A team of officers police the area’s railways and face everything that a conventional force deals with. Reporter Ben Fishwick talks to the experienced sergeant in charge of this area to find out more about how British Transport Police deal with a huge variety of crimes and deaths on a busy rail network.
Specialist police work around the clock to fight crime on the railways while keeping trains on the move.
The team of British Transport Police officers, based at Portsmouth and Southsea station, have the job of tackling crime on trains and stations.
They are called to incidents that any conventional force deals with – from rowdy teenagers to dealing with violent thugs and sexual assaults.
But the problem they face is two-fold – investigating a crime and keeping disruption to a minimum.
In serious cases, whole railway lines can be removed from service and locked down as a crime scene.
Experienced Sgt Derek Bish has been the BTP sergeant based in Portsmouth since 2004.
Prior to that he was a PC in the same office, worked in Brighton with BTP and spent five years with the Metropolitan Police as a response officer.
He leads a team of six officers and one neighbourhood officer.
Sgt Bish says some people think they can get away with committing crime on a train.
‘They may feel that at the time because it’s moving,’ he says.
‘What they have to realise is that we will investigate it and we will find them.
‘Anti-social behaviour is different on a train because on a train people are very limited to where they can go to get away from it. If there was an incident on the street, you can cross over, turn back, walk the other way.
‘It’s harder on a train – we treat it very seriously if people’s comfort of travelling is interfered with.’
To that end, BTP launched a text number – 61016 – that passengers can use to discreetly report a non-emergency crime.
It has been used 10,000 times since it was launched in 2013.
But Sgt Bish says that crime is dropping on the railways locally and nationally.
He adds: ‘Incidents of disorder on trains are rare, but they do happen.
‘We’re lucky enough to have CCTV on nearly every service now. We will investigate every complaint of anti-social behaviour and violence.’
In the wider Portsmouth area there has been an increase in thefts of bikes in 2014, up from 94 stolen in 2013 to 115. Those figures cover Bedhampton, Cosham, Fareham, Fratton, Havant, Hilsea, Portchester, Portsmouth and Southsea, and Portsmouth Harbour stations, along with thefts classed as moving offences.
Sgt Bish adds: ‘It’s important that people travel safely, feel safe in travelling and we keep the disruption to the rail network down.
‘It’s challenging but it’s very rewarding, we’ve managed in the last 10 years to drive down crime every year.
‘That’s locally and nationally that crime is down. We still have our challenges but we’re working positively.’
Despite being focused on the area’s rail network, Sgt Bish said officers are police – and they will deal with crime wherever they see it – including out of the office window.
He adds: ‘We’re first and foremost police officers, so sometimes we look out the window with the nightclub opposite and we end up dealing with things. It doesn’t matter where I am, I will act as a police officer.’
But BTP officers also have the unenviable and unique task of investigating fatalities on the railways.
When there is a death it is these officers who have the task of responding, investigating and liaising with the deceased’s family.
Deaths do not happen often – but last month there were two in just over a week.
Sue Heron, 69, of Portchester, died at the station near her home on January 8 and Cyril Baker, 85, was found on the line at Hilsea station on January 16.
Sgt Bish said expects to deal with around six or seven a year in his patch, which stretches to Liphook, Chichester and Fareham.
Between April 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014 there were three deaths at three stations – Hilsea, Portchester and Bedhampton. All were non-suspicious.
Then from April 1 last year to January 27 this year there were three deaths including Mr Baker and Mrs Heron – the third happened at Fratton.
All of those were not suspicious and those that are criminal are rare, Sgt Bish says, who adds that his worst experience with fatalities was when he was called to two within just three hours.
But when it comes to dealing with deaths the force has to act in a professional manner and Sgt Bish’s first priority is to ascertain if he is dealing with a crime.
‘We treat it as a crime until we know otherwise,’ he explains.
‘That may well be through CCTV if it’s at a station or by speaking to train drivers.
‘Once we’ve established if it’s not a crime then we’ll take photographs of the scene for the coroner and then commence body recovery.
‘At all times we’re there for the dignity of the person.
‘At the end of the day that is still someone’s daughter, mother, father – we must make sure we deal with reverence.’
The officer investigating the death then has the unenviable task of informing the person’s family – and that can be at any hour.
Sgt Bish adds: ‘If I attend a fatality I will go and speak with the family. I would want to know if it was a member of my family, it’s only right we should let people know as soon as possible.
‘Then I will investigate the incident and provide a report for the coroner.’
The ambulance service will deal with witnesses to any death.
‘We’ve got the train driver as well if it involves a train, so we rely on our colleagues from the ambulance service to provide the welfare and care around that,’ Sgt Bish adds.
But the other aspect of a fatality is any disruption to the train network.
Sgt Bish adds: ‘You can have various stages of trains at certain parts of the line that aren’t near a station.
‘There is a big picture, it’s a big network.’
FOOTBALL fans on the way to and from Fratton Park on the train will know that police officers are a familiar sight.
Sergeant Derek Bish and his team are tasked with travelling with fans to make sure everything runs smoothly for home and away matches.
He said: ‘We still have football occasionally, we deal with that. It’s quite staff-intensive, we need quite a large number of officers to deal with that.
Just last Tuesday Sgt Bish and a colleague joined other British Transport Police officers as they kept an eye on fans travelling to Dagenham for the Pompey game against Dagenham and Redbridge.
He explains: ‘Our first and foremost aim is to prevent disorder. Overcrowding is down to the railway companies.
‘We have to put officers in the right places to stop disorder before it happens.
‘We want to make sure that everybody including the football fans travel back safely.
‘We’re there for other members of the public as well as the fans.
‘We will step in and deal with any incidents of disorder or anti-social behaviour, that may well be from fans or others.’