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TRAVEL campaigners slammed the police and rail bosses yesterday following a brutal crackdown on Yorkshire’s “freedom riders.”
British Transport Police pushed disabled passengers to the ground and arrested two pensioners in their heavy-handed bid to break up a peaceful Monday rally at Sheffield station.
A video quickly went viral showing five officers restraining pensioner Tony Nuttall and marching him around the platform, while police also knocked over a blind woman and one protester had to be taken to hospital after collapsing.
Train drivers’ union Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan saw the tapes, saying it was “apparent that the police used excessive force.”
Mr Whelan demanded answers from the station authorities. “The train company has a lot of questions to answer,” he said. “Were they party to the police tactics?
“Were their revenue protection officers involved in manhandling the protesters?”
Over 60 supporters of Barnsley Freedom Riders, who have mounted weekly protests since March opposing cuts to fare subsidies for pensioners and the disabled, attended the peaceful rally.
Every Monday protesters board a train from Barnsley to Sheffield and refuse to pay, despite attempts by transport police to crush the protests by blockading Barnsley station.
Monday’s confrontation was sparked when dozens of police who had shadowed the freedom riders from Barnsley — whose ranks were swelled by extra passengers at Rotherham, Mexborough and Doncaster — blockaded the exits to Sheffield station.
The trapped pensioners staged an impromptu rally in response before the officers swooped.
Arrested pensioner George Arthur, 64, a retired teacher, said after a couple of speeches the protesters sang songs and chanted.
“Police started passing among the crowd in quite an intimidating manner, pressing people for their names and addresses.”
A ticket inspector called police over when Mr Arthur refused to reveal his name and address.
“They warned me I was committing a criminal offence by not having a valid ticket. I argued and they grabbed me and said they were arresting me.
“I tried to pull back towards the rest of the group but they held on ... three more came over and forced me down onto one of the seats on the platform.
“There was a struggle before they handcuffed me.”
Retired health administrator Mr Nuttall, 65, was jumped by police when he joined demonstrators objecting to Mr Arthur’s treatment.
“Four of five police or security guards jumped on me from behind,” he told the Star.
“They held my head down to my knees and marched me around the platform in that position.”
Mr Arthur said: “Northern Rail and the police had decided to teach us a lesson,” but noted that widespread condemnation of “disgusting” police tactics online would “come back to haunt them.”
British Transport Police confirmed that they had charged one person with fare evasion and two with obstruction.
The accused will appear before Sheffield magistrate’s court on Monday July 7.
A demonstration is planned outside the court from 9.45am and Unite Community has pledged legal representation and other support.
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