His identity remains a mystery – but whoever he is, the hedge fund executive who managed to dodge £42,000-worth of train fares has certainly got the villagers of Stonegate gossiping.
Locals in the East Sussex community were today trying to work out whether they had ever exchanged words or shared a pint with the culprit, who is thought to be the biggest fare dodger in history, after avoiding the full price of his commute for five years.
“I’ve had lots of clients talking about it,” said a local hairdresser, who like many residents didn’t want to be named for fear of potentially scaring a rich client away. “No one knows who it is. I know a few hedge fund managers around here but I couldn’t possibly disclose their names.”
The senior executive is believed to have travelled into London every day without buying a ticket, incurring a meagre £7.20 daily fine on his Oyster card by simply “tapping out” from Cannon Street station once he arrived in London, thus evading the £4,548 cost of an annual season ticket.
The canny commuter avoided detection from 2008 until the end of last year and has since repaid £42,550 in missing fares and £450 in legal costs.
He asked to remain anonymous in order to protect his highflying career – leaving Stonegate, one hour and 20 minutes away from the capital by rail, wondering which of its affluent commuters is to blame.
At a farm shop down the road from the station – which sells delicacies such as camel burgers, Zebra meat and goose eggs to cater for wealthy customers in a village where the average house price is £500,000 – Lucy Enville, 78, said she’d love to find out who the hustler was.
“I’ve lived here for nearly 30 years and I’ve never heard anything like it,” she said. “He must be a wealthy kind of chap if he lives around here. We’ve had lots if people asking but no one knows who it is. It’s hot gossip at the moment.”
In the nearby village of Ticehurst, a local barman, who also wanted to remain anonymous for fear of offending his customers, told The Independent he had his suspicions about a man who used to drink regularly at the pub. “That geezer that’s been dodging the fares?” he asked. “Yeah, there used to be a guy who drank in here, a sketchy fella he was. It could have been him.”
A waitress at the same pub told the paper she thought it was the fault of Southeastern trains, saying the rail company should have been “more on the ball”.
“It serves them right,” she said. “How did he get away with it for five years? It puts the rail system to shame.”
A spokesman for the local parish council, however, accused the commuter of “getting a kick” out of dodging fares.
Even if he remains anonymous forever, at least the villagers have enjoyed the mystery. A man walking his dog along a deserted country lane said in hushed tones that he might “know a man, who knows a man”, before winking knowingly and promising to keep us informed.