Keeping Feet on the Ground

Court raps 'draconian' train firm who prosecuted girl for resting her feet on seat
If she had been a 6ft yob, they would not have taken her to court, says father

Daily Mail 4th September 2007

This is a hard one as Margi Clarke said to David Shepherd.
It has even split the comments section of the DM. Perhaps the right position is in the centre ground. (Eric sits on fence shock).

On Merseyrail trains there was always a sign warning commuters to 'Please mind your head'. This invariably became 'Fleas in your head' once one enterprising individual and subsequent disciples had spotted the comic potential of scratching off a few parts of the sticker.
For some time now, similar signs have been present, warning of the consequences of anti-social behaviour on trains. Such misdemeanours include litter dropping and putting feet on seats. Both are particular bug bears of mine for they are unjustifiable offences. Whereas (in rare cases) crimes such as theft, assault, even murder, may be argued as 'for the greater good' or mitigated, trivial offences do not enjoy this position. I have to clarify here that I am not talking here of situations where the law already affords a defence or takes on board mitigation (domestic violence, self-defence) nor do I seek to justify the crimes myself. I simply set out the premise that it is possible for certain scenarios to enable a person to argue or excuse the action (the starving shoplifter; the anti-nuclear weapons vandal; the Poll Tax refuseniks). However, in these cases, the person needs to be willing to accept the consequences.

Has anyone ever put forward an arguable case for littering ('well, it creates work for street cleaners' aside)? Anti-social is such a big issue because it is avoidable and boils down to the I don't give a shit about society people. Now that even the post-Thatcherite Tories concede there is such a thing as society (Ancram eat your heart out) it does matter.

This (eventually) brings us to the present and Miss Kathleen Jennings. Whilst it does seem somewhat Draconian, it is to be noted that Merseyrail pointed out in an earlier case (Babiker Fadol) that a fine was not appropriate as

and there have been hundreds of other prosecutions.

The BBC also covered the policy thus:

Merseyrail is playing recorded messages and flashing up warnings on digital screens in trains.
Guards are also being fitted with mini head cameras to catch offenders.
Merseyrail says it plans to take out private prosecutions after guards recorded more than 300 bylaw offences since February.

Offences including smoking, putting feet and shoes on seats and even singing too loudly. Patrick Verwer, Managing Director of Merseyrail, said: "It may seem like a minor offence but putting feet on seats and smoking on trains is actually very annoying for a lot of passengers."
Indeed Merseyrail made the following statement about the legal process:
"Prosecution will be based on the existing railway byelaws which apply across the UK under the section which covers “unacceptable behaviour” (Byelaw 6) after a specific protocol was agreed with Liverpool Magistrates Court."
The defendant's father raises a good point regarding the enforcement of the law. Would they have acted so diligently if the perpetrator was a large male or in a drunken group. Maybe Merseyrail should release details as to other prosecutions as they seem to have CCTV evidence. This may generate more confidence. Many f us have seen inaction on trains against fare dodgers and loutish behaviour. Boris Johnson says we should take the matter on ourselves but would everyone risk an assault (however low that risk) for a trivial matter?

Therefore there was clearly no actual defence (or justification) here. What the Magistrates in Chester appear to be saying is that they consider the bringing of the case so over zealous that only an absolute discharge should be given. Interesting to contrast the case with the one involving Mr Fadol. Ignoring the fact that he has a foreign sounding name, he seems to have had his feet on the seat for a longer period (if Miss Jennings is to be taken at face value) and does not have a glittering teaching career ahead of him. Nor is he known to have helped in youth organisations as her solicitor (who also represented Mr Fadol) was quick to tell the court.

This is slightly worrying in that it seems to suggest a two tier approach to justice. Would it be right to treat a non-academic, unemployed youth of the same age? This is often a perception of some sentencing for similar offences.

Let's consider some of the DM comments. My comments/bile in blue as usual.

At last we're seeing some common sense by the courts throwing out ridiculous charges brought by waste of spacers like the CPS and now MerseyRail. Let's hope there's more like this ruling coming from the courts in the future to stop this.- Mike, Alicante, Spain

Mike pontificates from the beach as usual..........

I will make absolutely certain that neither I nor any members of my family will ever use this company's services or facilities. What a disgusting, despicable, vile company.- Robert Ducksworth, England

Would you want to be a member of Mr. D's family? Free choice? Not on your nelly. Not seen some of the vile and disgusting things people have on the soles of their shoes, man?

Disrespectful and selfish people put their dirty feet and shoes on seats all the time in UK, regardless of the fact that other passengers will have to sit on them. It's just another example of the declining standards of behaviour in UK caused by the liberal attitudes of this appalling Labour government. Prosecution may be extreme but it's clear that the girl and her family are indicative of the malaise: do what you like and don't care!- Dean, Vienna, Austria

I've travelled across Austria and its neighbouring countries and noticed there is, generally, a difference in attitude. Bet Dean is an ex pat blaming Labour for everything because the country was perfect before May 1st 1997. He gets today's award for crass political point scoring whilst not even being here. Congratulations Dean and Guten Nacht Wien.

Others are more rational.

This judgement will send out the wrong signals, next thing we will find all kinds of people will end up putting their feet on seats knowing they will not be find for doing so. The chances of doing away with the don`t care attitude of certain individuals stands no chance of succeeding when you get cases like this, after all we are supposed to be curbing the yob culture or are we! As always in this country the law (if you can call it that) always benefits the perpetrator.- Alf, Liverpool, Merseyside

I agree that this should never have gone to court but I would expect someone so well educated and with such prospects to have enough sense not to put their feet on a seat at all. This is exactly the sort of seeming trivial behaviour that we're all expected to tolerate now and which in so many cases leads to more serious incursions. I'm not suggesting that this would turn her into a criminal but would she put feet up with shoes on indoors? This is someone who will be teaching children?- Louise Leeks, Harwich UK

Finally, this from a similar DM story when the case was coming to court.

Let's have a 'feet up on the seats day' in support, not just of this young lady but all those 250 people who have been prosecuted by Merseyrail under this pathetic law. As for the CCTV headcams, these are a total invasion of privacy for passengers.- Les, Southport, England

Well, Les let's hope you get you trousers covered in dog shit the next time you use the Northern Line to Southport. I get the feeling he never does. Absolute moron.

Perhaps the best I can say is that I was immediately reminded of The Times invoking Alexander Pope in regard to the Rolling Stones imprisonment in 1967. Anyway, don't do it again. We'll be watching! And the messageshould go out to all regardless of size or qualifications.
cartoon copyright Philip Spence