Former British Transport Police chief accuses Scottish Government of playing politics by scrapping the force

STEPHEN MANNION insists the decision for Police Scotland to take over policing of the rail network is a bad move for all involved and has been done for political reasons.

THE Scottish Government were accused of playing politics with policing yesterday as a former chief savaged their plans to abolish the British Transport Police.

Last week, it was announced that Police Scotland will take over policing of the rail network from the specialist force.

The move means BTP and their 231 officers will no longer operate as a separate force in Scotland.

Former BTP commander in Scotland Stephen Mannion said the takeover is not good for the police, public, rail staff or train passengers.

And he accused ministers of moving to end the British force for political reasons.

He said: “The railway have been policed by BTP for more than 150 years.

“In that time, there have been countless reviews of their role by governments – six when I was in charge.

“Every review came to the conclusion that policing the railways is a unique role and that the public are best served by a dedicated railway police service.”

Mannion refuted claims that BTP are inferior to Police Scotland or other UK forces.

During his time as BTP’s Scottish boss, his officers made a record £20million seizure of heroin at Glasgow Queen Street Station.

They also arrested two men who caused a major train derailment in Greenock that killed a driver and passenger.

Mannion added “Recruits seeking to join the BTP are of a high standard and have chosen to work for BTP in preference to, say, Police Scotland.

“The national force for Scotland has not exactly been a raging success so far.

“This move by the Government is not about efficiency or effectiveness – it is political because it breaks a connection with Britain.

“You can police the railways without BTP, but you cannot police it as effectively.”

The transport police are responsible for investigating all crime on the rail network ranging from vandalism to terrorism.

Mannion was head of the transport police in Scotland between 1992 and 1999.

Before that, he served 32 years with Strathclyde Police, reaching the rank of assistant chief constable.

Mannion said: “I have seen at first hand the work of BTP in Scotland and elsewhere.

“The railway is a dangerous environment demanding specialist training and equipment which only BTP officers have.

“Police Scotland have a hard act to follow as crime on the railways has been on the decrease for many years. A BTP officer punches above his weight and provides a great service to the public.”

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson last week revealed he wanted to give power over railways to Police Scotland, despite recent controversies over armed police and stop and search incidents.

He said: “The approach we’ve taken is one where we are much more community-engaged, where we have a much greater level of public scrutiny of policing and we expect our force in Scotland to engage with local authorities, with local stakeholders and to make sure they’re seen as being part of the local community.

“What we want to do is establish a model that will allow that specialist function to be maintained and for that service they provide on the railways to continue to be provided.”

The merger is also concerning rank-and-file BTP officers who enjoy better conditions of service, allowances and pensions than Police Scotland colleagues.

British Transport Police Federation chairman George Lewis said the merger was unjustified.

The National Association of Retired British Transport Police Officers are also worried about its impact on pensions.

A spokesman said: “The Scottish Government must think this through very carefully before jumping into the abyss.”

Labour’s Brian Donohoe, a former special constable, and Tom Harris, a former government transport minister, are also opposing the merger.

The merger is expected to become law after the general election and the BTP could become part of Police Scotland by the end of next year.

BTP in Scotland have a network of 11 offices within major railway stations.

The Scottish Government said: “Over the course of 2015, we will continue to engage with all stakeholders, including the BTP, the BTP Authority, the BTP Federation and the rail industry.”

For Police Scotland, Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins added: “If the decision is taken that BTP becomes part of Police Scotland, we will be happy to work even more closely with our colleagues.”