It costs the rail industry £400m per year – yet Norfolk’s fare dodgers are today facing a combined bill of more than £11,000 for failing to pay their way on our trains.

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Serial evader Gavin Townend, of Globe Lane, Littleport, was even left owing King’s Lynn Magistrates’ Court a total £2,573.80 after being caught travelling between his home town and Ely without a valid ticket on four separate occasions.

Had the 35-year-old paid the correct fare each time, it would have cost him just £13.80 in total. Yet he must now pay more than 180 times that amount, which works out at £643.45 per journey. He was not the only one. Magistrates fined a total of 17 offenders yesterday, including 31-year-old Hunstanton man Andrew Cox, of Elizabeth Close, who now has to pay £1,127.40 for evading payment on three tickets which would have cost him a total of £7.40.

Ray Edis, prosecuting for First Capital Connect, said the action was a last resort – but that the firm had to press ahead with prosecutions to protect law-abiding, fare-paying passengers and send a clear message to offenders.

“It is a last-chance saloon when they come to court,” he told the EDP after the court cases. “It is the last thing we want to do. We seek to deter people from avoiding their fares because it increases bona fide passengers’ fares. In my view, it is theft – and it impacts on the general public.”

Mr Edis said it would be impossible to describe the typical fare evader because they come from a range of different backgrounds – young and old, rich and poor, full-time workers and students.

However, Mr Edis was keen to emphasise the fairness of the penalty system and stressed that FCC inspectors are not intransigent.

Those who are caught without a valid ticket are given the opportunity to pay a fixed penalty on the spot.

If they do not, either because they refuse or do not have the means to pay, the ticket inspector produces a report. FCC then writes to the person involved and asks them to give their side of the story. Once they receive a reply, the rail operator makes a decision about whether to prosecute.

If it receives no reply, as happened with the majority of yesterday’s cases, the case is brought before magistrates. However, even at that late stage, Mr Edis said he is open to defendants approaching him before the hearing to explain what has happened and make an offer to pay.

For example, one defendant who spoke to Mr Edis yesterday appeared to have avoided a large fine when he agreed to settle the matter. Whereas others were fined an average of about £450, his hearing was adjourned until May 2 to give him time to pay.

“People have every chance to come and talk to me and I am prepared to listen to what they have to say,” he said. “We are not ogres, but we do need to protect the genuine fare-paying passenger.”

However, 27-year-old Jamie Lashmar, of Newlands Avenue, King’s Lynn, landed himself with a bill for £940.60, including costs and victim surcharges, after avoiding fares on two separate occasions.

On the first occasion he had come to King’s Lynn from Stratford, the second time it was to King’s Lynn from Watlington.

Some people may find such a high fine harsh when the actual amount Lashmar avoided paying was just £40.60. However, as Mr Edis explained: “If you multiply that by the number of offenders, it costs the rail industry a lot of money.”

He added that FCC probably does not catch all fare evaders, meaning the firm is unlikely to ever recoup the full amount of money avoided. “Many people are given penalties and they pay them,” he admitted. “We seek to be fair, but we want to be a deterrent.”

A FCC spokesman added: “Fare evasion costs the rail industry £400m a year, which is money that could otherwise be invested in better services for our law-abiding, fare paying passengers.”

andrew.papworth@archant.co.uk

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