THIEVES and thugs are more likely to get away with committing crimes on trains than they are likely to be caught, according to statistics.
Data obtained through a Freedom of Information request shows that about nine out of 10 thefts on trains in Portsmouth and Hampshire are never resolved.
And across the two areas only just over half of reported sexual offences are classed as ‘solved’.
The information, collated by the national JPIMedia Data Unit, also shows a 25 per cent increase in recorded rail crimes in the area between 2016 and 2018 – although violent crime statistics have fallen.
What’s more, of the crimes that are resolved in Portsmouth, only 18 per cent of resolutions lead to a charge, with just 10 per cent in Hampshire.
Denis Fryer of the South Hampshire Rail Users’ Group believes these incidents are most likely happening late at night – but that the guards on trains play a crucial role in deterring and resolving offences.
He said: ‘I suppose it does depend on the time of day – there probably isn’t much chance for thieves to get away with committing offences on a crowded peak-time train, but late at night it could be more prevalent.
‘We always talk about how we should never walk by ourselves and always avoid talking to strangers, but we can’t let our guard down just because we’re sat on a train.
‘If anything, this shows just how important it is for there to be a guard who can deal with problems like this.’
Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT Union – which represents guards working for South Western Railway in Portsmouth – said: ‘These are shocking statistics which show that on far too many occasions a criminal act on the railways is a free ride for the perpetrator.
‘It’s a reflection of the under-resourcing of the British Transport Police and the drive to axe train and platform staff.
‘The solution is investment in staffing and security and a zero tolerance approach that brings to book all those who think they can turn the railway into a criminal’s playground.’
Assistant Chief Constable Robin Smith from British Transport Police, said crime on the railways remains ‘incredibly low’.
‘Fortunately, the majority of crimes reported to BTP result in no injury coming to a victim, such as theft, common assault or vandalism,’ he said.
‘Nevertheless, we understand these crimes are concerning for passengers, and I would like to reassure them that we are completely committed to reducing and preventing crime.’
A spokesman for South Western Railway, which operates railway stations in the area, said: ‘The safety and security of our customers and colleagues is very important to us, which is why we are pleased that we saw a 10 per cent drop year-on-year in crime on our network in March 2019.
‘We work closely with the British Transport Police and deploy our own rail community officers to provide reassurance at our stations and on our trains, and fund a team of evidence gatherers to provide CCTV evidence to aid prosecutions.
‘Guards provide reassurance and assistance to passengers. Like anybody travelling on our trains they can help by reporting crime or suspicious behaviour to British Transport Police through texting 61016.’
RAIL passengers at Cosham station say they do still feel safe travelling on trains – but have voiced their shock following the release of these statistics.
Jeff Hodgson, 38 from Southsea, has seen how people can get away with crimes on a train.
He said: ‘There was one day where I saw a guard being spat at – he phoned the police and they went to the station.
‘But the same group boarded the train on the way back and carried on abusing him, so I don’t think the police actually resolved that at all.
‘I personally feel safe on trains because I travel to Chichester for work, but I don’t think the guards are safe at all.’
Matt Soraeure, 25 from Somerset, added: 'It’s a bit of an outrage – at the end of the day the money in train companies is an issue so I think its to do with the lack of staff.
‘There is always a bigger picture that we don't know about, but I wonder how hard are they actually trying to sort it.’
Rowan Becht, 21 from Southampton, said: ‘I feel relatively safe because I travel in the daytime, but when it’s a Saturday night and there are people getting rowdy it does feel less safe, and I get the impression that is when the trouble actually happens.’
Karen Pelling, 50 from Chichester, says she travels quite a lot, and has never felt unsafe while on the train.
She said: ‘I suppose the likelihood of catching a thief anywhere is quite slim, but it must make people feel very unlucky when they’re the one who is made a victim of it.’
Similarly, Richard Proudman, 63, from Leicester said: 'I'm surprised actually.
‘I travel regularly and I always feel safe – I think there should be more of a presence on trains but manpower is a problem.'