A Merseyrail train (200)
Was prosecution of a teenage student over the top?, asks Larry Neild
THE prosecution in the magistrates’ court of 19-year-old Kathleen Jennings made international news last week. The student was summonsed to court for putting her feet on the seat in front.
Merseyrail is the only train company to take court action for people guilty of such infringements. The company says it is determined to continue with its tough stand on people who cause inconvenience for the travelling public.
There are 600 more people waiting to be taken to the courts for the same alleged offence. It will be interesting to see whether any of those people cite the decision of the magistrates in Chester, in the hope of also winning an absolute discharge.
The general consensus of national media commentators was that Ms Jennings was no anti-social yob, but a decent young lady.
As one put it: "The woman is not a drink-swilling, foul-mouthed ladette, but a Cub Scout leader who works with disabled children. She was not wearing muddy hob-nailed boots, but flip-flops."
Merseyrail was publicly criticised by the magistrates in Chester who allowed Ms Jennings to go unpunished.
Many contributors to the Daily Post letters page did not share the view of the magistrates or the commentators.
That may be because many of them use the Wirral and Northern Line trains to get to and from work, or to the city centre, and are sick and tired of anti- social behaviour on public trains.
Merseyrail introduced its campaign in response to the demands of the majority of its passengers who want to see civility among fellow travellers.
It will be interesting to see how other magistrates react in the coming months to the decision of JPs in Chester. So far, though, Merseyrail remains firm in its determination to make the network the cleanest and safest in the country.
* Today the Daily Post asks: Is Merseyrail’s feet on seats policy too draconian?
YES: The Case For - A fixed penalty would have the same effect
by Francis McEntegart barrister and MD of Chime Management Ltd.
IS IT draconian to take people through the courts for putting their feet on seats? Yes, of course it is, for a number of reasons.
Few people would argue with imposing some kind of sanction on people who put their feet on train seats. It is a question of how the penalty for such an act is processed, and yes, it is draconian to drag people through the courts on a relatively minor, though annoying, infringement.
I believe that nobody could argue with giving a fixed penalty ticket for such infringements so that offenders are instantly made aware that their anti-social act is being punished.
But there are important issues when it comes to taking matters as far as the courts. Firstly there is the question of taking up valuable court time. Our magistrates should concentrate on hearing more serious and difficult cases, rather than spend valuable time looking at more minor infringements. These can just as easily be dealt with in other ways, and that does not water down the importance of the penalty.
Secondly there has to be overwhelming public support for punitive measures, to ensure that the vast majority of people are fully supportive of the way such infringements of the sensible rules are executed within the system.
It is obvious there were strong feelings about the way a teenager with an unblemished character had been pursued through the courts, for what was an anti-social act. Some felt it was heavy handed, and the magistrates themselves described it as draconian. The problem for Merseyrail is that the court, by making such statements, has dealt a blow to Merseyrail by publicly undermining its campaign to promote good order on its trains.
As a lawyer I can understand how magistrates, overworked with serious cases, may feel there are far better ways of punishing seat offenders, short of taking those offenders to the courts.
People may well feel that if shoplifters, and people guilty of disorderly and unruly disorder, can now be dealt with by way of fixed penalty tickets, it is grossly unfair for seat offenders to be hauled before the local magistrates. Laws that have universal support, in the way they are applied and administered, will enjoy wide support from the general population.
Going before the court can be a traumatic experience, and in many cases that is part of the reason offenders are put before the Bench. But there has to be a commonsense approach that will enable Merseyrail to pursue its campaign for civility on its trains.
NO: The Case Against - To avoid a fine, don't put your feet on seats
by Cllr Peter Millea, Lib Dem member of Merseytravel
THERE comes a point when the "softly softly" approach does not work any more. For a considerable time, Merseyrail has displayed stickers asking people not to put their feet on seats.
These have been largely ignored.
Then came the poster campaign with the scally (apparently male) putting his feet on seats, which does not address the fact that the majority of feet on seats are probably committed by females' - see girl gangs boarding the train for a free ride.
There have also been messages on the train, visual and audible, so people cannot claim they do not know it is an offence to put their feet on seats. Or perhaps I should say, especially in wet weather conditions, wipe their shoes on the seats.
More than 800 prosecutions have been sought by Merseyrail, and a high number of these have been successful, especially where the individual has chosen not to attend court, and simply accepted a fine.
It seems now the door is wide open for anyone to contest this by attending, and the magistrates can decide on looking at that individual if he/she should receive a fine. I suppose if they are employed in menial jobs, with no real prospects of advancing, the magistrate can compound this situation by fining them and ensuring they will never progress, but where it is someone who is well educated, can read, and should know better, they are seemingly immune from prosecution.
For those who travel daily on the train, The vast majority of passengers are decent, law-abiding people, who pay their fares and thus contribute to a team who try to keep the trains clean.
A small minority think they can avoid paying, and try it daily until they have to pay, sometimes as often as once a week. It's largely the same ones who put their feet on seats, leave their bags on the seats, despite spaces above and below, and generally make it uncomfortable for others., who are too frightened to speak up.
When these types are confronted by guards tough enough to comment or even ask them to pay, or inspectors who are doing their job for once, there is usually a grunt and moan, but they pay up, and get their feet down, only to put them back up later.when the uniformed person has gone.
For the majority of us who mind our own business, there is a degree of satisfaction when the smug sneer is wiped off the faces of those who think they can do what they like.
How can they expect any sympathy when their actions can cause others to have to stand, despite paying full fare, or to have to wipe mud, dog muck, chewing gum, water, soft drinks, rubbish and various detritus off the seats, before they can sit down?
The message is clear, if you want to avoid a fine, don't put your feet on the seats.
My final comment is that I predicted all this when the designs for the refurbished trains were submitted to Merseytravel for comment. My views were ignored. The seats should not be facing each other