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BTP must be set appropriate targets on child protection – MPs

The DfT must ensure the British Transport Police (BTP) is set appropriate targets on child protection, the cross-party Transport Select Committee says, as its latest report reveals a rising number of vulnerable children at stations.

But the BTP has no specific targets in relation to child protection by the British Transport Police Authority.

Following the publication of ‘Security on the Railway’ today, Committee chair Louise Ellman MP said: “Vulnerable children and young people who have run away from home or from care are often found in and around railway stations.

“Over 700 were found at London stations between April 2012 and August 2013. More must be done by BTP to improve their child protection arrangements.”

The report highlights that between April 2012-2013 BTP picked up 90 runaway children at Euston, 185 runaway children at King’s Cross, 115 runaway children at Paddington, 239 runaway children at Liverpool Street and 140 runaway children at Euston Underground. However, the BTP stated that the problem is not confined to London and that its officers encounter vulnerable children and young people in major railway stations across Britain.

In the report, the charity Railway Children is quoted as saying: “If you look at [other police forces], they have their own specialist child protection and they have links with their local authorities as part of the safeguarding board. I always find it quite strange that the BTP people I have been in contact with do not seem to have those connections.”

However, the BTP stated that its national remit posed specific challenges in relation to child protection, because, “unlike local police forces, it had to deal with local authority child safeguarding boards from across the country”.

The Committee stated that although the welfare of a runaway young person or child is the long-term responsibility of a local authority safeguarding board, it is the BTP’s short-term responsibility while that young person is in its care.

New targets

The MPs advised: “The BTPA must set the BTP appropriate targets in relation to child protection to bring the BTP in line with other police forces and to capture the extent and importance of the BTP’s responsibilities.”

In response to the recommendation, chair of the BTPA Millie Banerjee told RTM that work around the protection of vulnerable children at railway stations has already begun and the BTPA will work closely with partners to “develop further understanding of this complex policing matter in order to introduce appropriate targets in the New Year”.

She added: “I offered my assurances to the committee that I would look into this issue further and I will. We are robust in our scrutiny to ensure the Force complies with its statutory responsibilities and will continue to develop our oversight to ensure all those who work on and use the railway, including children, are safe.”

As part of the Committee’s recommendations, the MPs also call for BTP to compile and examine the available data on vulnerable young people in railway stations, and to establish the extent and nature of the issue. They also want the BTP to develop new practices to safeguard at-risk children, with more funding from central government if necessary.

BTP Assistant Chief Constable Mark Newton stated: “We support the Committee’s focus on vulnerable people on the rail network. BTP is confident its child-safeguarding measures are robust, with children and young people found on the railway returned to places of safety. However, there is always more we can do.”

Transport minister Baroness Kramer added that no child should be left at risk of exploitation and the plight of runaway children is particularly troubling.

“Along with the BTP, we are determined to do everything possible to ensure that youngsters in vulnerable situations are taken to safety,” Baroness Kramer noted. “I particularly commend the work of the charity Railway Children and I will continue to work to ensure that vulnerable children’s best interests are protected.”

She added that the government will carefully consider the Committee’s report and formally respond to its recommendations in due course.

Secondary BTP pic

Raising awareness

Andy McCullough, UK head of policy and public affairs at Railway Children, said: “This report is an important first step. Railway Children also welcomes the support given by the Transport Committee, the BTP and individuals such as Sarah Champion MP to shine a spotlight on this hidden issue.”

He added that to make sure the first contact made by a vulnerable child is a safe one, Railway Children has launched a new project to make Euston and King’s Cross Stations more ‘child-friendly’, in partnership with the New Horizon Youth Centre Outreach team and BTP.

The pilot is designed to help raise awareness of children and young people who may be at risk on the concourse by developing relationships with retail outlets and non-specialist staff on site, who will then be better equipped to help vulnerable children or young people they encounter.

In conclusion, the Transport Committee stated: “Child protection at railway stations is an emerging issue. We commend Railway Children for raising it, which allowed us to alert the Minister."

It also recommended that the DfT should convene a seminar involving departmental officials, the BTP, the BTPA, Railway Children and other NGOs and the Transport Select Committee to ensure that policy and practice in this area is fit for purpose.

Overall crime falls

While recognising that overall crime levels on the rail network have fallen, MPs warn that year-on-year decreases in the total number of offences committed on Britain’s railways should not mask increases in particular categories of crime.

The Committee stated that the high-level statistics mask increases in serious crimes involving assault, sexual offences and racial harassment and areas where the BTP can improve its performance. It has been recommended that the BTPA must fulfil its core function of setting the BTP challenging but achievable targets.

Ellman said: “The BTPA is the body with responsibility for monitoring the performance of the BTP and for setting challenging but achievable targets to tackle crime on the railway. We are not convinced that the Authority is fulfilling this remit effectively. For example, the BTP’s current detection rate for theft offences is only 7%, which clearly requires urgent improvement.”

Additionally, the DfT, the BTP, Network Rail and train operators have been told more must be done to address not only crime, but the fear of crime in order to maintain and grow the railway.

The MPs also welcome the sharp decline in the frequency of cable theft on Britain’s railways, which has improved reliability for passengers and saved Network Rail some £10m a year.

“In 2012, we recommended that the DfT should address cable theft by amending the law on scrap metal dealing to make sellers prove their identity at scrap metal yards,” said Ellman. “The DfT implemented our recommendation, which has clearly prevented criminals from melting down stolen cable. That has curbed cable theft, reduced delays for passengers and saved Network Rail a significant amount of money.”

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