Transport police keep law and order on track

PC John Phillips  at Blackpool North train station
PC John Phillips at Blackpool North train station
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They are at the very front of the thin blue line – responsible for law and order on thousands of miles of track and thousands more platforms.

But many people aren’t aware of the British Transport Police, never mind the work they do.

As Britain’s only national force, BTP officers ride the rails every day dealing with trespassers, violent passengers and in the most extreme cases deaths on the line.

Their mission is clear, keep the travelling public safe and, wherever possible, the trains running.

It’s no easy task.

It’s Friday afternoon and PC John Phillips is the man responsible for the lines of the Fylde coast.

From his office at Blackpool North he can look out across the concourse, keeping an eye out for trouble as hundreds of passengers come and go.

But for PC Phillips and his team life is rarely office based.

His patch stretches from Lytham to Fleetwood but should the need arise he can be called to incidents as far afield as Barrow, Colne and Wigan.

“We clocked on and straight away we were called out to Kirkham,” says PC Phillips, who is on duty with Special Constable Rachael Ward, a volunteer and graduate of the University of Central Lancashire’s policing degree course.

“There were reports of a passenger causing trouble.

“Unfortunately once we’d got there the suspect was gone.

“That’s often the case, it’s an issue covering such a wide area.”

It’s not just the distances involved which present a challenge to PC Phillips.

In the BTP office at Blackpool North is a notice board with policing plans for every major event on the Fylde coast through the summer.

From the Illuminations switch on to Lytham Festival, BTP are responsible for ensuring thousands of people get safely to major events.

They plan and police alongside their colleagues from Lancashire Constabulary.

“Each event is very different.

“We have to have a plan for each.
“So there’s an operation for Lytham Club Day, one for Lytham Festival, which has become a massive event now.

“Then there’s all the big weekends in Blackpool.

“We have to be prepared for each.”

With additional passengers expected through the station for Blackpool Pride, PC Phillips has called in backup.

Three extra officers, all of them Specials, arrive on services from Preston.

Later in the evening they might be tasked with riding on trains providing both reassurance and a deterrent to potential trouble makers.

But the first task is on the concourse at Blackpool, where weekend revellers are already beginning to arrive.

With some of his team on a PR offensive – handing out Travel with Pride leaflets, PC Phillips alongside SPC Ward is working on the gate line, supporting Northern Rail staff.

And straight away there are signs of the challenges officers face.

A large group of men have arrived on a train from York.

All of them have been drinking and rail staff have concerns over their tickets.

The atmosphere changes very quickly but PC Phillips and his team move quickly to remove any chance of the situation escalating.

The group are let through, although they have to leave their open beer bottles behind at the station.

“All it needs is a common sense approach,” says PC Phillips.

“You have potentially difficult situations which can quite easily escalate.

“You don’t want to create a confrontation. If you talk to people the right way, show them respect, things generally get resolved.”

PC Phillips and his team are prepared for trouble.

They carry the same equipment as their town centre colleagues and, as PC Phillips is quick to point out, have the same powers.

“People are often surprised when we arrest them,” he said.

“They tell us we don’t have the power to do it.

“They think we’re just security for the railways, we’re not.

“It’s a real shock when they find they are being handcuffed and taken away to face the courts.”

Working at Blackpool North is very different from a shift at one of the North West’s main line stations.

The station, far from being a constant throng of passengers, is constantly changing with lulls quickly giving way to chaos as trains arrive in quick succession.

And PC Phillips has a keen eye for potential issues.

At one point he spots a lone female passenger with a group of young men waiting close behind.

The gang, on this occasion, keep themselves to themselves, but the experienced officer knows only too well that one false move from the men could lead to a complaint.

The main duty for the afternoon is seeing revellers, arriving for the weekend, safely through the station.

They might only be with PC Phillips and his team for a matter of minutes, but he is just one link in a chain.

“We work closely with the railway staff,” he explains.

“They will alert us to potential issues on trains coming in.

“We carry two radios, one linked to our control room, the other to Lancashire Police.

“If there’s an issue on the station we can quickly alert them and they can continue to monitor the situation as it passes into their control.”

With bylaws preventing the drinking of alcohol on Blackpool’s streets, PC Phillips and his team are kept busy removing open cans and bottles from passengers as they arrive.

The atmosphere is jovial and polite through Friday afternoon – not always the case with later arrivals.

On the station PC Phillips and his team provide a visible reminder that trouble will not be tolerated.

But onboard the scores of trains each day running to and from Blackpool, preventing and reporting crime isn’t always so simple.

Passengers can often find dialling 999 intimidating, with nowhere to run if potential offenders choose to confront them.

The force, in response has turned to 21st century technology, allowing passengers to text crime reports.

Using the number 61016 anyone can contact BTP, receiving and sending updates on the situation.

“We can tell them an officer will meet them at the next station, give them advice of what to do onboard to stay safe.

“It really is a one stop solution. If people are openly making a phone call they might feel under threat.

“But this allows them to contact us in complete confidence and be reassured officers are dealing with their report.”

As the rush hour arrives and the afternoon revellers are replaced by tired commuters the station changes again – for now a busy yet orderly place.

But with a shift running into the early hours, Blackpool’s British Transport Police team have to be prepared for any challenge.