British Transport Police

Part of Petition – in the House of Commons at 10:35 am on 22 May 1981.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport 10:35, 22 May 1981

I have not made inquiries in depth into the case, because, apart from anything else, much would have emerged about the personal circumstances of the children and their families. The police follow a policy of consulting social service departments, presumably to discover more about the individual circumstances of children and their families. However, the police cannot hand over responsibility for prosecution to social service departments and I do not think that the British Transport Police would accept an inviolable rule to prosecute all three or only one. There are often circumstances justifying the prosecution of only one of a group. Perhaps the error in this case would have been discovered by the social service department. I regret that that did not happen.

The hon. Gentleman raised an important general point when he said that he had had difficulty in discovering details of the complaints procedure. The difficulty may be that the complaints procedure against the police does not extend to discretion whether to prosecute. An impossible situation would be created if people prosecuted for a crime were able to go through the complaints procedure and argue whether they should have been prosecuted or cautioned. Such matters are not normally in the mainstream of complaints, which usually concern allegations of misbehaviour by police officers in the course of their duties.

The usual procedure for making complaints against police officers applies to officers of the British Transport Police. The Police Act 1976, which provided for the setting up of the Police Complaints Board to deal with complaints by members of the public against members of ordinary police forces, also enables the board to make arrangements to deal with complaints against members of other police forces. Such arrangements have been in operation since November 1979, as a result of an agreement between the complaints board and the British Railways Board in respect of the British Transport Police.

If the hon. Member or a member of the public feels that he has a legitimate complaint against an officer of the British Transport Police, it is open to him to write to the chief constable of the force and initiate the complaints procedure, with which hon. Members are more familiar in relation to the ordinary police.

The complaint will be investigated in the ordinary way. If, following the investigation, no disciplinary charge is brought, the papers will automatically be sent to the complaints board, which has the power, if it disagrees with the original decision, to direct that a disciplinary charge must be brought. The complainant is informed of the ultimate outcome.

Leaflets on how to make a complaint about a police officer are available at police stations, including British Transport Police offices, public libraries and citizens' advice bureaux. The Home Office includes the British Transport Police among those to whom it circulates information on the complaints procedure from time to time.

The position in Scotland is different. There is no police complaints board there. Complaints against the police in Scotland are investigated by a chief constable, who, if there is any suggestion of a criminal offence, must refer the matter to the prosecuting authority, the procurator-fiscal, who decides, as an independent investigator, what action to take. The British Transport Police also follow that procedure in Scotland, and I understand that it is generally regarded as satisfactory.

I am told that in 1980 the complaints board dealt with 61 complaints about the British Transport Police. Two resulted in disciplinary charges being brought against individual British Transport police officers, and nine were followed by British Transport Police officers being formally interviewed by a senior officer.

It seems that there is an effective complaints procedure and there is no need for concern that no such procedure exists. I am not aware of any general dissatisfaction with the way in which the British Transport Police operate, given that in 1980 they dealt with nearly 200,000 offences and their activities gave rise to a comparatively tiny number of complaints.