09 January 2009

A hobby of "questionable appeal" - an MP writes...

Tuesday's Daily Telegraph reported the number of occasions rail enthusiasts have been stopped by Police. The figures were uncovered by LibDem MP Norman Baker, who is his party's transport spokesman.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2000 has been used to stop 62,584 people at railway stations and another 87,000 were questioned under "stop and search" and "stop and account" legislation.

Mr Baker rightly warned that these figures showed that Britain was heading towards a "police state". He said: "Law-abiding passengers get enough hassle on overcrowded trains as it is without the added inconvenience of over-zealous policing. The anti-terror laws allow officers to stop people for taking photographs and I know this has led to innocent trainspotters being stopped."

Had he left it there then he'd have earned our respect; instead he chose to continue. "Trainspotting may be an activity of limited, and indeed questionable appeal, but it is not a criminal offence and it is not a terrorist threat."

RAIL magazine has done much to highlight the plight of railway enthusiasts who've been accused of being up-to-no-good by Police officers and verbally abused - on some occasions threatened - by uniformed railway workers. The Chief Constable of the British Transport Police (BTP), Ian Johnston, has written to the magazine and his response was published in September.

Similar to the letter he sent to Mr Baker, he states "There is clear guidance available to officers (and railway enthusiasts), and this has been reissued on a number of occasions over the last couple of months in response to the increased concern among some railway enthusiasts."

We printed the main elements of this guidance in a recent LEYTR. The BTP web page that contains the guidance mentioned above (and would have been a useful link in the Telegraph article) can be seen by clicking here.

Rather than offer unequivocal support for rail enthusiasts, Mr Baker's remarks have shown that he is yet another resident of the Westminster Village who simply doesn't understand those who are enthusiastic about the many different facets of the transport industry. His closing remark lays bare the precise reason why so many PCSOs and egregious platform staff tackle rail enthusiasts enjoying their hobby: ignorance. (GL)