Dominic Lund-Conlon doesn’t like my previous blog about how he told all Train Operating Companies (TOCs) to cancel and refuse all disabled peoples’ assistance bookings during Hurricane Eunice. He has got the lawyers that Private Eye colloquially call “Carter Fuck“ to send me this legal letter purportedly alleging I defamed him.
His letter seems to boil down to these points.
- Rail Delivery Group (RDG)’s “Customer Information Group (“CIG”)” made the decision to cancel and refuse assistance bookings, not our Dom.
- Dom “suggested emailing the ORR (Office of Rail and Road) “to set out the situation”.” “That course of action was approved.” “There was no suggestion that Dom would “ask” the ORR what ought to be done”
- My allegations unfairly undermine his excellent record in fighting for disableds.
- The ORR wrote to me to say that all was A-OK regarding the cancellations, but I published my blog post anyway.
- He is unhappy and thus he and/or his employers spent a lot of rail passengers’ / tax-payers money to get lawyers to have a moan at me (and not to actually threaten or ask me to do anything.)
I’m not going to bore you all by responding point-by-point, but I shall tackle these main issues head-on.
1. RDG’s “Customer Information Group (CIG)” decided to cancel and refuse bookings, not Dom
Dom’s lawyers helpfully explained the hierarchy at RDG.
“The Customer Board sits above the Customer Information Strategy Group (“CISG”), which itself heads two sub-groups: the Customer Information Group (“CIG”), which deals with issues related to customer information, and the Accessibility & Inclusion Group (“A&IG”), which deals with issues regarding compliance with licence-linked accessibility requirements (including the provision of pre-booked assistance to passengers)“. (my emphasis)
A pretty clear split of responsibilities: Customer Info = CIG. Accessibility, including passenger assistance = Accessibility & Inclusion Group (AIG). Two separate groups with separate responsibilities.
According to Dom, the CIG made the decision to cancel and refuse all assistance bookings. Not the AIG. The CIG made the decision as part of much wider decisions at a (seemingly informal, unrecorded and unminuted) phone call meeting. Accountable it is not.
I’m prepared to believe that it is possible that this unaccountable group (whose existence, mandate, responsibilities and processes are not published nor transparent, but which as we have found specifically does NOT include responsibility for passenger assistance) somehow made the momentous decision to (tell Dom to) instruct all train operating companies (TOCs) to cancel and refuse all assistance bookings during Storm Eunice, even though trains were still running. Dom wasn’t there; neither, apparently, were any of the accessibility and inclusion managers (AIMs) at any of the TOCs or Network Rail. Interestingly, neither was anybody from Transport for Wales – “There was no meeting with RDG at which TfW Rail was in attendance where this decision was made” -so who was there to decide to cancel all assistance bookings across the industry? what was their remit? and what process were they following?
RDG then instructed Dominic to disseminate the CIG’s decision to all TOCs’ accessibility managers. When he did so, he didn’t say “all TOCs have agreed this in a CIG meeting“, he simply sent out orders (seemingly on his / RDG’s non-existent authority) and assumed that TOCs would follow them. He made no indication as to what decision he was implementing, or who made it.
2. Dom “suggested emailing the ORR “to set out the situation”.” “That course of action was approved.” “There was no suggestion that Dom would “ask” the ORR what ought to be done”
Let’s get the actual messages, should we? In time order, emphasis added:
- GTR: “we would appreciate industry clarity whether we should/could cancel booked travel altogether over this period as to take a booking for a journey that we know is highly likely to be disrupted may set an unrealistic expectation. Conversely, refusing a booking, as we know goes against everything we would normally do, so this is uncharted territory. Appreciate urgent guidance on this“
- Dom: “If “Do Not Travel” is in place, then you can’t offer journeys that you are actively telling all customers not to make. I will email the ORR to set out the situation if the group would like me to?“
- GTR: “Getting ORR confirmation asap would be much appreciated.“
- LNER: “Yes please – obviously we kind of need a response in hours so hopefully they’ll understand the urgency.“
It’s pretty clear to me that the two TOCs who responded to our Dom’s kind offer were asking for a confirmatory “OK” before going ahead. They didn’t approve Dom telling the ORR what the decision was; they wanted Dom to seek confirmation from the ORR that the proposed course of action was OK.
Dom didn’t seek any such thing. He didn’t say: “I’ve told TOC AIMs to cancel and refuse all assistance, they’ve asked me to seek ORR confirmation, can you oblige?“. He didn’t even say “the CIG has decided TOCs should cancel and refuse all bookings.” He simply told them: “all train operators are undertaking proactive contact with customers who are booked to travel on Friday to rearrange their planned journeys“, and “members will be not accepting any new booking requests from customers for Friday.”
That quite simply wasn’t true, as we have established. I.e. Dom lied to the regulator, claiming that the industry was cancelling and refusing all assistance, whereas in fact, it seems only one TOC (out of 20) was actually doing so.
I stand by what I said in my original post: Dom “does NOT have the power to instruct RDG’s members to do anything, nor the right to lie to the ORR.”
3. My allegations unfairly paint him in a negative light and undermine his excellent record in fighting for disableds.
That is not my opinion of him, nor is it the opinion of a significant number of other disabled people.
Some disabled people think Dom is a misogynist and a bully. I think he is a two-faced yes-man, touting his ableist industry and employer’s self-congratulatory back-slapping whilst failing to deliver disabled passenger’s rights (e.g. the supposedly-all-singing-all-dancing Passenger Assist app). In my opinion, he also engages in gaslighting and undermining other disabled passengers’ voices. I think that far from my blog post “striking at the heart of our client’s professional reputation”, it actually endorses much of the disabled community’s view of him, more like.
In any case, what I posted is fundamentally true. OK; the actual decision was made by an unaccountable RDG-hosted group acting outside of its remit; however he didn’t tell any AIMs how the decision was made, he simply ordered them to cancel and refuse bookings then lied to the ORR that they were already doing it. He didn’t ask for the ORR’s approval (i.e. he defied the clear wishes of those TOCs he represents.) So in my opinion he has undermined himself, in his usual inimical high-handed bullying style.
4. The ORR wrote to me to say that all was A-OK regarding the cancellations, but I published my blog post anyway.
The ORR’s letter was based upon Dom’s lie.
ORR: “On the 17th February the rail industry took the decision to proactively contact all passengers that had booked assistance on journeys due to take place on 18th and 19th February, in order to cancel and (where possible) rearrange these bookings. They also decided to stop taking any further bookings for assistance for this period. We were informed of this decision at noon on the 17th.”
“The rail industry” did no such thing. As we have established, the RDG’s Customer Information Group, which had no responsibility for accessibilty, unilaterally made this decision. Nearly all Train Operating Companies then ignored the order.
It is apparent that the ORR had taken Dom’s inaccurate claim at face value (as they should be able to!) and had written their response to me accordingly. Their conclusion was based on Dom’s inaccurate and untrue statement. It was reasonable for me to continue to publish my blog.
The ORR emailed me again a week later:
“Thank you for your emails, and the further information that you’ve provided. We have also read your blog on this issue …. We’ll be involved in follow up discussions with industry to understand what can be learnt from this event. We’ll be looking at the decisions made, who made them, and who provided what information. We will work with industry to ensure that any relevant learning is incorporated where appropriate into policy and training.”
I stand by my blog and would argue that the ORR’s response on the issue was irrelevant as they were working on wholly inaccurate information (provided by our Dom.)
5. He is unhappy and thus he and his employers spent a lot of rail passengers’ / tax-payers money to get lawyers to have a moan at me (and not to actually threaten or ask anything.)
It really isn’t a good look. It would have been a much better look for our Dom and the RDG to apologise and explain what they’ve learnt from the experience. His OTT tantrum has simply brought more attention to him and his employer for failing disabled passengers during the storm and has affirmed my opinion (shared by many) that both he and RDG should JUST GO, as the self-important, bullying, non-delivering, ableist apologists and liabilities to disabled people they are.
(note to Dom: I know you’re reading – you could do with reading about the Streisand Effect.)