Sailor meets train bosses over wheelchair row

By David Newble

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

 

Sailor meets train bosses over wheelchair row

Sailor Geoff Holt, who has met with train company bosses over a complaint about access. Picture courtesy of geoffholt.com

UPDATED 22:11*

A QUADRIPLEGIC sailor who said he was left shaking with rage after he was told he could not board an Isle of Wight train in his electric wheelchair has met with the company today (Wednesday).

Geoff Holt, 45, the first quadriplegic sailor to sail round the British Isles single-handed and the first to cross the Atlantic, said he was made to feel like a piece of dirt during a dispute with a guard while trying to board a train at Ryde Pier on Saturday.

He posted details of the incident on his website and the episode made headlines around the world, prompting IslandLine to suspend a member of staff and launch an investigation.

He has since removed the website posting and said in a new entry, posted ahead of a meeting with the company today, he was not 'intent on revenge’.

Mr Holt, who had been on the Isle of Wight to watch his son play rugby, said he was grateful for the messages of support he received from around the world after the story was reported.

He added: "That feeling of outrage has not gone away. Through the internet and the media, my story has caused an outcry from able-bodied and disabled people alike, and rightly so."

He said British Transport Police had logged his report of common assault, following his allegation he was hit with a ramp thrown on to the platform.

Mr Holt, of Botley, near Southampton, stated: "I am not intent on revenge, all I want is for lessons to be learned so others do not experience what I went through."

In a statement issued following today's meeting, Jake Kelly, customer service director for South West Trains, which operates IslandLine, said: "I had a very positive and constructive meeting with Mr Holt this morning and would like to thank him for accepting our apology for his recent bad experience. 

"I was also pleased to hear some good feedback from Mr Holt about help he has received from other members of our team and his positive experiences of travelling to London on our services.

"As we discussed at our meeting, we are committed to welcoming passengers with disabilities on to our network and providing them with every assistance we can.

"We have already started a programme to improve our disability training and we are planning to work with disability organisations as part of that initiative.

"We were all shocked by the incident reported by Mr Holt and we are continuing to take it extremely seriously.

"We are working to complete the ongoing investigation as quickly as possible."

*Writing on his website after the meeting, Mr Holt said: "I have been asked to give some of my free time to assist in a series of measures which form a recently announced review by SWT as to how they best support customers with disabilities. 

"I am pleased to be asked, and I have accepted. Amongst other things, the review will include aspects of training and obviously, better clarification on the difference between wheelchairs and mobility scooters.  I feel I can achieve far more by working with SWT than pursuing a legal agenda.

"As for the guard concerned, I am prepared to accept that there was a genuine misunderstanding on his behalf between what constitutes a mobility scooter and a wheelchair which highlights a SWT training issue. 

"His behaviour subsequently was his own doing and SWT have assured me that they have their own robust investigation and disciplinary systems.

Mr Holt said he had therefore taken the decision to ask British Transport Police not to pursue the allegation of common assault.

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