Woman whose fare evasion case being examined will ‘never again’ get on a train

A woman who was prosecuted by a train company for fare evasion under the controversial single justice procedure and whose case is being examined by a magistrate said she will “probably never again” get on a train.

Sarah Cook’s case is one of six “test cases” of fare evasion prosecutions being looked into at Westminster Magistrates’ Court by Chief Magistrate Paul Goldspring – who said about 75,000 cases are believed to have been involved.

He said a letter was sent to those involved in the test cases explaining the process used was “probably unlawful”.

The train firms involved – including Northern Rail and Greater Anglia – prosecuted alleged fare evaders under a system which allows certain offences to be prosecuted in private rather than in open court, known as the single justice procedure (SJP).

In 2016, train operating companies were given powers to prosecute alleged offenders under the SJP.

But a number of these cases against alleged fare evaders have been brought under the Regulation of Railways Act 1889 – which is not allowed in the SJP, the Evening Standard has previously reported.

In a hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Thursday, Chief Magistrate Paul Goldspring said his initial view was that “all of the offences which were not covered by (the) 2016 order but prosecuted under SJP process are void”.

Ms Cook from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, said she tried to appeal after being fined for not producing a ticket following her train journey from Wombwell to Barnsley on November 17 2022.

The 40-year-old said the ticket machine would not accept her card for the fare and as she had not been on a train in decades believed she could buy a ticket once on the train.

A Northern Rail train
A Northern Rail train (Martin Rickett/PA)

But when she got off one stop later and was asked to show a ticket, she said she was told she had to pay a fine.

“I haven’t got on the train for about 20 years,” Ms Cook said.

“I ran across, the machine wouldn’t accept my card to pay, then the train came and I thought it doesn’t matter, I’ll buy a ticket on the train.

“Nobody came, and when I went to get off people were checking their phones for tickets and I said ‘I don’t have a ticket, I need a return’, they said ‘if you’re already travelling we have to fine you’.

“I said ‘I wasn’t actually evading it, I thought I would get one on the train’, they said ‘it’s too late you should have got a promise to pay’.

“I gave all my details and she said ‘you can appeal it, it’s a £20 fine’, the journey is about £3.50.”

Ms Cook said she wrote an email to appeal but then got letters saying she should have attended a court case and was being fined £475 by Northern Rail.

She said she later agreed to pay £4.

Ms Cook received a letter on Wednesday informing her that she was one of a number of test cases being brought before Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Thursday.

The pet shop owner said she believed the letter was “a scam” as she was confused and thought it meant her case was not resolved.

“The whole thing has been a palaver,” she added.

“It was always in my mind that I’m a business owner, I’m a good person.

“For what the crime was, it seemed very blown out of proportion for a less than £4 train journey.

“It was an appointment to see my accountant. I did get the train that one time and probably never again as a result.”

A spokesperson for DfT OLR Holdings Limited (DOHL), which is a holding company established by the Department for Transport which owns Northern Rail, said DOHL train operators stopped using the single justice procedure for offences under the Regulation of Railways Act 1889 in January and are reviewing its previous use.

And a Greater Anglia spokesperson said it stopped progressing fare evasion cases under the Regulation of Railways Act via the single justice procedure in March 2024 and is reviewing previous cases and “any associated implications”.

Another hearing will take place at the same court next month.

A Northern spokesperson said: “We are sorry to hear of this individual case and we understand that the process by which penalty fares are appealed is under review.

“There are multiple ways to buy a Northern train ticket including on the app, our website, and on a ticket vending machine or at a ticket office, and our colleagues are happy to provide advice if needed. We remind people of the need to buy tickets at stations and on trains.

“Our focus remains on ensuring that all our customers are treated fairly, which means ensuring all passengers who board our trains have a valid ticket.”