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BTP halts plan to scrap Sexual Offences Unit for London Underground

Plans to scrap the dedicated police unit for tackling sexual offences on the London Underground despite a rise in complaints have been halted after protests by feminist campaigners and unions.

British Transport Police (BTP) initially said on 24 March that they were breaking up the London-based Sexual Offences Unit and transferring responsibility for tackling sexual offences to the police at large, saying they wanted to ensure that the unit’s experience was “captured, standardised and embedded as best practice” on a national level.

However, they announced on 1 April that they were suspending the decision and carrying out a review of the plans following feedback.

Mark Newton, assistant chief constable of BTP, said: “As a result of our two most recent highly successful campaigns – ‘Project Guardian’ and ‘Report It to Stop It’ – we are pleased that victims have shown courage, and trusted in us, by reporting these types of offences.

“We now want to build on that trust and ensure that we not only deal effectively with each and every case that is reported to us, but that we also look at ways to prevent the offences from happening in the first place.

“Through our crime review we are committed to ensuring that more of our officers have the skills to support vulnerable victims and are given specialist training to target and prosecute offenders.

“However, over the past week, we have listened carefully to the views being expressed about the decision to absorb officers from the Sexual Offences Unit in London into our wider crime investigation plans and acknowledge that this may unintentionally have caused concern.

“This concern undermines everything we are trying to achieve. That is why we have decided to halt any proposed changes to the Sexual Offences Unit whilst we carry out an urgent review of the implications of this decision, to see whether it remains valid in light of the feedback we have received.”

The BTP’s ‘Report It to Stop It’ anti-sexual harassment campaign led to a 36% increase in reports of offences, despite a 12.4% decrease in crimes on the Underground overall. It built on a 2013 campaign, Project Guardian.

The campaign group End Violence Against Women, who had criticised the announcement, said: “Good on British Transport Police for listening and having a re-think.”

Mick Cash, general secretary of trade union RMT, said that the announcement was “a welcome move” but that BTP should scrap the plans to get rid of the unit altogether and that planned staffing cuts on stations should be reversed to preserve safety.

In 2014-15 1,399 sexual offences were recorded on the rail network, a 25.2% increase from the previous year, despite an 8% overall fall in crime.

(Image c. Yui Mok from PA Wire)


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