Most crimes on Britain's railways go unsolved, investigation finds

By Aimee Stanton
Monday, 24 June, 2019, 17:00

Lauren Forsyth was on a London Underground carriage when she was sexually assaulted by a stranger.

But her attacker has never been caught.

British Transport Police (BTP) shelved their investigation into the assault, which happened last November, citing a lack of CCTV evidence.

Lauren, 24, who has waived her right to anonymity, said it left her feeling “so angry”.

She said she had supplied a very clear description of the man to officers.

“I felt they easily could have solved this and found the man that did it to me," she said.

“What if I was raped? What if he stabbed me? There would be no proof at all.”

The force said it was not responsible for CCTV on trains.

Lauren, from Hertfordshire, is just one of the thousands of people who have seen no justice after reporting a crime on Britain’s railways, records exclusively obtained by JPIMedia Data show.

BTP says it is tackling crime head-on, but campaigners have warned that low crime-solving rates have the potential to undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system.

6 in 10 crimes unsolved

More than 60,000 crimes were reported last year - nearly 200 a day - across Britain's railway network, a 30 per cent rise in two years.

But six in ten of these crimes are going unsolved, records obtained from British Transport Police through a Freedom of Information request show.

Across England and Wales, a suspect was charged or summonsed to court in only 12 per cent of cases last year.

More than half (59 per cent) of BTP investigations in 2018 were closed because no suspect could be identified.

This compares to 46 per cent for police forces generally.

In Scotland, where crime outcomes are recorded differently, 60 per cent of crimes were classed as undetected and 39 per cent detected.

Last year, 91 per cent of thefts of passenger property on Britain's railways went unsolved - with cases either shelved because no suspect had been identified in England and Wales or logged as ‘undetected’ in Scotland.

About half (49 per cent) of sexual offences went unsolved last year, including eight rapes.

Violent crime has been soaring on the railways, with violent offences up 49 per cent in the two years to 2018.

But police did better in solving these crimes, with just three in ten cases unsolved, analysis of the figures shows.

'A criminal's playground'

Commenting on the findings, National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) General Secretary Mick Cash 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 BTP 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."

Diana Fawcett, Chief Officer of independent charity Victim Support (England and Wales) also warned that a lack of prosecutions could deter victims from coming forward in the future.

“People should feel safe going about their daily lives and confident that if they report a crime they will get the justice they deserve.

“In cases where a suspect is not identified it’s important that the reasons behind this are explained to the victim so they don’t just feel that their case has been dropped.

“This news has the potential to undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system and could deter people from coming forward to report a crime in the future.”

'Tackling crime head-on'

Assistant Chief Constable Robin Smith, of BTP, said crime on the railways remains “incredibly low”, with less than one journey in a million involving any kind of violence.

He said the force conducts “a great number of highly visible as well as plain clothes patrols to identify pickpockets, or those exploiting the crowded network to commit sexual offences”.

He said: “Fortunately, the majority of crimes reported to BTP result in no injury coming to a victim, such as theft, common assault or vandalism.

“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.”

Northern Ireland

Levels of crime on the railways in Northern Ireland was much lower than in Great Britain.

Data obtained from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) showed there were just 180 offences reported on trains or in stations in 2018.

However, this represented a 34 per cent rise since 2014.

A spokesperson for the PSNI said the low number of crimes was due in part to Northern Ireland's smaller rail network, in comparison to the rest of the UK.

British Transport Police said non-emergency incidents can be reported via their 61016 text service.