Tube driver who led chant of ‘free, free Palestine’ on London Underground train is suspended, TFL says
- Tube driver who led ‘free, free Palestine’ chant has been suspended by TfL
A Tube driver who led a chant of ‘free, free Palestine’ on a London Underground train on Saturday has been suspended pending further investigation into the incident, Transport for London has said.
The incident happened on Saturday as around 100,000 protesters took part in a pro-Palestinian demonstration.
Footage posted online by a journalist appeared to show the chant being led over the train’s speaker system by the Tube driver.
The driver of the Central Line service said ‘free, free’ to which the passengers responded ‘Palestine’ – a popular chant at protests – leading to pressure to sack the driver.
Glynn Barton, TfL’s chief operating officer, said: ‘We have been urgently and thoroughly investigating the footage appearing to show a Tube driver misusing the PA system and leading chants on a Central Line train on Saturday.
‘A driver has now been identified and suspended whilst we continue to fully investigate the incident in line with our policies and procedures.’
Video circulating online appears to show the Central Line driver leading a chant of ‘Free, free Palestine’ for the hundreds of people packed tightly into busy train
Those on the Tube train could be seen joining in with the driver’s chants
The chant was criticised by minister for London Paul Scully who said Tube staff should ‘focus on the day job’ and warned against stoking tension in the capital.
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The Israeli Embassy said: ‘It is deeply troubling to see such intolerance on London’s Tubes… public transport should be a place of safety and inclusivity for all.’
Video circulating online appears to show the Central Line driver leading a chant of ‘Free, free Palestine’ for the hundreds of people packed tightly into busy train.
Others aboard the train previously claimed that the driver told his passengers that he wanted to join the protest, but that he had not been able to get the day off, before encouraging them to chant: ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.’
This chant is a controversial form of protest which some argue is inherently anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic – something which Palestinians and their supporters deny.
The Met Police this week issued updated guidance around the chant due to the strength of feeling which it evokes, saying officers will not be treating it as unlawful unless it is specifically used to intimidate members of the Jewish community.
‘BTP are working with Transport for London and investigating the matter.’
Rishi Sunak mentioned the issue in the Commons today, telling MPs: ‘The Government is clear that everyone should have the right to travel safely and without intimidation and I would also hope the Mayor of London, and the others responsible for transport, would take steps to make sure that is the case.’
As hundreds of protesters boarded the Central Line underground train at Bond Street for the short journey to Marble Arch just after midday, those onboard previously claimed that the driver announced: ‘Sorry I can’t join your protest today, I couldn’t get the day off work. But you have my full support. Join me in chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”.’
Amongst the passengers was Wendy Henry, who previously said: ‘I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The driver wanted to whip up anti-Israeli feelings, and the atmosphere turned very ugly, very quickly.
‘The noise in the carriages from the pro-Palestinian demonstrators was deafening and aggressive. The driver should have been concerned about safety for all the passengers yet he set about encouraging intimidating and hostile sloganeering.
‘Transport for London should launch an immediate investigation into his actions. His whole intention was to whip up mob feeling. Although I felt very angry, I wasn’t that surprised this was happening in Sadiq Khan’s London.’
Thousands took to the streets in London on Saturday to take part in peaceful protests in solidarity with the Palestinian people
Protesters during a pro-Palestine march organised by Stop the War Coalition and Palestine Solidarity Campaign in central London
She continued: ‘I have lived and worked in London for over forty years and it’s fair to say I have never felt so vulnerable and isolated.’
But many of those onboard disagreed, and video footage showed the driver being cheered and applauded by passengers who appeared to be in good spirits.
Pro-Palestinian protesters in central London also chanted ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’, despite the ongoing controversy around the slogan’s meaning.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman has previously branded the slogan antisemitic and claimed that it is ‘widely understood’ to call for the destruction of Israel.
While Jewish groups including the Board of Deputies, Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust, have asked prosecutors to clarify if chanting the slogan is a criminal offence.
However, those who defend the slogan describe it as a ‘long-standing protest chant’ that calls for a homeland for the Palestinian people.
Minister for London Paul Scully said staff should ‘focus on the day job’ and warned against stoking tension in the capital.
He previously said: ‘At a time when there’s not enough emphasis on the difference between the horrific terrorist attacks by Hamas and the legitimate concerns of Palestinians in Gaza, it’s really important that Londoners don’t stoke the tension in our capital where Jews live peacefully alongside Muslims.
‘Informed protest can bring change. But on-trend bandwagons can cause rifts and fear in communities, increasing the threat to the safety of some passengers travelling among those crowds.’
He suggested Labour mayor Sadiq Khan and Transport for London (TfL) ‘need to get staff focused on the day job of safely moving people from A to B’.
The Metropolitan Police said British Transport Police were aware of the incident and making enquiries.
Security minister Tom Tugendhat wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter: ‘London’s tube’s are for everyone. Many will find this intimidating.’
On Saturday British Transport Police Assistant Chief Constable Sean O’Callaghan said the force was investigating and was ‘aware of footage circulating on social media which suggests chants are led by driver of a train in London earlier’.
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