'I will call the police!': My close encounter with 'revenue protection'

As I was chased from the ticket barrier on to the train, I began to wonder what the inspector could be thinking

4 April 2015

9:00 AM

4 April 2015

9:00 AM

‘Make yourself a happy bunny this Easter with cheap tickets and egg-cellent deals!’ chirped the Abellio train company advert.

I use Abellio’s Greater Anglia service regularly from London and was looking forward to a nice fluffy ride to Norwich. I was late for the 9 a.m. train but the Liverpool Street station Abellio assistant smilingly informed me I wouldn’t need to pay extra for the later train. I bought a cup of coffee and presented my ticket to the barrier staff at platform 11. A dignified-looking man of African origin with ritually scarred cheeks seemed to be unusually officious. Tapping my ticket with the sharp end of a pencil he said: ‘This will not do. Show me your ID. Please.’

I fished out my University of East Anglia lecturer card. (It was all I had.) ‘I am afraid that’s not possible,’ he added flatly.

‘Impossible? What’s not possible?’

‘It’s not possible for you to get on the train with that. You will have to go to the Abellio ticket office.’

‘I can’t miss a second train to Norwich!’

‘It makes no difference to us. You will have to go to the Abellio office,’ he said with intensifying satisfaction.

Already I could feel the deadly stranglehold of privatised railway red tape. There was plenty of inefficiency in the state railway monopoly of the 1970s but British Rail surely had provided a less expensive and more accountable service. Abellio is not even British: it is part of Dutch state railways and clogged up at all ends (they say) with superannuated rolling stock.

‘You must go to the office!’ The man put on his best official voice. ‘This ticket will not do.’ Exasperated, I retrieved my credentials and made my way up the platform towards the waiting train regardless. Ten seconds or so later a voice behind me proclaimed loudly: ‘If you get on that train, I will call the police!’ It was the same Abellio staff member. I got on the train.

He got on the train and followed me as I walked from carriage to carriage, threatening me the while in self-important tones. ‘I have already told you! This train will not be moving until you get off! If you don’t get off I will call the police!’ He was walking a foot behind me as passengers looked up from their laptops to stare. Perhaps he affected an overweening imperiousness to make up for the inefficiency of Abellio.

According to a 2014 Which? magazine survey, the company’s Greater Anglia service has the lowest customer satisfaction rating of all UK rail companies. The official only ever saw the failures and aberrations of Britain’s corporate rail system. At least on this train with its shiny plastic tables and shiny plastic seat covers he could lord it over others. His authority proceeded from a formidable knowledge of the operations of the Abellio franchise rule book.

I could feel the sweat running cold down my shoulder blades as I continued walking down the length of the train. The man’s voice had grown in volume and stridency. ‘This cavalier attitude of yours will not do! You cannot treat me like your son!’ Why son? (Only then did it dawn on me that he might, at some level, be unhinged.) ‘You are going to be arrested,’ he went on peremptorily. ‘The police are coming for you now.’

At last I turned to face him. ‘If you don’t stop following me, I am afraid I shall have to call the police.’ Eyes shifted awkwardly in Carriage B as I took my seat there. Cursing loudly, the staff member got off and had words with an Abellio colleague on the platform. The colleague stirred himself slightly, nodded his understanding, shrugged, then took a sip of coffee from his Starbucks cup and looked the other way.

My tormentor (a word only slightly exaggerated) returned to the carriage and in the same bullying voice went on: ‘This train will not be leaving until you get off.’ Eventually he got off and the train — cutely named ‘Sir John Betjeman’ — left on time. Pathetically vindicated, I waved a sarcastic goodbye to the unwavering official as he stood glaring at me from Platform 11. Still I worried that the police were waiting for me at the next station. As the train drew into Stratford I contemplated jumping off like Robert Donat in Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps but I locked myself in the lavatory instead. Needless to say there was no water for flushing.

On emerging exhausted from the lavatory at Chelmsford, I presented my ticket to an Abellio staff member (a different staff member, fortunately), who inspected it without any questions asked. On arrival at the UEA campus I bumped into my colleague Giles Foden, the novelist, who said I ought to complain.

In due course, Abellio Customer Relations apologised (‘Rudeness or discourtesy on the part of our staff will not be tolerated’) and promised to refer the matter to Liverpool Street station’s revenue protection office, whatever that may be. No compensation was forthcoming but an Easter bunny really would have been egg-cellent.

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  • Mc

    Beware of Swiss ZVV rail and tram officials if you’ve accidentaly bought the wrong ticket – they put totalitarians to shame.

    • James

      I traveled from Austria to Germany and Prague – it was like the scene from Grand Budapest Hotel because the inspectors had guns!

      • Mc

        Yes, they have different ways over there.

        It is also interesting to observe their Immigration officials on the trains. They don’t have a problem homing in on people whose appearance most obviously marks them out as possible illegal immigrants.

  • MacGuffin

    Wow, to have the power to ignore rules and then destroy a man’s livelihood (a black man with ritual face scars no less!) through the power of the printed word. You must feel really, really good.

    • davidofkent

      Was the ticket valid, or not? It appeared to be when the writer arrived at his destination.

    • Perseus Slade

      You Nice Person
      He Horrid Person

    • Mc

      How exactly was the man’s livelihood “destroyed”? Keep in mind that rail staff are heavily unionised, so there is a zero probability of the rail worker being disciplined or sacked.

      Nevermind that the rail worker appeared in need of improving his manners and general people skills. Surely such improvements would benefit everyone?

      • gerronwithit

        Left wing loony alert! Don’t dare diss a black person even if he dissed you first and he is in the wrong! Yep, MacGuffin, you have all the credentials. Sorry for posting this under yours Mc.

    • colchar

      He didn’t ignore the rules though did he?

    • MountainousIpswich

      No rule was ignored and the ‘official’ was completely in the wrong. No one has the right to demand to see your id unless they are the police.

  • Callan

    The quota system seems to be working well.

  • Darnell Jackson

    Why the hell did you show him id?

    • colchar

      Yeah I was wondering that too.

  • colchar

    Of course no compensation will be forthcoming…there is nothing to be compensated for and far too many in Britain today think they deserve moentary compensation for every slight, whether real or perceived. That being said, the main point of the article is well taken.

    • Stephen Hutchinson

      NO. You are dead wrong. Its a civil issue. Companies can’t break the law and intimidate the public. By being liable for compensation the company makes extra effort towards customer service.

  • James

    I was given a penalty fare for travelling from a non-penalty fare station in Somerset with no ticket office or machines – buying the ticket on the train is the only option. Train companies have revenue-theft days.

  • Lee Christmas

    Each of us should also learn the core ideas of Western civilization. This will help: http://bit.ly/LibertyLamp

  • Ed  

    A friend once told me that he was on a train through Greece to Turkey. At the Greek border, the Turks and Germans were strip-searched. At the Turkish border, the Greeks and Germans were strip-searched.

  • damon

    What have his scarred cheeks got to do with anything?
    Although I have noticed that people from Africa do seem to be over represented working as London traffic wardens. When I’m busting a gut trying to do my van deliveries there, I’ve often thought that it looks like the lazy man’s job.
    And one for people who are a bit heartless. Maybe that’s why they get so many foreign born people to do it, because regular born Brits would be embarrassed to have to be so officious.

    • Guest

      What a surprise, you’re being randomly nasty to brown people here too, claiming they’re taking jobs, claiming they’re heartless, “No True Brit”, etc.

      Then you wonder why I think you’re biased. Hmm!

    • Roger Hudson

      They are recruited for size, the ethnicity is secondary.

  • Roger Hudson

    The real story is the disgusting dismemberment of a national ticket system. I tried to find out online what the cost of a ticket would be if i bought it at the ticket office close to departure, apparently it is impossible, offers, exemptions, restrictions etc.
    The on-train bars need some sorting out as well.
    When are we going to get sleeper trains from Manchester to Berlin?, never probable. Rail is the most pleasant form of transport and it has been ruined, why can’t they move my trunk from door-to-door like they used to?

  • Joe Parmaker

    And the explanation (and perhaps apology) from Abellio to readers of this column is posted here among the comments? Thank you Abellio, good to see people who care about the services they offer the public.

  • Stephen Hutchinson

    As an ex-pat looking back at glorious England, I can’t tell you how British this all sounds. You may scoff, but in the US this would have been cause for a law suit against the company. You were in the right and you were hounded and humiliated like a criminal. And he broke the law. The brits are useless. Too afraid to cause a fuss. And you all believe whatever the man tells you. You’d rather be intimidated and abused than cause trouble. This is the reason the US has such amazing customer service. They always know the customer is right. Your inaction to sue only makes it worse for those who follow.

    • Damaris Tighe

      ‘This is the reason the US has such amazing customer service. They always know the customer is right.’: have you ever watched Gordon Ramsay’s ‘US Kitchen Nightmares’ – where, episode after episode, not only is the customer always wrong but also the opinion of a top chef.

      And I, for one, do not want to live in a litigation society which undermines trust & normal human relations. We’ve gone too far down that path already.

    • John Bindon

      Amazing customer service ? Nordstrom are amazing I agree, but not many others spring to mind. I have spent years of my life in the U.S. and would say, on average, service there is no better or no worse than it is here.

  • MrJimJamJar

    Had a scuffle with a fat black revenue woman and an equally fat white revenue guy this morning who looks like he had downs syndrome who became very aggressive when i refused flat out to give him my address.

    The ticket office at the station had a massive queue because all the machiens were down and I could not be late for work –
    The ticket machine was not accepting cards and all the gates were being held open because staff knew this was a problem.

    The other side – Pretending they didn’t have any idea what i was talking about the Revenue Protection Officers told me I would face a £100 fine and that they would be taking my address if i refused to pay – even though it was theirt fault the ticket machines the other side were not working.

    The woman became very rude and aggressive demanding to know my address and standing on my foot in a feeble and weak attempt to stop me walking away.

    I told her she was absolutely not having my address nomatter what and she became increasingly agitated signalling here colleague to come and help her – thats when a fat guy approached me, pushing me and telling me “just you try it” – I said to him you what mate – Try what – he laid hands on me so i told him he had 1 second to get his filthy pig hands off me.

    In the corner of my eye I Saw a cleaner heading for a side gate – Made a dash for it and someone stood in my way the other side of the swinging gate.. Rugby tackled the gate – sent him flying and his fat colleague ran through the gate after me
    I ran out the station – he gave chase for about 100m then gave up in a massive puff of unfit flubber – utterly unfit to perform his job. These people are a damn disgrace I get the train every day and always pay my way, to feel so divinely justified in fining me is unnacceptable.

    Consider this a minor victory for all those unfairly fined and unhappy to be apprehended! i am not cut from quite the same cloth! Wil they catch up to me? time will tell! for now I am free and £100 richer 🙂

  • Hkm

    Nice article but you are very cavelier. I too had the misfortune of dealing with an Abelio ticket officer. Travelling on a regional line I had no prior opportunity to purchase a ticket prior to arriving at the next stop due to a faulty machine and overcrowded. Approching the barriers I was stopped, showed the inspector a random ticket from my coat pocket (silly not criminal) then admitted I needed a new ticket. I now have a criminal record and face losing my job as an Actuary. If you missed your train you should have purchased a new ticket not run through the barriers. Do not underestimate the power abellio has to ruin peoples lives.

    • Hkm

      If I am not making myself clear… By running through the barriers knowing full well you did not have a ticket for the train you were trying to catch you committed the criminal offence of fare dodging. I too could pen a ‘high and mighty’ article mocking my experience but it is not going to help me provide for my family. I too was running late that day (because the train was late!) This article is childish.

      • Hkm

        And so very smug

        • Hkm

          I appreciate that there are differences in our cases but just because your ticket was an hour old and mine was a day out of date shouldn’t mean you get to write this article while my family and I suffer tremendous anxiety. Neither of us would label ourselves as fare dodgers but our rationalisations mean FA to those that work in the revenue protection unit.

          • Hkm

            Also my guy was also of African origin…but throughout all the correspondence with Abellio and discussions with my solicitor I did not mention this once

          • Hkm

            Also I appreciate this article was written some time ago but it worries me that you may be still wondering what the inspector was thinking as he chased you down the train. He was thinking about doing his job which pays very handsomely (he of course can do this job because he does not have the misfortune of having a criminal record in the UK). What were YOU thinking when you wrote this article