Exclusive: Violent crime on rise on Yorkshire's railways

Forty per cent of violent crimes on Yorkshire's railways last year happened in Leeds
Forty per cent of violent crimes on Yorkshire's railways last year happened in Leeds

The number of violent crimes on Yorkshire’s railways has more than doubled in two years, The Yorkshire Post can exclusively reveal.

There are now ten violent crimes recorded on the region’s tracks and in its railway stations every week on average, with around half of them happening on the weekends, data released under the Freedom of Information Act shows.

British Transport Police (BTP), which released the information, has said it is facing “challenges” as stations in cities like Leeds and York increasingly become entertainment hubs for the night-time economy.

And with a national surge in knife and gun crime across the country reigniting the heated debate over under-pressure police budgets, the organisation representing rank-and-file officers said the figures “show the importance of regularly reviewing the demands on the force and staffing those demands appropriately”.

The doubling of violent crimes on the region’s railways between 2015 and 2017 coincided with a seven per cent cut in BTP’s officer numbers across the country.

The data also reveals that there were 24 crimes involving knives or other offensive weapons on Yorkshire’s railways last year, a five-year high.

Superintendent Dave Oram, of BTP, said like most police forces, they had seen an increase in recorded crime.

He said this was partly due to increasing passenger numbers as well as victims feeling more confident in reporting crime.

He said: “Stations like Leeds and York are also becoming entertainment hubs attracting more people to their shops, bars and coffee shops.

“In Leeds we police many bars and clubs as part of the night time economy, which brings its own challenges.

“Each weekend we have extra officers out at stations and on board trains undertaking late night patrols to reassure passengers.

“We also recently launched a Taxi Watch scheme at Leeds to help drive down the number of assaults towards drivers and passengers by late-night revellers.

“We have seen an increase in violence against the person. However, a high percentage of these crimes are verbal abuse or common assault, which results in no injury to the victim.

“Nevertheless, we will continue to work proactively in hotspot areas to target the small minority who are intent on causing trouble.”

A spokeswoman for the BTP Police Federation said: “The railway environment is not immune to the increases in crime seen across the country in recent years. These figures show the importance of regularly reviewing the demands on the force and staffing those demands appropriately.

“Our colleagues are committed and dedicated railway specialists and we would like to see more being done to retain that experience.”

She said the federation welcomed an ongoing drive by BTP to recruit new officers.

Last month, Home Secretary Sajid Javid vowed to prioritise police spending as he offered an olive branch to rank-and-file officers following years of sniping over budget cuts and staffing reductions.

Addressing the annual conference of the Police Federation of England and Wales, Mr Javid struck a softer tone than his two predecessors, pledging to provide “tools, the powers and the back-up that you need to get the job done”.

Yorkshire's railways are in danger of becoming “a playground for thugs, thieves and drunks”, a rail workers’ union has warned.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers’ (RMT) union, which is locked in a long-running dispute with operator Northern over the future of guards on trains and has staged a series of walk-outs, said the figures were “shocking”.

General Secretary Mick Cash said: “If anyone wants to know why RMT is fighting to keep a guard on the trains, they only have to look at this surge in violent crime on the railways.

“The destaffing of trains and stations in the name of profit leaves the railway as a playground for thugs, thieves and drunks. The threat to axe yet more safety critical staff must be lifted immediately.”

Northern did not respond to a request for comment.

The new data was released by British Transport Police (BTP), which is responsible for policing trains, stations and railway tracks across England, Wales and Scotland.

Supt Oram said the chances of anyone being caught up in violence on Yorkshire’s railways remained low.

He said: “Like most police forces we have also seen an increase in recorded crimes across the Yorkshire area.

“Despite this increase, and to put it in context, the chance of you becoming a victim of crime on the railway remains low, with just 16 crimes for every million journeys made on our railways.

“This increase is due to a number of factors; the rail network is expanding rapidly, last year there were 987 million more journeys on Britain’s trains compared to 10 years ago.

“We have also found that victims and witnesses are feeling more confident to report crime to us, thanks in part to our discreet and convenient text 61016 service, and targeted campaigns to encourage reporting of crime that previously may have been under-reported.

“Our Report It To Stop It campaign aimed at driving down sexual offences and We Stand Together aimed at encouraging reporting of hate crime are both examples of the efforts we’re making to encourage victims to report offences.”

While Leeds accounted for 40 per cent of the violent crime on Yorkshire’s railways last year, every part of the region was affected.

There have also been steep rises in sexual offences, the theft of passenger property and criminal damage across Yorkshire, the data shows.

There were a total of 389 crimes of all types recorded by BTP in North Yorkshire last year, a 12 per cent rise on the year before.

In East Yorkshire, the number of crimes rose by 10 per cent year-on-year, to 252.

In South Yorkshire, overall crime recorded by BTP rose by three per cent, to 648.

In West Yorkshire, the number of crimes rose by eight per cent year-on-year, to 1,720.

People who commit crimes on the region’s railways are often hauled before the courts.

Last month, a group of eight teenagers who trashed carriages on a historic train on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway were given a variety of punishments and fines.

The group broke into carriages on one of the railways 1930s Gresley Teak Set trains stationed at Pickering station on July 23 last year.

Every light fitting was smashed, mirrors were broken, furniture ripped and wooden panels damaged. Food and wine stolen from the train was also eaten and drunk by the group and thrown over the carriages. The damage was discovered by a member of rail staff and has cost more than £27,000 to repair.