Rising tide of crime on Lancashire's railway lines

Preston station
Preston station
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Weapons, thefts and sexual offences are all among the rising tide of crime being reported on Lancashire’s railway.

Transport police are called to hundreds of offences in the county each year – more than one a day – as reports rose by 35 per cent in the last two years.

BTP on patrol

BTP on patrol

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But no offender is identified in almost half of all cases, the Lancashire Post can reveal.

Figures uncovered by the JPI Media Data Unit show just five people were charged in connection with 118 reported thefts on Lancashire’s railway in 2018, most of them from other passengers. One person was dealt with out of court.

Mick Cash, general secretary of the rail union RMT, said: “These are shocking statistics which show that on far too many occasions a criminal act on the railways is a free ride for the perpetrator.

“It’s a reflection of the under-resourcing of the British Transport Police and the drive to axe train and platform staff.

“The solution is investment in staffing and security and a zero tolerance approach that brings to book all those who think they can turn the railway into a criminal’s playground.”

Nationally, just one in ten thefts are solved by police, while half of sex offences go unpunished.

The number of crimes logged by British Transport Police rose by 30 per cent in the two years to 2018, with more than 66,000 offences on trains, tracks and stations last year.

And although officer numbers have risen slightly, the rate of unsolved cases has remained stubbornly high, at around 60 per cent, for the past three years.

There were 447 reported offences on trains and in stations in Lancashire in 2018. The figures do not include Blackpool or Blackburn where there were 51 and 79 reports respectively.

Just 17 per cent of investigations in Lancashire led to a charge, with 49 per cent closed without a suspect ever being identified.

Across the whole of Britain, some 91 per cent of thefts of passenger property went unsolved – with cases either shelved because no suspect had been identified in England and Wales or logged as ‘undetected’ in Scotland.

In 2018, 15 sexual offences were reported in Lancashire. Less than half of investigations, six, led to a charge. Five were closed with no suspect ever identified.

Offences reported include sexual assaults at Preston and Lancaster, outraging public decency and exposure.

The most commonly reported offences in Lancashire last year were serious public disorder (104), theft from a passenger (95), violence (86) and drugs offences (29).

Assistant Chief Constable Robin Smith, from British Transport Police, said crime on the railways remains “incredibly low”, with fewer than one journey in a million involving any kind of violence.

He said: “With such a rise in passenger journeys in recent years, we anticipated there to be a subsequent rise in crime.

“However, we are not complacent and have put in measures to tackle crime head-on. This includes dedicated proactive patrols to root out violence and knife crime, removing weapons from the streets and preventing people from coming to harm.

“We also conduct a great number of highly visible as well as plain clothes patrols to identify pickpockets, or those exploiting the crowded network to commit sexual offences.

“Fortunately, the majority of crimes reported to BTP result in no injury coming to a victim, such as theft, common assault or vandalism. Nevertheless, we understand these crimes are concerning for passengers, and I would like to reassure them that we are completely committed to reducing and preventing crime.”

Diana Fawcett, chief officer of the charity Victim Support, said: “People should feel safe going about their daily lives and confident that if they report a crime they will get the justice they deserve.

“In cases where a suspect is not identified it’s important that the reasons behind this are explained to the victim so they don’t just feel that their case has been dropped.

“This news has the potential to undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system and could deter people from coming forward to report a crime in the future.”