Andy McCullough

A night shift with British Transport Police

Our UK team works tirelessly to protect vulnerable people using our transport network and has close links with rail partners such as the British Transport Police. Railway Children's UK director Andy McCullough joined front line BTP officers for a night shift at Manchester Piccadilly to see just what they deal with on a regular basis.

Andy McCullough on the platform

Going out on the front line

Going out on the front line

I turned up for my shift at the BTP offices around the back of a coffee shop. Phones were ringing and officers were dealing with routine enquiries and problems. The PC that had agreed to take me out with her was delayed while she put up with abusive language and arguments from a man who had left his phone on a train. Eventually he calmed down, paid the £10 to lost property and was reunited with his phone.

ONE EXTREME TO ANOTHER

ONE EXTREME TO ANOTHER

Then, as if to highlight how the issues BTP deal with go from one extreme to the other, we listened as an alarming call came through from a member of the public. She had been travelling into the city when she overheard a conversation between two girls on the train with her. They looked about 15 or 16 and were on their way to meet a man who had contacted them on Facebook.

They were talking about how he was in his 40s and seemed friendly as he had offered to buy them a meal, but how they didn’t really know who he was. They even went on to joke about how he might not be who they thought he was or turn out to be a murderer.

In the BTP office we weren't laughing. The passenger left us with a description of the girls and we raced to intercept them as they got off the train – looking for two teenage girls, one wearing a red coat.

A RACE TO REACH THEM FIRST

A RACE TO REACH THEM FIRST

There was a last minute change to the arrival platform so we ran across several platforms just in time to spot two girls that fitted the description we’d been given.

The two officers and I approached them and we introduced ourselves, reassuring the girls that they were not in any trouble.

They looked worried and surprised but came with us to the BTP offices where we explained why we were concerned.

They told us that their parents knew where they were, but they wouldn’t let us speak to them, and they both claimed to be 17 although they looked and acted a lot younger.

The BTP officers were amazing with the young women. They laughed with them and were kind and patient. They gained their trust and while the girls said their conversation on board had just been a joke, the officers felt that something didn’t add up as more of their story emerged.

GETTING TO THE TRUTH

GETTING TO THE TRUTH

Giving the girls time to relax and eventually disclose their real names, we were able to get in touch with the adults responsible for them and talk to them about the danger they had put themselves in.

They showed us their Facebook profile, which had their mobile phone numbers publically available as well as email addresses and information on where they had been. 

They admitted that the man’s contact hadn’t struck them as unusual as they often had approaches from older men and that if they had met up and decided they didn’t like the look of him they had just planned to leave.

"It came as a shock to me to see just how casually these young women had put themselves in a position of such vulnerability."

FOLLOWING UP FOR THE FUTURE

We made sure they were put on a train back home with some sound safety advice so hopefully they will understand the dangers better and won’t put themselves at risk again.

There was not enough information to pursue the man they were going to meet, so he may well still be out there contacting more girls on social media. However, we made a point of calling the member of the public who rang in and thanked them. If they hadn’t have reported their concerns the situation could have been very serious.

Afterwards, we talked about Railway Children's role in safeguarding young people and it was clear that the training we are doing with BTP, rail staff and station communities is of huge value. The more people we can make aware of young people’s vulnerability, the greater chance we have of intercepting more at risk, just like the two girls I met.

The experience really underpinned the importance of the work we are doing, and made me proud to see what a difference it can make.