My question relates specifically to the UK.

Is it legal for a private company, say a train or bus company, to detain you if they determine that you don't have a valid ticket? Furthermore, if it is legal, what rights do you have in such circumstances? Obviously, if you were arrested by the police you would have a given set of rights, but train companies, and the private companies that run the train stations in the UK, whilst government owned, are private companies (if I understand correctly).

2 Answers 2


I'm not a lawyer; I'm not your lawyer.

In this case, if you don't have a valid ticket (or refuse to produce one), and don't provide your name and address, the officer of a railway company may detain you1 (my emphasis):

If a passenger having failed either to produce, or if requested to deliver up, a ticket showing that his fare is paid, or to pay his fare, refuses or fails on request by an officer or servant of a railway company, to give his name and address, any officer of the company may detain him until he can be conveniently brought before some justice or otherwise discharged by due course of law.

Essentially, if you don't have a ticket and are asked to show one, it would seem that you are required to provide either your name and address, or pay your fare.

The only cases I can find where s 5(2) has been cited were:

  • Covington v. Wright [1963] 2 QB 469
    The defendant boarded a bus and travelled further than the fare was paid for. However, being a case involving a bus and a train, one would assume that the legislation and therefore the case is not authoritative for trains. However, the London Passenger Transport Act cited herein seems to have the same effect as the Regulation of Railways Act.
  • Ormiston v. Great Western Railway Company [1917] 1 KB 598
    This case involves a passenger travelling on a valid, first-class ticket, then being detained by a porter who claimed that they had held only a third class ticket. He was released and was not entitled to special damages simply as a result of slander.

On the relevant question of citizens' arrests, it was found later that2:

Court had to consider the question whether it is necessary to allege that the words impute an indictable offence, and it was held that it was not necessary. Pollock B. in giving judgment said: “The expression ‘indictable offence’ seems to have crept into the text-books, but I think the passages in Comyns' Digest are conclusive to shew that words which impute any criminal offence are actionable per se.

That is, the notion that the offence must be indictable seems not to be based in common law.

As for your question about your rights - the power to arrest you though the punishment is only a fine does not support an action for special damage on its own. You should probably consult a lawyer if you are so detained, as there does not seem to be anything in the Act that allows the company to prohibit you from doing so - or from doing else, for that matter, so long as you do not breach the peace or act in some other tortious manner.

You would also likely to be free to pay the fine (or produce the ticket, if you had one and had not done so by this point in time), or provide your name and address. If you were detained without cause - that is, you were not given the option to supply your name, or not given the opportunity to produce your ticket or pay the balance of the fare, then you may be entitled to damages under a claim of an action of false imprisonment.

Apologies for the lack of links to the cases - I've used paid databases so they likely wouldn't work, but you can try to find these cases in BAILII or some other database you might have access to.

1. Regulation of Railways Act 1889 52 & 53 Vict c 57 s 5(2)
This legislation has had numerous amendments and restrictions applied - you should consider the full extent of these as applicable to the specific location where such an incident occurs.
2. Hellwig v Mitchell [1910] 1 KB 609

  • As far as the UK railways are concerned, the Railway Bye-Laws and National Rail Conditions of Carriage are also relevant, and may apply to systems which have been excluded from RRA coverage. Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 10:57

The custom you are asking about is generally known as Citizen's arrest, and a good overview of relevant law by country is given on that Wikipedia page.

In particular, when you are suspected of stealing from a company there is a common law "shopkeeper's privilege" that allows for reasonable detention.

  • 4
    I don't think citizen's arrest applies to this situation -- Wiki says it's only for indictable offenses (equivalent to a felony in the US), and I'm pretty sure getting on a bus or train without a valid ticket isn't an indictable offense.
    – cpast
    Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 15:48
  • @cpast Hellwig v Mitchell [1910] 1 KB 609 is definitive that this is not required - all that is required is the reasonable belief that any offence has been committed.
    – Dale M
    Commented Jul 3, 2015 at 4:06
  • @Dale Do you have any cites more recent than that, and more recent than the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which set up the modern UK arrest framework (and in which any-person arrest must be for an indictable offense)? Laws change, and I'm not sure the 1910 case still applies given the 1984 act.
    – cpast
    Commented Jul 3, 2015 at 4:15
  • Shopkeeper's privilege is apparently a US doctrine, and it is about theft property of property from shops. This is a question about the UK, and while there are similarities, taking a train journey without authority to travel is not theft.
    – bdsl
    Commented Aug 19, 2017 at 23:01

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