Add us to your taskbar by dragging this icon RGI logo to the bottom of your screen.

Close

Police state

01 Jan 2001

Safe in civilised Britain, we used to smile patronisingly at reports of train crew hiding after a fatal accident in some third world dictatorship for fear of arrest and harsh interrogation. No longer. The British Transport Police (who only police railways, despite the name) have switched since the mid-1990s from assisting railwaymen to cope with an accident to declaring it a 'crime scene'. Even officially appointed accident investigators have been excluded, while teams of police officers who have not the faintest idea what they are actually looking for conduct 'fingertip searches' for 'clues to criminal activity'.

New heights were reached on November 26, when the diverted 10.30 Virgin train from London to Glasgow partially derailed at 19.05 on a sharply-curved chord at 25 km/h, leaving loco and coaches upright and coupled with no serious injuries. It was immediately obvious that gauge spread had allowed one loco wheel to drop in, forcing the rails even further apart. The track was subsequently found to be 60mm over gauge.

Although Virgin arranged buses to convey some 400 passengers 20 km to Glasgow Central, Strathclyde and BTP police kept them imprisoned on the derailed train for 3 1/2h. They were then detrained under police guard, and taken to two improvised centres where they were interrogated - it was even reported that passengers were asked individually whether they had derailed the train! They were not released from custody until after midnight.

The wretched driver, having been cautioned that he might face criminal prosecution and imprisoned in his cab for over 3h, was formally interrogated next day for a total of 6h by the two police forces.

Two weeks later, a plane landing at London Heathrow slewed onto the grass and became bogged down, causing the North runway to be closed. We understand that the passengers were disembarked expeditiously, and were not asked whether they had deliberately caused the plane to leave the tarmac.