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Jeremy Corbyn turns on Sir Richard Branson amid 'ram-packed' train controversy

Published 24/08/2016

Embargoed to 0001 Wednesday August 24 File photo dated 22/08/16 of Labour leadership candidate Owen Smith who has promised to attempt to block the triggering of formal negotiations to leave the European Union until the Government offers a second referendum or calls a general election to approve its final Brexit deal.
Embargoed to 0001 Wednesday August 24 File photo dated 22/08/16 of Labour leadership candidate Owen Smith who has promised to attempt to block the triggering of formal negotiations to leave the European Union until the Government offers a second referendum or calls a general election to approve its final Brexit deal.

Jeremy Corbyn has angrily turned on Sir Richard Branson and the media as the controversy over his "ram-packed" train claim continued to dog him .

The Labour leader was clearly annoyed when his war of words with Virgin Trains over the incident threatened to dominate a Labour NHS policy launch.

Mr Corbyn also used the occasion to condemn leadership challenger Owen Smith for seeming to refer to him as a "lunatic".

The Labour leader said he did not initially use any of the empty seats on the London to Newcastle train because he wanted two together so he could talk to his wife.

The controversy erupted after Virgin Trains released CCTV images that appeared to show the Labour leader walking by vacant , unreserved seats before he complained on film about crowded carriages.

About forty minutes into the journey, Mr Corbyn and his party were escorted to seats by train staff.

Asked by a journalist if he was a "liar" over the train row, and a "lunatic", Mr Corbyn expressed irritation at the line of questioning, stating: "I was hoping you were going to ask questions about the National Health Service, but sadly you're not. I deplore the use of that language in any context; I don't use it myself and I don't use it today."

Mr Smith apologised to Mr Corbyn if he had offended him when telling supporters: "What you won't get from me is some lunatic at the top of the Labour Party," but the Welsh MP insisted he had been referring to himself, and not his election rival.

Pressed on the train controversy by reporters, Mr Corbyn said: "I'm glad you've watched the CCTV so carefully. It's a really important issue this, absolutely crucial to the future of the whole nation and the NHS.

"But let's get to the details of it - yes, I did walk through the train. Yes, I did look for two empty seats together so I could sit down with my wife to talk to her. That wasn't possible, s o I went to the end of the train.

"The train manager, who was a very nice gentleman, came along and we had a chat about the problems of overcrowding and regulations on the trains, and he said he'd see what he could do.

"After he'd already offered me an upgrade to first class, which I'd declined, h e then very kindly did find some seats, and after 42 minutes I went back through the train to the seats he'd allocated.

"We sat down there and we then conducted a lot of preparatory work for our visit to Newcastle."

Virgin Trains has previously said it was "puzzled" by the suggestion Mr Corbyn was unable to find unreserved seats when he boarded the train because CCTV images appeared to show "they're right next to him".

Sir Richard Branson, who co-owns Virgin Trains with Stagecoach, also got involved in the row on Tuesday, posting a link to the CCTV images on his Twitter account.

Asked why the billionaire has decided to make an issue of seating on the services, Mr Corbyn replied: "I'm very pleased Richard Branson has been able to break off from his holiday to take this issue as seriously, with the importance it obviously deserves.

"I hope he's very well aware of our policy which is that train operating companies should become part of the public realm not the private sector."

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) confirmed it is probing the release of the CCTV images by Virgin Trains.

An ICO spokeswoman said: "All organisations have an obligation to comply with the Data Protection Act and must have legitimate grounds for processing the personal data they hold.

"Where there's a suggestion that this hasn't happened, the ICO has the power to investigate and can take enforcement action if necessary."

A Virgin Trains spokesman said the company had not yet been approached by the ICO, but intended to answer any questions asked.

The spat came as Mr Smith attempted to clarify his "lunatic" comments, telling BBC Radio Four's Today programme: "I was saying that I wasn't a lunatic.

"Having been accused earlier in the evening of running around like a lunatic, I was saying I wasn't a lunatic, but if anybody's offended by the use of that word then I do apologise and I've done that already this morning and I'll do it again.

"But I wasn't talking about Jeremy. I was talking about me."

Meanwhile, Mr Corbyn set out his NHS policies with commitments including ending private finance initiative (PFI) contracts and guaranteeing bursaries for nurses.

In his speech outlining plans to "renationalise" the NHS, Mr Corbyn insisted f ree healthcare is a "right not a luxury".

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