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MP attacks train company over 'humiliation' of Paralympic athlete

A train operator has been accused of being "idiotic" by an MP after a Paralympic athlete was forced to wet herself due to inadequate facilities.

Anne Wafula Strike, a wheelchair racer for Team GB, said she felt "robbed" of her dignity following the incident on the CrossCountry service.

The train's disabled toilet was out of order during an almost three-hour journey from Nuneaton to Stansted in December.

A crew member advised her to get off at the next stop, but she said she was unable to hold on until they reached a station with staff that could help her leave the service.

CrossCountry has apologised to the athlete over the incident.

Her constituency MP Robert Halfon told the Press Association he had raised the issue with rail minister Paul Maynard, who was said to be looking at it "really seriously".

Mr Halfon said: "(Mrs Wafula Strike) is just a can-do, non-complaining person, so for her to do something like (speaking out about the incident) ... shows the depth of despair and humiliation that she's suffered because of this idiotic company.

"I had a letter from them which I thought was complete cock-and-bull, pages and pages going on about cows going on the railway track and therefore the toilets weren't working, then very patronisingly at the end of it offering her free complimentary first-class.

He added: "It's so naff at the end, 'oh, by the way, we humiliated you, but have a sweetie', it was crass, to say the least."

"When I wrote my email to them I said it was not an attitude we should see in the 21st Century."

Mrs Wafula Strike, who was awarded an MBE for services to disability sport and charity, said she was so ashamed by the incident she covered her face on the train in case anyone recognised her.

"I was completely robbed of my dignity by the train company," she told The Guardian.

"I would like to ask the train company when will they give me my dignity back? As a disabled person I have worked so hard over the years to build up my confidence and self-belief.

"Having access to a toilet, especially in a developed nation like the UK, is one of the most basic rights. I tried to conceal the smell of urine by spraying perfume over myself. When I finally got home after my nightmare journey, I scrubbed myself clean in the shower then flung myself on my bed and sobbed for hours."

The operator said there was a train shortage due to some hitting animals, and a decision would have been taken on the day whether to run the service with a broken toilet or cancel it altogether.

A spokesman for CrossCountry said: "Clearly the circumstances of Mrs Strike's journey were unacceptable and we would like to apologise to her for the circumstances she endured.

"This is the first time we're aware of such a situation ever happening on one of our trains and we are still investigating how our established procedures for caring for a customer in a wheelchair could have failed so terribly.

"Mrs Strike has been in touch though her Member of Parliament, and our managing director has offered his sincere apologies. We are determined to learn from these events to ensure our wheelchair customers receive the quality service they expect when travelling by train."

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