Tube strikes 2014: ‘Sleeping’ London Underground worker left one commuter ‘mad’ – but photo was actually taken before start of walkout

Photographer Phillippa Ellis reportedly said she captured the image on Tuesday evening, some four hours before the strikes began

It is the photograph of an apparently sleeping London Underground ticket office worker that nearly became the face uniting opposition to this week’s 48-hour Tube strikes.

But while millions of commuters were affected by the delays and disruption today, it has now emerged that any blame targeted at the woman sitting inside Paddington station would be a little misplaced.

Last night members of the Rail Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) and the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA) walked out in protest against the closure of all underground ticket offices and the loss of 950 jobs.

And as concerns grew over the safety of a skeleton service trying to cater to large crowds still trying to get to work, the image sparked anger among social media users.

One Twitter user sent the photo to the RMT asking: “Is this what you are trying to protect?”

Another wrote: “TFL worker hard at work tonight at Paddington preparing for the strike. Not sure about you but if I passed out on my desk at work it would go down like a stack of bricks.”

Yet while the image only began circulating today in the heat of the fury against difficult conditions for commuters, the photographer has told the Huffington Post she took the image on Tuesday – some four hours ahead of the strike itself.

“It was right in rush hour,” said Phillippa Ellis. “My flash went off, but she did not stir. A TFL staff member said ‘No, no, no’ to me, but there was another guy who gave me a thumbs up.”

Ms Ellis said she had “no sympathy” for the fact many had assumed the woman was sleeping in the middle of the industrial action, but added: “I hope she doesn’t get fired.”

Today, London Underground’s operations director Nigel Holness said his staff were “working hard to keep customers safe” in spite of the strike.

He said: “As Londoners will have seen for themselves, we've had hundreds of volunteers out today to help customers get around. We'll have hundreds out during the evening peak as well.

“Some stations, particularly the main rail termini, will clearly be very busy because of this pointless strike by the RMT and TSSA, but our staff are working hard to keep customers safe, and keep London moving and open for business today. We're running over a third of normal services, serving around 70 per cent of stations on eight out of 11 lines.”

RMT leader Bob Crow told BBC London 94.9: “As we expected the action is rock solid this morning and has reduced the network to a skeleton service with only a few ghost trains running through closed stations.”

London Mayor Boris Johnson said: “We are doing all we can to try and get people to work. I recognise in some cases it is difficult, and I feel enormous sympathy for Londoners this morning, but the blame for this strike lies squarely with union leaders who have resorted to myths and stunts in a pathetic attempt to justify a strike that is utterly pointless

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