This week, a man believed to be a senior executive of a financier company, has avoided prosecution after dodging paying train fares into London for five years. The man avoided prosecution, and subsequently a criminal record, by agreeing an out-of-court settlement of £43,000 with Southeastern railways. There was no admission of guilt.
The man, who kept his anonymity as a result of offering to make the payment, travelled from Stonegate station in East Sussex into London Bridge, only paying a measly £7.20 for each journey during his 5 year’s worth of commutes by exploiting a loophole in the Oyster card system, Southeastern discovered.
There is no barrier at the station so he could board without being detected. Southeastern said it did not know how he managed to avoid detection by ticket inspectors on the train itself.
The senior executive from Sussex is not the only executive to avoid prosecution. Gray Hooper Holt, a law firm which specialises in fare evasion cases, last year acted for a “professional financier” who was accused of fare evasion and giving a false address by First Capital Connect. The case was dropped after the lawyers intervened, enabling the financier to avoid a criminal record. In another case in 2012 the firm acted for “a senior financial adviser for an international company for whom a successful prosecution for railway fare evasion or fraud would have led to the loss of his job and his career”. He was accused by Greater Anglia railways but the parties reached “an informal settlement”.
These actions raise the question; is there one law for the rich and another law for the poor? Are the wealthy above the law? It would seem to suggest that they are.
During the London riots a few years ago, a 23 year old student with no previous convictions was imprisoned for 6 months for stealing £3.50 worth of bottled water from a Lidl store. He was not given the option of repaying the money and retaining anonymity. He was hauled before magistrates, publicly named and shamed and subsequently received the maximum penalty for his crime.
Also in 2011, Nigel and Penny Ward, a couple from Cambridgshire, re-used a money-off coupon worth £17.50 at Tescos dozens of times to get money off their shopping totaling just over £1,000. They were prosecuted and convicted. Again, they were never given the option of remaining anonymous and paying back the money.
Anyone caught breaking the law should face punishment. By avoiding his fare, the criminal has robbed every other law-abiding, fare-paying train passenger.
It would seem that in this country, if you are wealthy then you can buy yourself protection from the law. Equality at its finest. Power to the proles.
By Chris Fearnley