Northern Rail: No ticket machine - accused of fare evasion

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LucyHelen

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I really hope somebody here can help me out as I am extremely concerned by a situation that has arisen with Northern Rail.

I am British but since 2007 I have lived in Brazil - I am currently here visiting with my Brazilian partner and our one-year-old daughter as we wanted her to spend time with her British family.

In March I hopped on a train from the village where I am staying with my mother (the amusingly-named Broadbottom, near Manchester) to visit the gym in nearby Glossop - a journey of around 10 minutes, costing £1.70. There is no ticket machine at Broadbottom, and the ticket office was closed (indeed it is always closed in the afternoons).

It is customary in these situations for staff to sell tickets on the train or, at the other end of the line at Piccadilly, to sell tickets at the platform end.

There was no opportunity to buy a ticket on the train on this occasion, and when I arrived at Glossop I headed to the ticket machine that I saw when leaving the train. There was no option to buy a return ticket FROM the station I had come from, only TO, so I approached a Northern Rail representative standing at the exit and told him I needed to buy a ticket. He asked me to step to one side while he checked further tickets. I happily did this, thinking he was about to sell me a ticket.

However, on his return he told me that he would be reporting me for not having a ticket, and I would have to explain the reasons for this to Northern Rail. He pointed to the ticket office behind me (this had moved since I last lived here, for 30-plus years it had been next to the exit and is no longer visible when leaving the train) and asked me why I hadn't bought a ticket there. As I had headed straight for the more visible ticket machine, this seemed ridiculous - indeed I hadn't even spotted the ticket office until he pointed it out.

Furious at having my time wasted - as well as looking after my daughter I am a freelance travel writer (I know, the irony...) and have very very little free time - I emailed Northern Rail's customer services to complain. They responded that they could not deal with this and that I would have to deal with Northern's debt response team. I duly received a letter from them and, despite responding and outlining the facts, I have today received a letter stating that they are preparing to send me to magistrates court unless I pay £80 to settle out of court. As I am in no way in the wrong I am not prepared to pay this, but this is very distressing for me, my mother and my partner. I am not even going to be in the country at the time if this goes to court and am terrified of receiving a criminal record. I have never deliberately avoided paying for a ticket in my life and am appalled that I am being punished for their lack of ticketing facilities. Any help, please?? This is hugely stressful and I am having to use precious childminding time to try and resolve this when I should be working -loss of earnings in addition to all this stress. Any advice hugely appreciated!
 
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Im struggling to understand the relevance of you pointing out that you are British and that you were in the country visiting your British family.

did you approach the guard on the train at any point to try and purchase a ticket from him or was the train full to the rafters? Did you speak to the guard as he got off the train when it entered the amusingly name Broadbottom station to inform him that you could not purchase a ticket and that you would like to purchase one from him?
 

aformeruser

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did you approach the guard on the train at any point to try and purchase a ticket from him or was the train full to the rafters? Did you speak to the guard as he got off the train when it entered the amusingly name Broadbottom station to inform him that you could not purchase a ticket and that you would like to purchase one from him?
As discussed in another thread it's actually a common misconception that passengers are expected to look for ticket selling rail staff in the absence of an open ticket office or working ticket machine.

The question is what time did the OP leave Glossop station? The ticket machine at Glossop can't sell a ticket from Broadbottom to Glossop but the ticket office can.
 

WelshBluebird

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As discussed in another thread it's actually a common misconception that passengers are expected to look for ticket selling rail staff in the absence of an open ticket office or working ticket machine.
Agreed.
Being from the south wales area, where unmanned stations without any ticket machines are very common, I find the idea that someone should walk through the train to find the guard if they board at a station without any ticketing facilities highly amusing, as I end up with a mental image of a pacer full of passengers all trying to bang on the back cab door to find the guard.
 

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As discussed in another thread it's actually a common misconception that passengers are expected to look for ticket selling rail staff in the absence of an open ticket office or working ticket machine.

.
Agreed.
Being from the south wales area, where unmanned stations without any ticket machines are very common, I find the idea that someone should walk through the train to find the guard if they board at a station without any ticketing facilities highly amusing, as I end up with a mental image of a pacer full of passengers all trying to bang on the back cab door to find the guard.

Who mentioned anyting about the public being expected to visit the guard to purchase a ticket? Thats not what I wrote is it? No. What I wrote was asking them if they tried to purchase a ticket from the guard when the train was in the train station or when they were on the train.

Dont make up what you think I said compared to what I was asking the OP.
 

aformeruser

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Who mentioned anyting about the public being expected to visit the guard to purchase a ticket? Thats not what I wrote is it? No. What I wrote was asking them if they tried to purchase a ticket from the guard when the train was in the train station or when they were on the train.

Dont make up what you think I said compared to what I was asking the OP.
If you weren't referring to that isn't the more relevant question "Did the guard come through the train to sell tickets?"
 

WelshBluebird

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Who mentioned anyting about the public being expected to visit the guard to purchase a ticket? Thats not what I wrote is it? No. What I wrote was asking them if they tried to purchase a ticket from the guard when the train was in the train station or when they were on the train.

Dont make up what you think I said compared to what I was asking the OP.
The OP said "There was no opportunity to buy a ticket on the train on this occasion". Therefore it is logical to assume that either the guard did not move from the back cab (other than to open doors), or that the service was too busy for the guard to move through the train and sell tickets to everyone.

So by suggesting that the OP should have tried to buy a ticket from the guard on the train, while the OP has already said there was no chance to, you are indirectly suggesting the OP should have gone to find the guard.

The same applies to approaching the guard when boarding the train. Indeed at a lot of these stations, you simply would not have the time to - the train pulls in, the guard opens the door, you have enough time to get on, and then the doors close and you leave - there is no time to find which door the guard is at, make sure you board at that door, ask him etc.

Now, if there are ticket facilities at your station but for whatever reason you have not used them, or perhaps you have a ticket that may not be technically valid etc etc, then yes I agree you should talk to the guard as soon as possible (ideally before boarding). But when a station does not have these facilities, then it is totally disgusting to punish the passenger for it.
 

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If you weren't referring to that isn't the more relevant question "Did the guard come through the train to sell tickets?"
It may be. I was merely asking the OP what they did to try and purchase a ticket from the guard. A perfectly reasonable question to ask. If the guard was writing this post I would ask him/her whether they made it through the train to check or sell tickets too.

But I guess not to some people who make assumptions that what was written was indeed meant to be something else.
 

WelshBluebird

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It may be. I was merely asking the OP what they did to try and purchase a ticket from the guard. A perfectly reasonable question to ask. If the guard was writing this post I would ask him/her whether they made it through the train to check or sell tickets too.

But I guess not to some people who make assumptions that what was written was indeed meant to be something else.
But the OP has already said there was no opportunity to buy.
It is not relevant if that was because the service was too busy, or because the guard did not leave the back cab etc.
Indeed, from what the OP has said, the reason they have found themselves in this situation is not because they did not buy a ticket from the guard, but because they (mistakingly) walked past a ticket office that they did not realise was there. While I would say normally walking past an open ticket office when you need to buy a ticket would be enough for them to at least accuse you, if you walk upto a member of staff and say "I need to buy a ticket", it seems somewhat stupid to them accuse them of fare evasion.
 
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The OP said "There was no opportunity to buy a ticket on the train on this occasion". Therefore it is logical to assume that either the guard did not move from the back cab (other than to open doors), or that the service was too busy for the guard to move through the train and sell tickets to everyone.

So by suggesting that the OP should have tried to buy a ticket from the guard on the train, while the OP has already said there was no chance to, you are indirectly suggesting the OP should have gone to find the guard.The same applies to approaching the guard when boarding the train. Indeed at a lot of these stations, you simply would not have the time to - the train pulls in, the guard opens the door, you have enough time to get on, and then the doors close and you leave - there is no time to find which door the guard is at, make sure you board at that door, ask him etc.

Now, if there are ticket facilities at your station but for whatever reason you have not used them, or perhaps you have a ticket that may not be technically valid etc etc, then yes I agree you should talk to the guard as soon as possible (ideally before boarding). But when a station does not have these facilities, then it is totally disgusting to punish the passenger for it.
I didnt suggest anything. I asked a question. It was a simple question but once again someone else has decided to try and make it something more then it actually was.

What a surprise. Nothing can be straight forward with some of you on here who like to assume one thing and read far too much into another and then come out was crap at the end.

Simple questions to ask the OP. No malice or anything else was in the questions. And they were not loaded. Simple yes or no.

Obviously thats too hard for some to comprehend
 

WestCoast

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The Hadfield/Glossop Line is a nightmare for tickets; a busy urban/commuter line with a lack of purchasing facilities at stations operated using relatively large 323s stopping every 2-4 minutes, with the guard opening/closing doors and watching the train leave the station as per Northern's policy.
 

Ferret

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I really hope somebody here can help me out as I am extremely concerned by a situation that has arisen with Northern Rail.

I am British but since 2007 I have lived in Brazil - I am currently here visiting with my Brazilian partner and our one-year-old daughter as we wanted her to spend time with her British family.

In March I hopped on a train from the village where I am staying with my mother (the amusingly-named Broadbottom, near Manchester) to visit the gym in nearby Glossop - a journey of around 10 minutes, costing £1.70. There is no ticket machine at Broadbottom, and the ticket office was closed (indeed it is always closed in the afternoons).

It is customary in these situations for staff to sell tickets on the train or, at the other end of the line at Piccadilly, to sell tickets at the platform end.

There was no opportunity to buy a ticket on the train on this occasion, and when I arrived at Glossop I headed to the ticket machine that I saw when leaving the train. There was no option to buy a return ticket FROM the station I had come from, only TO, so I approached a Northern Rail representative standing at the exit and told him I needed to buy a ticket. He asked me to step to one side while he checked further tickets. I happily did this, thinking he was about to sell me a ticket.

However, on his return he told me that he would be reporting me for not having a ticket, and I would have to explain the reasons for this to Northern Rail. He pointed to the ticket office behind me (this had moved since I last lived here, for 30-plus years it had been next to the exit and is no longer visible when leaving the train) and asked me why I hadn't bought a ticket there. As I had headed straight for the more visible ticket machine, this seemed ridiculous - indeed I hadn't even spotted the ticket office until he pointed it out.

Furious at having my time wasted - as well as looking after my daughter I am a freelance travel writer (I know, the irony...) and have very very little free time - I emailed Northern Rail's customer services to complain. They responded that they could not deal with this and that I would have to deal with Northern's debt response team. I duly received a letter from them and, despite responding and outlining the facts, I have today received a letter stating that they are preparing to send me to magistrates court unless I pay £80 to settle out of court. As I am in no way in the wrong I am not prepared to pay this, but this is very distressing for me, my mother and my partner. I am not even going to be in the country at the time if this goes to court and am terrified of receiving a criminal record. I have never deliberately avoided paying for a ticket in my life and am appalled that I am being punished for their lack of ticketing facilities. Any help, please?? This is hugely stressful and I am having to use precious childminding time to try and resolve this when I should be working -loss of earnings in addition to all this stress. Any advice hugely appreciated!
I'm going to put my head up above the parapet here and say that if the facts are as stated, then it would be a hell of a job to prove that a Byelaw 18 offence has been committed! The byelaws themselves specifically state that no offence is committed if there was no opportuinity to purchase a ticket.

The crucial question I need to ask though is were you interviewed under caution? If so, I'd imagine you were asked something like 'if I'd not spoken to you today, do you agree that the fare for your journey would've gone unpaid?'. What answer did you give?

 

table38

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Maybe the guard was busy performing his other duties? After all, how often do we hear it on here from people that "guards don't just sell tickets" :roll:
 

aformeruser

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I'm going to put my head up above the parapet here and say that if the facts are as stated, then it would be a hell of a job to prove that a Byelaw 18 offence has been committed! The byelaws themselves specifically state that no offence is committed if there was no opportuinity to purchase a ticket.
If they were standing after the ticket office at Glossop then maybe they could claim the offence has been comitted.

Maybe the guard was busy performing his other duties? After all, how often do we hear it on here from people that "guards don't just sell tickets" :roll:
Or his/her ticket machine may have been broken.
 

Nym

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Remember, these are the same people who attempted to get a 24 year old student and 17 year old disabled boy caught for 'fare evasion' because they walked up the stairs on platforms 8/9 to access 13/14 at Piccadilly rather than using the travelators. (He can't be on anything in artificial motion)
 

Ferret

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If they were standing after the ticket office at Glossop then maybe they could claim the offence has been comitted
This is why I want to know what the OP said under caution. That's about the only possibility as far as I can see, but then if you were unfamiliar with a station but saw a member of staff on the premises, you're more likely to go to the member of staff rather than a ticket office you didn't know was there.
 

WelshBluebird

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If they were standing after the ticket office at Glossop then maybe they could claim the offence has been comitted.
But surely they fact the OP approached a member of staff and tried to buy a ticket off them means that there is no way an offence has been committed?
 

RJ

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Remember, these are the same people who attempted to get a 24 year old student and 17 year old disabled boy caught for 'fare evasion' because they walked up the stairs on platforms 8/9 to access 13/14 at Piccadilly rather than using the travelators. (He can't be on anything in artificial motion)
a.) What has that got to do with the OP's problem?
b.) How do you know it was the same people?

This forum seems to have transformed in to an anti-railway consumer action site!
 

table38

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But surely they fact the OP approached a member of staff and tried to buy a ticket off them means that there is no way an offence has been committed?
I'd have to agree given:

No person shall be in breach of Byelaw 18(1) or 18(2) if:

(i) there were no facilities in working order for the issue or validation of any ticket at the time when, and the station where, he began his journey; or ...
The other way towards prosecution would be to prove intent to avoid payment, and I don't think approaching a member of staff to ask how to buy a ticket constitues "intent to avoid".

But hopefully wiser minds will be along shortly.
 

michael769

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Can I point out that this discussion has so far completely failed to give the Op any advice.

The first thing is to determine if this is a Byelaw 18 prosecution in which case the defense set out in byelaw 18(3)(i) would apply, or if they are trying for a civil debt under the NCoC on the grounds that she failed to buy a ticket at the earliest opportunity.

IMO either case is on shaky ground

For the OP- You have 3 options at this stage

1) Pay the settlement and forget about the wold thing
2) Write back re-iterating that you are not guilty, and wait to see if court papers arrive.
3) Ignore and wait to see if NR actually goes through with a summons (this will depend on how confident their prosecutor is).

I can see a couple of potential defenses depending if they choose to go down the Byelaw 18 or civil debt roads. Once court papers arrive come back and folks can advise you.

As to being out of the country - the Byelaw 18 would just continue and you would be found guilty in your absence. The offence is not recordable so no criminal record (unless someone makes a mistake and records it anyway which can happen) but any unpaid fine would be recorded as a debt and may cause you issues when you return to the country, in terms of court bailiffs or a damaged credit history.

I would advise making arrangements for someone in the UK to receive the court papers. The court can then be contacted and arrangement made to move the hearing date so that you can get back to the UK for it. Courts are usually fairly helpful when they are happy you are not just trying to play the system.
 

lyndhurst25

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Picture of the station in question -
http://paulbigland.zenfolio.com/p288513101/h9A30424#h9a30424

The ticket machine is the silver and blue box on the right. The OLD ticket window can be seen on the left, next to the station exit/entrance - I believe that it has been left in place as an architectural feature. I cant quite remember where the new ticket office is located - just over the photographer's left shoulder?
 

RJ

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I really hope somebody here can help me out as I am extremely concerned by a situation that has arisen with Northern Rail.

I am British but since 2007 I have lived in Brazil - I am currently here visiting with my Brazilian partner and our one-year-old daughter as we wanted her to spend time with her British family.

In March I hopped on a train from the village where I am staying with my mother (the amusingly-named Broadbottom, near Manchester) to visit the gym in nearby Glossop - a journey of around 10 minutes, costing £1.70. There is no ticket machine at Broadbottom, and the ticket office was closed (indeed it is always closed in the afternoons).

It is customary in these situations for staff to sell tickets on the train or, at the other end of the line at Piccadilly, to sell tickets at the platform end.

There was no opportunity to buy a ticket on the train on this occasion, and when I arrived at Glossop I headed to the ticket machine that I saw when leaving the train. There was no option to buy a return ticket FROM the station I had come from, only TO, so I approached a Northern Rail representative standing at the exit and told him I needed to buy a ticket. He asked me to step to one side while he checked further tickets. I happily did this, thinking he was about to sell me a ticket.

However, on his return he told me that he would be reporting me for not having a ticket, and I would have to explain the reasons for this to Northern Rail. He pointed to the ticket office behind me (this had moved since I last lived here, for 30-plus years it had been next to the exit and is no longer visible when leaving the train) and asked me why I hadn't bought a ticket there. As I had headed straight for the more visible ticket machine, this seemed ridiculous - indeed I hadn't even spotted the ticket office until he pointed it out.

Furious at having my time wasted - as well as looking after my daughter I am a freelance travel writer (I know, the irony...) and have very very little free time - I emailed Northern Rail's customer services to complain. They responded that they could not deal with this and that I would have to deal with Northern's debt response team. I duly received a letter from them and, despite responding and outlining the facts, I have today received a letter stating that they are preparing to send me to magistrates court unless I pay £80 to settle out of court. As I am in no way in the wrong I am not prepared to pay this, but this is very distressing for me, my mother and my partner. I am not even going to be in the country at the time if this goes to court and am terrified of receiving a criminal record. I have never deliberately avoided paying for a ticket in my life and am appalled that I am being punished for their lack of ticketing facilities. Any help, please?? This is hugely stressful and I am having to use precious childminding time to try and resolve this when I should be working -loss of earnings in addition to all this stress. Any advice hugely appreciated!
Hi,

A couple of questions;

1.) Was there a guard on the train selling tickets?
2.) Was the ticket office really that hard to miss? Going by your description, this would appear to be an out of date image as the ticket office is by the exit and there's no ticket machine. Was the inspector by the entrance to the ticket hall or the entrance to the platform?

If there was an opportunity to obtain a ticket that you made no attempt to take advantage of then it might be best to settle out of court. However, if you can stand up in court and confirm that it was not possible to obtain a ticket between starting your journey and meeting the inspector, then you have nothing to worry about. Hopefully we can help to establish conclusively whether or not you have a cast iron defence. Going by what you've posted, it sounds ok but there are some points that need clarifying.
 

DaveNewcastle

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I have to say that my analysis of the OP's report leads to a different conclusion from all the other comments on here (including Ferret with whom I usually agree).
There is a strong evidential clue in the Inspector's question about the ticket office. Most of us will know that the legal precedent to secure a S.5 prosection under the Regulation of Railways Act (RoRA 1889) is Corbyn where it was the fact of passing an opportunity to pay at a window was deemed, on Appeal, to adequately engage Section 5 (for however brief a moment that the opportunity was not taken and however close the window may be to the Inspector).
If that is what the Inspector observed, and it certainly appears to be what the Inspector inquired about, then it seems most probable to me that it is a Section 5 Offence that is being pursued.

I therefore have to disagree with the assurance that a successful prosecution would not lead to a Criminal Conviction.

The date of the Hearing will almost definitely be re-arranged by agreement with the Clerks Office at the Court (with copies to the prosecution).

However, I believe the best outcome will be a negotiated agreement with Northern's Prosecutions Department. Because we don't know what has already been said in, firstly, the Witness Statement given to the Inspector on the day of travel, or secondly, the Witness Statement or letter sent as Evidence in response to the Debt Recovery team, it would be foolish to compose words which may contradict those statements and the facts. Nevertheless, the arrangement of the station layout and the Inspector's response when approached for a ticket leads me to believe that a negitiated agreement is likely to succeed.

Another solution would be to instruct a Solicitor with good Railway knowledge (there are a few but not many) to act in your absence, but again, I still feel that the matter can be dealt with by mutual agreement.

I would like to be more specific in my advice, but that would require the OP to explain a few more details.

In conclusion, it seems that the most pragmatic solution is to accept the proposed 'settlement' of £80 which, as it happens, is less than the figure agreed with many other passengers detected at Piccadily without a ticket and writing letters of appeal.
 
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Ferret

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Interesting Dave. I have to say I hadn't considered an S.5 here as I know the burden of proof is greater, and there does seem to be a bias towards Byelaw 18 prosecutions, with those being strict liability matters.

I really need an answer to my question on what was said under caution before I can offer in-depth thoughts on the matter. Certainly at this stage, I don't think it's a lost cause though.
 

cuccir

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Dave Newcastle's post is a very good and accurate summary from a legal perspective and I'd reiterate much of what he has said. Ferret and RJ's posts are also worth considering. It would be useful to confirm what offence you are being prosecuted under.

However, if it is a strict liability offence (which the most likely prosecutions are), then you have committed the offence by passing an opportunity to pay. In this case, it is either an on-board guard - although if you did not see a guard selling tickets on board then this is not an opportunity to pay and you do not have to go and seek one - or the ticket office. If you walked past the ticket office (an opportunity to buy) then you have committed the offence. The fact that you did not see the ticket office does not, legally, matter.

This leaves two options:
* Settle the case, swear and curse at this law, but put your mind at ease. It's not fair, but frankly it's the easy way out.
* Create a fuss, continue your complaints (write about it? Perhaps on a blog if you have one, if you're prepared to do so, for a newspaper who may run with it). Outside of a purely legalistic point of view, most people would reckon that you've been treated unfairly. If you use that you could shame/convince Northern Rail into not prosecuting you. HOWEVER, this route does run the risk of prosecution, with all the potential problems that that implies (principally, a fine and a criminal record).
 

DaveNewcastle

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I don't want to pursue this matter without further information, but I feel compelled to correct an apparent confusion here:
However, if it is a strict liability offence (which the most likely prosecutions are), then you have committed the offence by passing an opportunity to pay.
I think you have this muddled with the RoRA.
The 'strict liability' offence you refer to is the Byelaw 18 Offence of merely travelling without a ticket (with provisos).
The offence involving "passing an opportunity to pay" is the RoRA S.5 Offence which requires an 'intent to avoid payment' and where that 'intent' is evidenced by the 'passing an opportunity'.
 

Fare-Cop

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I have to say that my analysis of the OP's report leads to a different conclusion from all the other comments on here (including Ferret with whom I usually agree).
There is a strong evidential clue in the Inspector's question about the ticket office. Most of us will know that the legal precedent to secure a S.5 prosection under the Regulation of Railways Act (RoRA 1889) is Corbyn where it was the fact of passing an opportunity to pay at a window was deemed, on Appeal, to adequately engage Section 5 (for however brief a moment that the opportunity was not taken and however close the window may be to the Inspector).
If that is what the Inspector observed, and it certainly appears to be what the Inspector inquired about, then it seems most probable to me that it is a Section 5 Offence that is being pursued.

I therefore have to disagree with the assurance that a successful prosecution would not lead to a Criminal Conviction.

The date of the Hearing will almost definitely be re-arranged by agreement with the Clerks Office at the Court (with copies to the prosecution).

However, I believe the best outcome will be a negotiated agreement with Northern's Prosecutions Department. Because we don't know what has already been said in, firstly, the Witness Statement given to the Inspector on the day of travel, or secondly, the Witness Statement or letter sent as Evidence in response to the Debt Recovery team, it would be foolish to compose words which may contradict those statements and the facts. Nevertheless, the arrangement of the station layout and the Inspector's response when approached for a ticket leads me to believe that a negitiated agreement is likely to succeed.

Another solution would be to instruct a Solicitor with good Railway knowledge (there are a few but not many) to act in your absence, but again, I still feel that the matter can be dealt with by mutual agreement.

I would like to be more specific in my advice, but that would require the OP to explain a few more details.

In conclusion, it seems that the most pragmatic solution is to accept the proposed 'settlement' of £80 which, as it happens, is less than the figure agreed with many other passengers detected at Piccadily without a ticket and writing letters of appeal.
Spot-on
 

LucyHelen

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Hi, I pointed out that I normally live in Brazil because this explains why I was not familiar with the new location of the ticket office, and nor with the fact that Northern Rail do not sell tickets on the platform at Glossop as they do at Manchester Piccadilly. I had approached the Northern Rail representative assuming he could buy me a ticket. I also wanted to illustrate how as a working mother with little time to visit my family here I really don't want to be wasting it on trying to sort out this mess. I don't really think that sarcasm or cutting remarks help much in a stressful situation so if people could avoid this that would be much appreciated! The guard did not pass me on the train and I did not go and seek him/her out, I hardly think it is my responsibility to do so. I tried to buy my ticket at the earliest opportunity. I don't believe I was interviewed under caution - would I have been told if that was the case? I certainly wasn't told I was being interviewed under caution...I was asked if I would have paid the fare if they had not been present and I said that I was trying to buy a ticket from him and, if there had been no chance to do so, I would in any case have paid on the return journey and it is almost exactly the same price.
 

Ferret

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However, if it is a strict liability offence (which the most likely prosecutions are), then you have committed the offence by passing an opportunity to pay. In this case, it is either an on-board guard - although if you did not see a guard selling tickets on board then this is not an opportunity to pay and you do not have to go and seek one - or the ticket office. If you walked past the ticket office (an opportunity to buy) then you have committed the offence. The fact that you did not see the ticket office does not, legally, matter.
Is it not arguable that seeing an inspector sat with a ticket machine is an 'opportunity to buy', equal to the 'opportunity to buy' that the ticket office would be?

The reason that I ask this, is that having observed the RPIs that work for the TOC I'm employed by, assuming that the OP has been 100% truthful here (I've no reason to think otherwise at this stage), they'd have sold her a ticket. Had she come from a station where the ticket office was open, then out would come the warrant card and the interview under caution notepad!
 
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