Stationmaster ‘hounded out of job’ after his dog is banned from ticket office

A stationmaster claims he has been forced to quit his job after his dog was banned from the ticket office by rail bosses. 

Richard Bunce and his dog George had become a popular fixture at Horsley station in East Horsley, Surrey, with a parish council recently describing them as “our greatest asset”. 

The 54-year-old has overseen the station for the past two years and even helped secure it a nomination for “best small station” at the National Rail Awards over the summer.

There was outrage in the village, therefore, when Mr Bunce announced he would have to leave his role because his canine companion had been banished from the office. 

George, a German wirehaired pointer, had come to the attention of bosses at South Western Railway (SWR), which manages the station, after its presence was mentioned in passing in a so-called “mystery shopper” review. 

The rail operator said it had a policy across its network which forbids dogs being brought into the workplace. 

Faced with the prospect of unaffordable fees for alternative accommodation for George during the working day, Mr Bunce decided he could no longer stay in his role.

News of their plight eventually led to the emergence of allies in high places on Friday, as Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, waded into the row.

Sad to hear that @SW_Help planning to dispense with the services of George the station dog, along with his owner station master Richard Bunce. Sounds like RUFF justice to me! A little less tick-boxing would brighten up everyone’s day.

— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) November 5, 2021

Mr Shapps wrote on Twitter: “Sad to hear that (SWR) planning to dispense with the services of George the station dog, along with his owner station master Richard Bunce. Sounds like ruff justice to me! A little less tick-boxing would brighten up everyone’s day.”

Pressure had been building since a petition online picked up more than 2,000 signatures and won the support of East Horsley Parish Council. 

Richard Bunce and his dog George have received support from Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary

Credit: Rex Butcher

The parish council put out a call for the petition to be supported on its social media page, writing:  “We are all disappointed to hear that Richard Bunce, our wonderful Horsley Station Master, and his dog George, are leaving the station due to SWR regulations on ‘no dogs allowed at work’.”

The petition similarly praised Mr Bunce for the “clean, tidy and friendly” upkeep of the station which had been a “labour of love for him”.

Mr Bunce first started taking George into work several years ago, because he worked there alone during the day and appreciated the company. 

Commuters at the station soon took a shine to the dog, who spends most of his time sitting in the ticket office, and some began bringing him treats, but SWR soon contacted him to let him know he could no longer bring George to work.

Mr Bunce told the news website: “I have to leave the position because there isn’t a cost-effective way of doing it.”

There was, however, the possibility of a reprieve on Friday after SWR indicated that it was considering whether to make an exception for Mr Bunce and George.

A spokesman for the rail company said: “While we don’t allow dogs to be brought into workplaces across our network, we recognise the strength of feeling in Horsley and are looking into the individual circumstances of this case.”

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