Saturday, 7 February 2009

My Run In With The Law

I’ve said I’d blog about this for a while but I haven’t gotten around to it yet, until now.

Allow me to set the scene, I was travelling home after visiting my girlfriend for the weekend. Due to it being a Sunday and train companies doing repairs usually on that day, my journey needed to take a diverson via Liverpool (actually only about 10 minutes of the 2 and ½ hour journey was as it is supposed to be!). There had been a lot of waiting around that day and this had aggravated my sciatica (trapped nerves in the spine) which causes me pain in my leg.
So anyway, I get on the Merseyrail train from Liverpool to Chester and whilst I’m sitting there my leg starts aching. Seeing a sign that says not to put your feet on the seats – I notice that between the seats there’s a shelf, so I put my foot on there to ease the aching. The next thing I know, three ‘Enforcement Officers’ appear. Now, for people who haven’t seen them before – they basically look a bit like police officers wearing high visibility jackets etc. (as you can see in the pciture above from the company's website).
I was basically told that I was violating a Merseyrail bye-law ‘for having my feet on the seat’. After I protested that blatantly my feet were not on the seat – they said there was a notice down the other end of the carriage that said that the little shelf technically counted as part of the seat. They then proceeded to take my name, address and details. All of this was recorded on a small camera the enforcement officer was holding whilst her two colleagues stood behind her menacingly. To be honest, I was really scared during all of this, and kind of just did whatever they said.
They left me with a little card and told me to ring the number on it if I wanted to avoid going to court over it. The card reads

“A report will be filed with our Prosecution Team, which may result in you being prosecuted for a breach of Merseyrail Byelaws. If you are found guilty we will be asking the Court to award a contribution to our costs of £150, the Magistrates will also impose a fine of up to £1000 and/or 3 months imprisonment”.

Now when I rang up I was offered to pay a £50 fine instead of going to court and sign a form that admitted I was guilty of putting my feet in the seat. Now I feel that the whole situation was ridiculous, yet I couldn’t afford to go to court and lose – I could barely afford the £50 (after rent and council tax, I have about £150 to pay for food, utility bills and anything else).
I doubt any poor person is in a position to contest such penalties. Furthermore, are people who actually put their feet up on seats that big of a social problem that it’s worth having gangs of these ‘enforcement officers’ equipped with video cameras? To me it looks like a money making scheme adopted by the rail company, rather than tackling incidents of behaviour that is actually dangerous.


Highlander said...

God, I know I am going to regret asking this but - did you explain your whole sciatica thing, explain your misunderstanding of the seat/shelf crossover and apologise? Because, tbh, if you had and they still took your details then I am abso-fucking-lutely speechless.

I have a dodgy back, thanks to the type of work I used to do, which, 90% of the time is OK, but on the odd occasions when I 'pop a hip' I literally can not stand up straight. I kind of lean to one side or the other depending on the pain/hip set-up. My point here is that the pain and discomfort would override any sensibilities I had regarding good seat etiquette as well. (Though I would probably have to lie on the floor rather than raise my legs)

I would expect any reasonable human being - given your scenario - to realise you were/are not a 'troublemaker', accept an apology and reciprocate with a request that you keep your feet on the deck and leave it at that.

Anything else results in the money making scheme you suspect it is. They clearly make enough money to employ three of these doughballs so I think you have your answer.

And, boy, do you have my sympathy.

Bent Society said...

Left wing

Let me start out by saying that the clever little clause about the shelf is clearly a disingenuous scam to make money from all of this. You were innocent in my eyes and should have contested the whole thing accordingly in court. Were you able to afford it.

But I must say that people putting feet on train seats (and cinema seats too) is really anti social.

I used to commute from Kent to London for over 14 years...and you’d get mud on the back of your trousers because some belligerent oik had left the mud from their trainers all over the seats.

So many times people have to ask these berks to move their feet so they can sit down. Some people are afraid to ask and the feet on the seat stay there as a posturing threat - and then people challenge the behaviour and fights start.

You were punterized my friend by train staff people too stupid or deviant - and they are forced to meet enforcement targets - to care to use any discretion in your case. Magistrates are likely to go along with their snakey crap.

But it was the anti-social spoilt young oiks of today that started all this.

Leftwing Criminologist said...

@ highlander

yes i did all that (although i couldn't remember the name sciatica) - if they keep the footage of these video interviews it would prove that.

I agree with what you're saying though - a much better approach would be ask the person not to put their feet there and explain the companys position on that and then only fine you and stuff if you either refuse or do it again once they've left.

@ bent society

Does your view of this change if i told you i'm 22? I still consider myself a young person and i think the reason so many of us are anti-social is because of how we are treated by adults (either riduculously harshly or excessively talked down to - it really used to annoy me).

As for putting feet on trains it was something i used to do when i was a bit younger (16-18 ish) but that was more becuase i couldn't sit comfortably on the train otherwise as the seats were too close together for me.
This is the only time in years and was solely due to my leg.

Bent Society said...

Left Wing

I'd worked out that you are young from your blog and thought you to be in your early 20's. My comments did not take that into account. I wrote exactly what I truly feel.

Remember - we were all young once. I'm 50 this year, but still think I'm 25. I still box and run and workout and binge drink and hang out with people of that age even though my kids are of the same age..and I have a baby due in 7 weeks with my new wife. So I have a young outlook.

I've always looked at least 10 years younger than I am since I was 30. ...So I know what you are talking about. But you think you are talked down to? We were beaten by teachers with sticks at school. Police officers assaulted us physically for no reason in broad daylight! Never mind the way they spoke to us. But we had much more respect for others weaker than us than many teenagers and 20 year olds do today. Not through fear either but a sense of social right "civic responsibility" - the erosion of that is what my blog Bent Society is about. i.e that society has become more bent at the top and that that has eroded civic responsibility and led to an increase in coruption and bullying and low-level crime including anti-social behaviour.

I had a bad shoulder for years due to those narrow train seats (I am broad shouldered and had to make myself shrink so that others could sit next to me. It took several years of work to put it right. ..but I still shrank myself in so as not to be a nuisance to others. And I'd do it again.

Putting feet up on seats that others have to sit on after you - you could have walked in dogs mess for goodness sake - and goodness knows what else - is bullying behaviour.

It's the punterising issue (of the wood between the seats being out of bounds for your feet) that they got you on that I take issue with. It's that sort of corruotion that sets a bad example.

Leftwing Criminologist said...

btw. i'm not arguing that people should put their feet on the seats.

i do kind of get where you're coming from. I think part of people's motivation to do actions like that spans from not caring about others because you feel like they don't really care about you.

i didn't think it would change that much but i find that a lot of people's perception of you changes with regards to your age.

Bent Society said...

Leftwing - and then (it happens suddenly) you find that the youth treat YOU with disdain and contempt and agression because you are seen as old. You got a good 20 years yet though :-)

journeyman said...

Bad luck.

Shit like this is definitely about making money not justice.

Much like council-run traffic enforcement. Old style wardens and police didn't want you to park in anti-social places and moved you - fair enough. Council attendants however are waiting for you to do it so they can catch you out and pocket a fine. (Christ I'm turning into Jeremy Clarkson ..)

Trouble is this creeps into the criminal justice system and allows in the principle of 'plead guilty or you'll only make it worse'. Very dangerous.