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In what the Rail, Maritime, and Transport Union (RMT) have described as an “appalling miscarriage of justice”, bosses at London underground have upheld the sacking of a tube worker for defending a pregnant colleague who was pushed in the stomach by a fare-dodger.
Lee Cornell was a Customer Service Assistant (CSA) at London Bridge for more than 10 years, with an excellent track record.
But on November 16, 2016, he found himself involved in an altercation which would ultimately cost him his job.
His crime? Coming to the aid of a colleague who was being assaulted by a fare evader.
The London Bridge 3
The story begins with Dave Sharp, a CSA, who asked a customer if they had touched in with an oyster card or had a ticket. He was subsequently subjected to a torrent of abuse.
The fare evader tried to punch and headbutt Dave, before shoving him hard in the chest. He then ran toward Dave’s pregnant colleague, Kirsty Watts, pushing her in the stomach.
Kirsty, who was five months pregnant at the time, radioed for assistance at roughly 13:10 from the Northern gate line at London Bridge, stating that she had been pushed in the stomach.
Lee Cornell was one of the first to arrive at the scene and when he intervened he was punched twice in the head and had his glasses stolen.
To prevent himself from being struck again, Lee pushed the fare-dodger into a wall. Finally, after recovering his glasses, he walked away. Even after the fare-dodger subsequently tried to headbutt him, Lee turned the other cheek.
Saed Sioussi, also a CSA for London Underground, stepped in no less than three times to try to defuse the situation.
Tube bosses claim to take a “zero tolerance” approach to violence against staff. One would imagine, therefore, that in this cut-and-dry case they would come down firmly on the side of the workers.
Not a bit of it!
Bosses at London Underground (LU) have responded by sacking Lee Cornell for protecting himself and his pregnant colleague – what LU bosses describe as “losing control”; disciplining Dave Sharp for asking if the man had a ticket, or as LU put it “inciting or provoking an incident”; and giving a suspended dismissal to Saed Sioussi for attempting to defuse the situation.
Worse still, London Underground have confirmed that they have never tried to ascertain the identity of the individual who assaulted three members of staff, and they have never intended to nor do they intend to try to bring this person to justice.
Mick Cash, the RMT General Secretary, described the outcome as “one of the most appalling abuses of the LU disciplinary procedure that RMT has ever come across.”
“This was a shocking, violent incident and those that bore the brunt of it should have been supported and commended by the company. Instead they have been sacked or disciplined in what is the most disgraceful miscarriage of justice.
“This is a disgusting and sickening outcome and RMT intends to fight it all the way. As well as our ballot of staff on the London Bridge Group our Executive will look at escalation of the dispute over a case that will send shock waves throughout London Underground.
“LU have flouted their own zero tolerance policy, their own duty of care to their staff and have sent out a message to fare dodgers and yobbos that staff can be treated as punch bags with impunity. That is an outrage that will enrage every single tube employee who risks their neck on the stations and platforms against a backdrop of a growing pattern of abuse and violence.”
But far from showing remorse for their appalling decision, LU bosses are digging their heels in. They have since been quoted on Twitter as saying that:
“Kirsty Watts, CSA at London Bridge, was not assaulted and extensive CCTV shows absolutely she was not assaulted. She was not punched. She was not pushed in her stomach.”
But the evidence seems stacked against the rail bosses.
On reviewing the CCTV on February 28, a London Underground manager confirmed the exact moment that Kirsty was assaulted as 13:09:39 on November 16, 2016. Following this belated fact-finding session, an Electronic Incident Report Form (EIRF) was generated which confirmed that Kirsty had been assaulted.
This has been further backed up by each of the three Company Disciplinary Interviews (CDI) that were carried out. On each occasion the panel carrying out the interviews confirmed that Kirsty was assaulted.
Having followed the appeals process to its conclusion, the RMT will now begin balloting members for strike action.
Their demands are to overturn the unfair dismissal of Lee Cornell and the withdrawal of the punitive sanctions faced by Saed Sioussi and Dave Sharp.
Although at this stage the RMT is only balloting tube staff at London Bridge and Waterloo stations, the ballot could receive a wide echo across all London Underground staff.
Proposed job cuts in the transport sector are increasingly putting alll staff and passengers at risk, and the case of the “London Bridge 3” crystallises exactly why it is necessary to maintain, or even increase, the number of staff on our railways.
It is also demonstrates the critical importance of workers banding together against the common enemy of abuse, whether it comes in the form of physical violence or attacks on workers’ hard won rights.