MERSEYRAIL last night defended its decision to prosecute a student for putting her feet on a train seat and announced another 600 passengers were waiting to go to court.
Kathleen Jennings, 19, wiped away tears as she was given an absolute discharge by Chester magistrates.
The university maths student, who hopes to become a teacher, escaped a £100 fine when magistrates decided not to impose any penalty.
Ms Jennings admitted resting her feet on a train seat in June this year, after she was caught by an inspector using a miniature camera mounted on his hat.
Magistrates questioned Merseyrail’s “zero tolerance” policy on feet on train seats, and called for a less draconian approach.
Merseyrail, the only train operator in the UK to prosecute seat offenders, was unrepentant last night.
A spokeswoman said: “We do not regard our campaign as draconian. We are responding to the demands of passengers who don’t want to sit on a seat covered in mud or dirt and the campaign has received widespread messages of support from passengers throughout the country.”
Since its introduction in February, Merseyrail has taken 240 passengers to court, and 600 more are awaiting court proceedings. Most are fined around £50 with £40 costs.
Christine Abrams, chairman of the bench at Chester, gave Miss Jennings an absolute discharge.
Mrs Abrams said: “The bench is united in feeling while this may have been contrary to a by-law, Merseyrail should have a less draconian method for dealing with matters of this nature. A fixed penalty system may be more appropriate.”
The student’s parents, Tony and Susan Jennings, broke into a round of applause as the decision was delivered. They hugged and kissed their daughter as they left court. Miss Jennings, who is from Oldham, said: “I am really relieved. I thought they were not going to give me a discharge. It’s been very distressing.
“I’m quite happy they have got common sense, seeing as I work with children and I would need CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) checks.”
Her father, Tony, a former JCB driver, added: “It is ridiculous, they just pick on the easy targets. If it was a 6ft yob who had told them to eff off, they would not have been here today. In my day, you used to get a bang around the earhole and a ‘Don’t do it again’ message.”
In court, Kevin Jones, representing Merseyrail, said as a train inspector approached Miss Jennings, she took her feet off the seat. He admitted there was no verbal warning but said a notice in front of her warned passengers of a £100 penalty.
Irwin Bamforth, defending, said: “The general consensus is this is ludicrous. All it would have taken was for the gentleman to say ‘Please take your feet down’ and that should have been the end of it. To be punishing a promising young maths student and she could end up with a criminal conviction, is crazy. There is no other word for it.”
Miss Jennings had been travel- ling with her boyfriend, Mark Dowling, 22, from his home in Capenhurst to Manchester on June 6. A Merseyrail spokes- woman said last night: “More than £34m has been spent on refurbishing our fleet to provide a clean and comfortable journey. Putting feet on seats is anti-social and there are plenty of warnings on our network against this behaviour and the consequences of doing so.
“To date, we have prosecuted some 240 people for putting their feet on the seats and other by-law infringements such as smoking. All have either pleaded guilty or been found guilty by magistrates. A further 600 people or so are due in court over the next few months.”
Cllr Peter Millea, the Lib-Dems spokesman on Merseytravel, last night attacked the court’s decision to award an absolute discharge.
“The magistrates have done a great disservice as far as I am concerned. We are attempting to improve conduct for the travelling public on our trains and placing feet on train seats is not acceptable. I will raise the court’s decision with our next rail committee. This decision will be seen by some passengers as giving them carte blanche to behave in a way that is unacceptable.”
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