Policing Leeds railway station: Commuters, revellers and football fans

Chief Inspector Lorna McEwan, who leads the British Transport Team based at Leeds Railway Station. Picture by Simon Hulme

Chief Inspector Lorna McEwan, who leads the British Transport Team based at Leeds Railway Station. Picture by Simon Hulme

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The latest figures show 6.3m passengers have passed through the ticket barriers at Leeds City Station in the last five years, earning it the title of one of the busiest in the UK.

Some trudge through every weekday morning and evening on their daily commute, but there’s also the football fans pouring in on a Saturday to watch their beloved Leeds United, the noisy revellers coming from surrounding towns and cities to enjoy the nightlife, and the tourists who might only visit the city once in their lifetimes.

It is the responsibility of Chief Inspector Lorna McEwan and her British Transport Police (BTP) colleagues to keep each and every one of them safe.

And it is not just Leeds that they oversee – there’s every railway station in West Yorkshire, all the trains passing through the county, the railway depots and lines, and the 23 clubs and bars on Network Rail land in Leeds city centre itself thrown in for good measure.

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Chf Insp McEwan said: “Everything that can happen in a housing estate can happen on a train – we get domestics, hate crime. We don’t get a lot of that in this part of the world, but we’ve done a lot of campaign work to encourage people to report it.

“We do the same things that the local police do. We’ve got a neighbourhood team who cover different lines and people attached here at Leeds station. They have Police and Communities Together meetings with the retailers, Network Rail and the operators.

“In a lot of cases we go where the work is. If you’ve got downtime though, you go to somewhere like Huddersfield where it’s busy and you try to travel on the lines for reassurance.”

The latest published crime figures show the total number of crimes committed at the station fell from 916 in 2014/15 to 749 in 2015/16. Violent crime and sexual were down from 154 to 128.

“The actual railway station figures are very different to the crime figures in the bars,” said Chf Insp McEwan. “You’re safer on the rail network than pretty much anywhere in the UK.

An officer on patrol at the station, which is one of the busiest in the UK. Picture by Simon Hulme

An officer on patrol at the station, which is one of the busiest in the UK. Picture by Simon Hulme

“We get quite a lot of anti-social behaviour. Low level stuff like shouting and swearing, pushing and shoving.”

A lot of the crime recorded at the station is alcohol-related thanks to Leeds’ thriving night-time economy.

Chf Insp McEwan said: “We get a lot of low level public order offences, poor behaviour by people. They think it’s funny to get a traffic cone and launch it about the station.

“We do get violence and assaults here in Leeds. Fortunately, we don’t get too many very serious ones.”

Everything that can happen in a housing estate can happen on a train.

Chief Inspector Lorna McEwan

Part of the battle for the BTP is not crime itself, but how safe people passing through this major gateway into the city feel.

“People’s perception of crime and the reality are two different things,” said Chf Insp McEwan. “Leeds has got a low ceiling on the concourse. At night, if you’ve got a group of drunk people, it can sound frightening.”

While the team cannot do much about the current design of the station, it has been working with station staff, Network Rail and the various shops and takeaways at Leeds to see what can be done to improve things.

The first trial during the May Bank Holiday weekend saw all but two of the station entrances closed on the Saturday night, with staff only allowing in those with tickets or plans to travel.

Chf Insp McEwan said: “We had not violent crime reports. The cleaning station said it was the nicest night they had because they could just get on with their work. We’re trialling different things each week at the moment.”

Outside the station itself, there is work with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community through campaigns with venues like Mission and The Viaduct Showbar. There are also education programmes with schools, patrols to prevent trespassing on railway lines, and work to support the influx of new students arriving in Leeds every Freshers’ Week in the months ahead.

IN HAPPIER TIMES: Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, Mark Gilmore, is pictured at the force's headquarters in Wakefield on his first day in charge. Mr. Gilmore is pictured with West Yorkshire PCC, Mark Burns-Williamson. picture mike cowling april 2 2013

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