Virgin today has claimed that, in effect, Jeremy Corbyn staged the video of him sitting on the floor of a full train, insisting that there were seats available and releasing CCTV footage of him walking along the train past – they claim – empty and unreserved seats, as well as empty and reserved seats that he could have taken.
Scandalously, BBC News continues (as of 8.20pm) to cover the ‘row’ as if there is still any dispute about the matter, when there is already ample evidence that the facts completely support Corbyn’s account.
Virgin’s statement reads:
Seats were available on the train in which Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn was filmed sitting on the floor, Virgin Trains has found.
Film footage released to the media showed Mr Corbyn sitting on the floor of a three-hour Virgin Trains service from London to Newcastle claiming it was “ram-packed”.
CCTV footage taken from the train on August 11 shows Mr Corbyn and his team walked past empty, unreserved seats in coach H before walking through the rest of the train to the far end, where his team sat on the floor and started filming.
The same footage then shows Mr Corbyn returning to coach H and taking a seat there, with the help of the onboard crew, around 45 minutes into the journey and over two hours before the train reached Newcastle. Mr Corbyn’s team carried out their filming around 30 minutes into the journey.
There were also additional empty seats on the train (the 11am departure from King’s Cross) which appear from CCTV to have been reserved but not taken, so they were also available for other passengers to sit on…We’d encourage Jeremy to book ahead next time he travels with us, both to reserve a seat and to ensure he gets our lowest fares
However, the footage released by Virgin is extremely unclear – from the camera angle shown, seats that appear empty in stills turn out to be occupied, as can be clearly seen if you watch the 13-second footage that the BBC has been using carefully.
Numerous eye-witnesses have come forward to state that the train was exactly as full as Corbyn described – often saying that they themselves had to stand for much of the journey – including images of themselves on the packed train. Here are some:
Even The Independent, hardly known for a pro-Corbyn bias, is covering the refutations of those who were there.
To give the BBC just a tiny bit of credit, they do end their coverage with a mention that some people dispute Virgin’s account, but when it’s perfectly clear that there’s no ‘controversy’, they’re stooping very low to frame it as if there is and to spend the majority of the piece talking as if there’s any merit in Virgin’s claims.
True to form, ‘chicken coup’ Labour MPs such as the lamentable Chris Bryant and the hideous John Spellar jumped all over the issue without any concern for its truthfulness or otherwise:
I won’t hold my breath waiting for the retractions and apologies that any honourable person would be quick to issue – nor the prominent corrections BBC News and other media should be running to put right their eagerness to mislead the public (and getting caught doing it).
Oh, and on Branson’s snide “We’d encourage Jeremy to book ahead next time”, this – on a different date – is worth knowing about:
I expect that Jeremy Corbyn misses a lot of trains for similar reasons, but the desperately awful Dan Hodges tried to use the train incident to criticise Corbyn’s leadership abilities:
A party leader that cares about people more than he cares about making a train on which he’s booked a seat – and would rather sit on the floor than upgrade to hobnob in first class – is the kind of leader I want running the country. As I’m sure most sensible people would.
However, there is another key question to address: that Virgin may have broken data protection laws in apparent eagerness to protect their commercial interests by making a politician who is unashamedly on record as wanting to re-nationalise a key money-spinner.
The ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) has jurisdiction over the Data Protection Act and over companies’ handling of information that they collect about us – including CCTV footage. Here’s what the ICO says (highlighting mine) about the proper use of CCTV recordings:
There’s nothing whatever in the rules that states a company can release CCTV of an identifiable person in order to shore up their commercial reputation that might be damaged by revelations of over-full trains (although Corbyn only talks about general overcrowding issues, not Virgin’s).
By releasing it online and to the BBC so that the BBC can use it for entertainment – which BBC News undoubtedly is – both organisations appear to have contravened the ICO’s specific prohibition, since the BBC is evidently not protecting Corbyn’s identity as adherence to the Data Protection Act requires.
So, what do we actually have here? Is it a case of, as Spellar claimed on Twitter, a case of Corbyn’s team attempting a media stunt and failing?
Or is it a case of a business trying to protect its commercial interests by undermining someone who has said he would nationalise their industry, a set of MPs making fools of themselves in their desperation to undermine Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaign and a broadcaster all too ready to breach not only the ICO’s clear prohibition against such use of the footage but, arguably, to have engaged in slander against Jeremy Corbyn?
It’s clearly not the first.
Edit 24/8: Since the media continue to present video footage as though it proves Virgin’s case, I’ve done an analysis of the footage here, in which you can see that supposedly empty seats are anything but.
Edit: for more information and some clear video footage that WordPress won’t allow me to embed here (though YouTube footage is linked in the early part of this article, read Tom Pride’s excellent article.
2nd edit: this tweet by the ICO suggests Branson, Virgin and the BBC could find themselves in hot water
especially in view of this: