on its very heartening to see people are sticking with it."

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