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Train service pays disabled passenger £17,000 in compensation

a southern train
a southern train Image credit:

A train service has been forced to pay £17,000 compensation after a disabled woman was left stranded on more than 30 occasions.

Sam Jennings first reported the incidents in January 2020 with disabled campaigner Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and Sothern rail senior managers at the House of Lords.

The trouble started when Jennings was working on her flower stall at Norbury station, South London in August 2018 just after using a new powered wheelchair.

When Southern staff noticed the chair they refused to assist her on their trains, Jennings even heard one worker on the phone jesting “There’s a wheelchair down here complaining.”

If she did make a journey staff would not help her off their trains because they believed it wasn’t part of their job.

Staff would also tell Jennings they had phoned ahead to the next station ensuring she would be assisted off the trains, but upon arrival there was no one there.

After the meeting at the House of Lords showed no light at the end of the tunnel Jennings took legal action.

It was a difficult decision for her as she was friends with some of the train staff, but after a distressing experience at Clapham Junction Jennings knew she had no choice.

She told Disability News Service: “The problem persisted because there is a culture at Southern of not giving a fuck.

“There is no humanity there and they have been allowed to get away with it. It’s about attitudes and there is no accountability. They knew they would never get in trouble.

“From the beginning, I thought if I was one person encountering this many fails, how many disabled people are at home too terrified to go anywhere?”

Southern have now agreed to make “specific commitments” and pay Sam £17,000 compensation.

She has spent the money on 10 kettles and six microwaves for a local foodbank and a new electric wheelchair for herself.

She said: “No-one sets out to get involved with litigation and I saw legal action as a last resort.

“It wouldn’t have cost them a penny if they had listened to me.”

Southern has said they will offer disability equality training to all their staff before the end of July and investigate any failings to their disabled passengers.

The service added all relevant workers have been instructed to call ahead to stations if there is a disabled passenger on board requiring assistance and introduced a new internal phone directory app.

Southern has also informed they have spoken to staff at Clapham Junction who Jennings raised a number of complaints against.

However, the passenger admitted she was “not at all optimistic” anything will change.

She said: “I want people to feel empowered to make a complaint because they are never going to stop otherwise.”

Her lawyer, Carrie Clewes, from Fry Law, was concerned Southern continued to repeat their failings after the case was raised in the House of Lords.

She said: “Despite having Lady Tanni Grey-Thompson fighting her corner and calling a meeting at the House of Lords with Southern’s leadership team, again her requests and needs were ignored and [she] continued to have access issues.”

Clewes added: “If the claimant has had so many failings in one small part of the rail network, just how many of the disabled community are experiencing the same failings across the entire network?”

Chris Fowler, Southern’s customer services director, said in a statement: “We know we can do better and we are grateful for the discussions we have had with Ms Jennings which have helped inform how we can continue to improve.

“We take this feedback extremely seriously and it has been used to strengthen our accessibility strategy, which is already delivering significant improvements across our rail network.”

Southern was criticised for major changes to its timetables in December 2007 and December 2008.