Calls to British Transport Police about assaults on Scottish trains are being put through to an English call centre

© Allan MilliganColin Smyth MSP, Scottish Labour
Colin Smyth MSP, Scottish Labour

Members of the public calling British Transport Police to report a crime on Scotland’s rail network are put through to a call centre in Birmingham, it can be revealed.

Last night dad Stephen Chalmers, from Lanarkshire, who was violently assaulted after stepping in to stop yobs who were pestering his daughter, told how he was put through to the English call centre.

But the family say they struggled to have their Scottish accents understood.

Mr Chalmers says he was punched in the face as he and his daughter returned home from a family outing.

“We thought it was only right to report the assault but were taken aback to learn we were speaking to a call centre in Birmingham,” he said.

“It took three or four attempts at explaining for the call handler to understand our accent.

“I can only assume centralising calls is a cost-saving measure.

“But I fear it will put others off if they struggle to be understood.”

In June it emerged that half of all crimes reported on Scotland’s railways last year went unsolved.

Colin Smyth, Scottish Labour transport spokesperson, said: “When someone is reporting a crime, they need to be confident it will be handled properly and followed through or they will simply not bother reporting them.

“We need to encourage people to use our trains, not make it an experience they fear.

“The rising levels of crime on our trains and stations highlights the under-resourcing of policing but also the drive in recent years by rail firms to axe staff on our trains and platforms.

“The solution is to properly resource policing and clamp down hard on appalling incidents such as this.”

The independent transport user watchdog, Transport Focus, said: “We would like to think that people calling British Transport Police did not have to repeat themselves several times to be understood.”

A spokesman for British Transport Police confirmed all Scottish calls are handled by Birmingham but said: “It would make little sense to have call centres scattered throughout the UK.

“We investigate crimes for all cultures and faiths.

“Violent crime is low on the Scottish rail network.”

Meanwhile the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers want offenders convicted of violent crimes banned from trains.

Mick Hogg, regional offer of the RMT, said: “The safety of passengers and staff is paramount.

“People who pose a danger to either must be banned from trains.”

British Transport Police report a 6% fall in reported crimes from March/April 2016 -2017 to 2018/2019.

Sexual offences fell 5% to 52 annually and violence with injury, 26% to 17.

BTP figures revealed there were 1,681 reported crimes on the rail network north of the Border in 2018 – with 1,004 (60%) of those classed as going unsolved.

The force says it is still looking for someone who head-butted a young dad carrying a baby on the platform at Glasgow’s Argyle Street station.

The baby was catapulted from its pram and thrown into the ground.

They are also still looking for a man who punched a passenger on to the line at Coatbridge Sunnyside in April.

And they are seeking the man who smashed a bottle over the face of another male passenger who came to the aid of a young Asian woman who was racially abused on the Milngavie line in May.