Commuters who attack Tube staff could be banned

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Passengers who attack staff on the London Underground could be banned from the network in an attempt to stem the increasing numbers of assaults on workers.

London Underground (LU) announced yesterday that it was taking legal advice on whether it could prevent those found guilty of attacks from using the Tube. It said the "zero tolerance" approach was needed after recording nearly 600 attacks on its staff last year. Staff are three times more likely to be assaulted now than 25 years ago, even though their numbers have fallen by a third.

The bans, if approved by LU's lawyers, would be similar to those used to bar football hooligans from matches.

A spokeswoman for London Underground blamed Mayor Ken Livingstone's "constant Tube bashing" as being partly responsible for the deterioration in relations between staff and passengers.

"We don't want customers like that on our system and that's why we are looking at whether we could ban them from the Tube, and if so, how we can do so effectively," she said.

"Over the past 18 months or so it has become clear that the constant Tube bashing from the Mayor has not helped improve public empathy to front-line Underground staff."

Mr Livingstone said the poor performance of the Underground while privatisation was being prepared was the leading cause of public anger. "The current LU management is responsible in the last 12 months for no less than a 43 per cent increase in peak-period train cancellations," he said.

The Mayor said that since the "shadow running" of partial privatisation began, London Underground had failed to meet all seven key performance tests set by the Government.

Last week, consultant anaesthetist John Nelson was convicted of breaking a Tube worker's nose with a headbutt and slapping another in the face in an argument over a delayed train. He was not jailed but fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £1,500 compensation and £6,300 costs.

London Underground said the sentence sent out the wrong message. Mike Brown, the customer services director, said: "Whatever the circumstances ... violence is not acceptable. We will always prosecute and now we are looking to see what further steps we can take to keep those people off our system."

"We are sending out a clear message to all those who use the Tube that our staff are not fixed targets of abuse," he said.