AFICIONADOS of our Sidetrack column will not have missed the story in our January edition entitled ’Police state’ (RG 1.01 p15). Nor did the British Transport Police.

On January 16 we received an aggressive phone call from a senior and somewhat irate police officer who was determined to put his view across. So much so, in fact, that we found it hard to answer any question before another one was hurled down the phone line. We did not exactly have a rational discussion about the article, but found ourselves listening to a tirade, during which we were accused of ’lies’, ’inaccuracy’ and ’not checking our facts’. We invited the officer to put his accusations in writing so that our readers could read the police point of view, but at the time of writing we have yet to receive a letter.

Given that the main elements of the story had been published in our fortnightly newsletter Rail Business Intelligence on December 7, we were surprised that it had taken so long for the police to react. The point is that railway accidents are precisely that - accidents - and leaving aside malicious action by vandals and terrorists, it is ludicrous to declare the site of a low-speed derailment such as that near Glasgow a ’scene of crime’.

As to our comments about the police looking for clues to criminal activity, we refer them to the report by Professor John Uff QC into the Southall accident of September 19 1997, which was finally published last year. For the benefit of readers, we repeat here that ’evidence that subsequently turned out be vital and which had been overlooked in the BTP search, was found partly bulldozed into the ballast’. This included the ATP controller containing the master byte card and the AWS receiver. As Professor Uff said, ’it is unacceptable that a technical accident investigation should be directed or controlled by BTP’.