Man has hundreds docked from wages for 'boarding train without ticket', despite being in wrong city at the time

Jon Sharman
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Man has hundreds docked from wages for 'boarding train without ticket', despite being in wrong city at the time

Man has hundreds docked from wages for 'boarding train without ticket', despite being in wrong city at the time

A man had hundreds of pounds docked from his wages for boarding a train without a ticket, despite being nearly 200 miles away at the time of the offence.

Stuart Pennock only discovered he had been prosecuted by Southeastern railway when he received a magistrate’s letter saying the money would be taken from his pay packet.

The 46-year-old, who lives in Liverpool, was told he owed £379 in fines and costs after failing to buy a ticket for a journey from Sidcup to Dartford, Kent, in October 2016.

He told The Independent he believed the offender had fraudulently given his name and an old address when questioned by train staff. The date of birth on the notification letter was also wrong, documents and court records showed.

Despite later proving his innocence and being told the rail operator was dropping its case, Mr Pennock said he had not received a refund.

He said: “I’ve sent emails to courts, spoken to the solicitor of Southeastern railway, and still nothing in return.”

He first learnt of the incident, he told The Independent, on 21 February when he received an attachment of earnings order saying his pay would be docked via his employer.

“I thought it was a wind-up letter. Like a spam email, just a scam, basically. I let it go for a few days,” he said.

“I very nearly bypassed it. I went down to see my HR department and they said it might be worth giving [the court service] a ring. I spoke to someone in Wales, and they basically said, ‘Yes, it’s true.’ They couldn’t give me any information.”

Stuart Pennock, 46, was wrongly ordered to pay hundreds of pounds (Stuart Pennock)

Mr Pennock was granted a statutory declaration at Sefton Magistrates’ Court in Liverpool to say he had not been notified of the charges against him, and pleaded not guilty at a hearing there on 14 March.

The health and safety manager said: “Luckily I had a Facebook screenshot in my history that [proved] I was in Liverpool at the time.

“I knew I hadn’t done anything. I felt guilty but I knew I was innocent, it was quite a daunting affair. They had already made me guilty by sending me the letter and taking my money.”

On 19 March, a new letter arrived from Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service notifying Mr Pennock that Southeastern was dropping the case, and that a planned hearing at London’s Bromley Magistrates’ Court on 5 April would not go ahead.

He said he felt the process – conducted under the so-called single justice procedure – was “very unfair and a bit of a disgrace”.

“I was fuming at the time. All of a sudden you get treated like a criminal. It’s not a nice feeling at all.

“I’m in my overdraft. I’m not saying I’m skint, but I’m not well off, either.”

The single justice procedure is a way of dealing with thousands of low-level offences, such as driving and fare infractions, without requiring time in one of Britain’s overstretched courts.

In the case of a guilty plea, magistrates can make a ruling without the defendant, who is notified of the prosecution and can enter their plea by post. The defendant is only required to turn up to court if they want to plead not guilty.

The money-saving system recently came to prominence when David Beckham admitted driving while using a mobile phone. He was due to face justice by mail until his case was moved to a full hearing.

Christina Blacklaws, president of the Law Society, said in a statement: “Openness is an essential principle of our justice system. It’s important that with modernisation we continue to ensure transparency in the courts.”

A Southeastern railway spokesperson said: “In October 2016 we issued a penalty fare to a passenger travelling without a ticket, who fraudulently provided Mr Pennock’s name and a former address.

“When our letters requesting payment went unanswered, court proceedings were issued to recover the money owed which alerted Mr Pennock to the deception. As soon as we became aware of this fraud, we instructed the court to stop its proceedings, and we understand that Mr Pennock will be reimbursed by the court directly.

“We’ve also taken steps to ensure that his name and address cannot be abused again in this way.”