Disabled sailor Geoff Holt MBE tells Channel 4 News of his outrage at being prevented from boarding a train by an “aggressive” guard, and why he felt the need to speak out.
The award-winning quadriplegic was told he could not board a train on the Isle of Wight because his electric wheelchair would damage the floor.
“I thought he was joking at first – this is 2012, not 1912 after all – then realised he was being completely serious,” Mr Holt told Channel 4 News.
The 45-year-old, who was the first quadriplegic sailor to cross the Atlantic solo, told the guard he had made the three-minute journey from Ryde Esplanade to Ryde Pier earlier that day without a problem. But the guard implied that he was lying.
The unnamed guard eventually put down the ramp, but Mr Holt says he did so with such force that the ramp cut his leg and foot in the process.
It just so happens that I do have a public profile and I’m trying to get this out there. But the way I look at it is that he shouldn’t have discriminated against anyone – you shouldn’t treat anyone in such a discriminatory way. Geoff Holt
Island line trains, a division of South West Trains, said the guard had been suspended pending an investigation, and that a representative had apologised to Mr Holt. British Transport Police also said they were investigating the incident.
A spokeswoman told Channel 4 News the company was “horrified” by the incident, and added: “I want to stress how very seriously we’re taking this.”
Mr Holt has been in a wheelchair since a swimming accident 28 years ago, and completed his 2,700-mile transatlantic sail in 2010, finishing at the site of his accident.
He told Channel 4 News that while he often has trouble on public transport, it was the guard’s aggressive, discriminatory attitude that made him so angry.
“I’m not being vindictive. And I don’t like making someone into a scapegoat, but maybe that’s the only way to bring this into the public arena,” he added.
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Mr Holt wrote a powerful and moving blog entry about the incident, which has generated interest in his story. However other disabled travellers may be treated in the same way, but just don’t have the platform to tell their story, he told Channel 4 News.
“It just so happens that I do have a public profile and I’m trying to get this out there,” he said. “But the way I look at it is that he shouldn’t have discriminated against anyone – you shouldn’t treat anyone in such a discriminatory way.”
Mr Holt denied that there is a “systemic” problem in the transport system, adding that staff at his local station, Southampton Parkway, “couldn’t be better”.
“But as a disabled person, every time I travel, it’s at the back of my mind – am I going to be discriminated against?'”