Six arrests a day on railways spark police merger worries

From ‘The Herald’ Wednesday 15/02/17

SIX arrests a day were made on Scotland’s railways last year prompting claims that Police Scotland could be overwhelmed if a planned merger with British Transport Police goes ahead.

More than 13,000 arrests have been made since 2011 on trains and at stations in Scotland leading to claims passengers and rail staff could be put at risk if BTP is incorporated into Scotland’s single Police force. BTP officers make thousands of arrests every year, including hundreds for assault on staff and alcohol-related offences, new figures obtained by the Scottish Conservatives have shown. There have already been warnings from rail bosses this week who fear that officers dealing with transport incidents could end up getting called away on other duties.

In December, the Scottish Government published a bill to take over railway policing from the BTP. It promised to protect the jobs, pay and pension conditions of BTP staff while the force is integrated with the country’s national police force.

Powers over railway policing were devolved to the Scottish Parliament through the passing of the Scotland Act last year. But the plans have been criticised by senior BTP officers through the consultation process. Now the Scottish Conservatives have questioned whether the single force is ready to deal with the dozens of additional incidents which occur on trains every week north of the border. The new figures showed BTP made 2,023 arrests last year, as well as 110 arrests in the first few weeks of 2017 alone. Of the incidents last year, 221 related to alcohol, while 197 arrests followed allegations of verbal or physical assaults on a staff member. In total, since 2011, there have been more than 1,000 assaults on workers.

Scottish Conservative transport spokesman Liam Kerr said: “The sheer numbers involved here show that taking away a dedicated service like the British Transport Police is a bad idea. What’s more, these are serious cases involving physical assault on staff and the abuse of alcohol. Passengers and staff alike respect the BTP and the job they do. Many suspect the motivation behind this move is for the SNP to get rid of the word ‘British’ from Scotland’s railways, and replace it with the word ‘Scotland’. If this move jeopardises the safety of workers and passengers, as these statistics suggest it might, then it must be resisted.”

Last week, Scotrail said it feared a loss of expertise if the plan goes ahead, while officers themselves have pointed to a number of potential pitfalls that could occur as a result of the move. In December BTP representatives told Holyrood’s Justice Committee they feared the special skills of transport officers could be “diluted” and questioned whether the “seamless” cross-border policing standards could be maintained. BTP Deputy Chief Constable Adrian Hanstock told MSPs: “If it’s not broken, what are we trying to fix? Why does BTP exist now if it’s so easy to absorb it into a geographic force? There’s a reason why the specialism is so valued by the industry and passengers – it hasn’t just emerged out of a want from some enthusiasts. There’s a real need for policing the railway in a different way”.

Last night a Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “As Police Scotland have made clear, specialist railway policing expertise and capacity will be maintained and protected within the broader structure of Police Scotland, with improved access to wider support facilities and specialist equipment, providing an enhanced service provision to the rail industry and travelling public. Devolution of BTP was recommended by the Smith Commission, reached through cross-party agreement and integration will also ensure railway policing is fully accountable to the Scottish Parliament.”