Britain's rail boss accused of assaulting train steward

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The Independent Online

The civil servant in control of Britain's rail network has been charged with common assault against a steward on an inter-city train.

The summons against Mike Mitchell, £150,000-a-year director general of railways at the Department for Transport, also involves an allegation of "unacceptable behaviour". It comes amid a campaign by the industry warning passengers against abusing railway staff in the run-up to Christmas.

If found guilty, Mr Mitchell, who was appointed in February, will almost certainly be sacked. He has been summonsed to appear before Peterborough magistrates on 9 January following an alleged altercation on a Great North Eastern Railways (GNER) service at the city's station.

The incident happened at 8pm on 14 June on board a GNER express train bound for Newcastle upon Tyne from King's Cross. Witnesses said Mr Mitchell was trying to get off the train past a steward carrying food. An argument broke out and Mr Mitchell allegedly pushed the steward who was serving in the restaurant car.

British Transport Police interviewed the complainant, a number of witnesses, and Mr Mitchell, who was accompanied by a solicitor. A file was sent to the Crown Prosecution Service which advised that a summons should be issued.

A statement issued last night by GNER said: "Any cases of verbal or physical abuse are investigated by the British Transport Police. If they decide to take legal action there is a clear process followed. The railway takes all the necessary steps to protect its staff as they go about their duties."

The Department for Transport declined to comment.

Mr Mitchell, 56, was a surprise appointment to his post given that he was on the verge of retirement from the board of the Aberdeen-based transport company FirstGroup, which has extensive interests in the rail network.

While he was known for his attention to detail and readiness to cut costs, he has been criticised for lacking vision. He is in charge of a new division of the Department for Transport which assumed many of the responsibilities of the Strategic Rail Authority, which was created in 2000 and abolished this year.

His division has overall responsibility for rail strategy and advises ministers on the level of public expenditure required. It decides which companies should be awarded franchises and is responsible for the network's performance and its ability to deliver value for money.

Mr Mitchell had returned to the public sector after 19 years, having worked 16 years for British Rail.