Drop in crime on the railways is marred by rise in violence

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VIOLENT and sexual crime on the railways increased last year while the total number of reported offences fell by nearly 5 per cent, according to the annual report of the British Transport Police, published yesterday.

In 1993, crimes of violence on British Rail and London Underground went up by 1.6 per cent to 2,236, robberies by 2 per cent to 1,642, while sexual offences increased marginally, from 717 to 723. However, reported incidents of thefts dropped from just under 52,000 to just under 49,000.

Despite the increase in reports of violence, the Chief Constable of the British Transport Police, Desmond O'Brien, said he was pleased with the overall reduction in reported crime on the railways from 85,190 offences to 81,213. 'Crime statistics are always unreliable indicators but there is a clear trend visible over more than one year which shows we are containing crime on Britain's railways.' He suggested that the increase in reports of violent crimes was a result of his force's encouragement of victims to tell the police about offences.

Mr O'Brien was concerned about the rise in reports of graffiti on the railways - up 28 per cent to 1,381 - which had led to the creation of a special graffiti squad on the London Underground. He criticised magistrates for failing to take account of the seriousness of such offences.

'Sentences often do not reflect the seriousness of the crime. Graffiti is the first sign of urban decay. It puts in the public's mind that people don't care,' he said.

He cited the case of a 17-year-old graffiti sprayer called 'Kona' who was caught after an 18-month investigation. He had caused damage estimated at pounds 1m over three years and received a four-month sentence.

There was also concern about the increase in offences involving train safety such as dropping objects from bridges or throwing stones, which went up by 4.1 per cent to 3,291. Ian McGregor, the assistant chief constable, said: 'Children under the age of six have been found throwing stones or climbing on trains and risking electrocution.'

He stressed the need for more education in schools warning children of the dangers of trespass on the railways.

British Transport Police had to cope with eight bombs, 1,135 bomb threats and 2,195 suspect packages in 1993. Only 3 per cent of threats resulted in closure of any part of the railway and the average time was 12 minutes.