Anger as Stonegate hedge fund fare dodger 'buys silence'

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Media captionRail operator Southeastern has defended the out-of-court settlement

A rail union has claimed a hedge fund manager was able to "buy silence" after he repaid £42,550 in unpaid fares to Southeastern - but remained anonymous and avoided court action.

The TSSA claimed it demonstrated one law for the rich and one for the poor.

Rail operator Southeastern has defended the out-of-court settlement as the quickest way to recover the fares.

The company said it dealt with fewer than 5,000 fare evasion cases a year and most were pursued in the courts.

The decision not to prosecute the hedge fund manager has caused consternation on social media, where it has been argued that he avoided prosecution only because he could afford to repay the money he had defrauded.

Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA, said: "There seems to be one law for the rich and one law for the poor when it comes to criminal prosecution.

"The rich seem to be able to walk away and claim secrecy while the poor get hauled up in front of the local magistrates court and publicly ridiculed.

"This guy can buy silence, but that isn't offered to most people who are caught fare dodging."

On Twitter, blogger Martin Shovel wrote: "Biggest rail fare dodger in history avoids prosecution because he's rich enough to pay back what he owed #OneLaw"

And Hugh Knowles tweeted: "Biggest rail fare dodger in UK? A loaded hedge fund manager. Says it all really."

But Southeastern said out-of-court settlements were a familiar part of the UK legal system.

In a statement, the rail company said: "In this case, this option has allowed us to recover the sum owed to us very quickly without incurring the additional costs or uncertainty associated with pursuing the matter through the courts."

A spokesman for British Transport Police said the fare dodging "was a matter for Southeastern".

He said: "They have the power to prosecute themselves. We wouldn't be following it up at this stage."

The Department for Transport has so far declined to comment on the case.

'Apply law fairly'

Passenger Focus, which campaigns for rail passengers, said the case highlighted the importance of train companies focusing enforcement on intentional fare dodgers instead of genuine passengers who made honest mistakes.

Acting chief executive David Sidebottom said: "To have confidence in the fares system, taxpayers and passengers will want to know that train companies are doing all they can to collect fares due and apply the law in a fair, consistent, proportionate and transparent way."

And the acting general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport Union (RMT), Mick Cash, said: "This outrageous abuse of the fares system shows not only that some wealthy people think that they are above the normal rules, but it also demonstrates again why cuts to the train crew who police the system are a reckless and stupid false economy."

On Sunday, it emerged the unnamed city executive was believed to have dodged his fares by exploiting a loophole which meant he paid only a third of the journey cost.

The man, from Stonegate, had an Oyster Travelcard and regularly travelled to and from London.

Southeastern said he commuted from Stonegate to London Bridge, where he caught another train to Cannon Street.

His Oyster was used only at Cannon Street so he paid a maximum £7.20 fare.

It is thought he dodged fares for five years.

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