Disabled and elderly campaigners protesting removal of travel concessions ‘kettled by the police’ at Sheffield railway station

Two pensioners arrested and blind woman hospitalised after 'Freedom Rides' demo was broken up

Two pensioners were arrested when violent scuffles broke out at Sheffield railway station following the latest in a series of so-called Freedom Rides – named after the US civil rights actions – organised to highlight changes to the system of free rail travel in South Yorkshire.

Disabled and elderly campaigners have vowed to continue their protests against the removal of travel concessions after claiming they were victims of “thuggish” behaviour by police and security staff during Monday’s demonstration against the cuts.

Protesters – including a blind woman who was taken to hospital after being injured when she fell over a wheelchair – said they suffered cuts and bruises as a result of being “manhandled” in clashes with British Transport Police and members of Northern Rail’s rail response team.

Another man collapsed and was taken to hospital while a 70-year-old protester was nearly knocked on to the tracks during the melee.

A number of station staff were also said to have been hurt during the incident on Monday in which they claimed to have been physically and verbally abused by elderly and disabled demonstrators.

Tony Nuttall, 65, of the Barnsley Retirees Action Group who was arrested in the fracas, said campaigners would not stop until concessionary travel was reintroduced under the old terms.

Mr Nuttall described how he was arrested and charged with obstructing a police officer as the group of 45 protesters were “kettled” while staging an impromptu rally on the platform at Sheffield station after boarding a train from Barnsley and deliberately over-riding their stop.

“This sort of thuggish behaviour is not acceptable, especially when used against older and disabled people who cannot defend themselves,” he said. “It was a cowardly attack.

 “I was trying to link arms with people and five officers grabbed hold of me from behind and forced my head down. They marched me back and forth with my head bowed down and put me on the floor. I was handcuffed and taken to a police station.

“It was a peaceful protest by people who are hardly likely to use violence against blokes who look like they have been brought in from the local nightclub,” Mr Nuttall said.

Police and Northern Rail security staff were involved in scuffles with about 45 protesters Police and Northern Rail security staff were involved in scuffles with about 45 protesters

“The fight goes on. We are determined and we think we are in the right.”

Jen Dunstan, of Sheffield Disabled People Against the Cuts, said: “Dozens of elderly and disabled people have been left with bruising.”

The old rail concessionary scheme was axed as part of measures to reduce a £243,000 shortfall in the budget of South Yorkshire Integrated Transport Authority.

Mr Nuttall will appear at Sheffield Magistrates’ Court on Monday alongside George Arthur, 65, who is accused of obstructing a police officer and fare evasion.

A spokeswoman for Northern Rail said it was investigating the incident.

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