Police Scotland set to take charge of Scotland's railways

British Transport Police will be integrated into Scotland's single police force

POLICE Scotland is set to take over the duty of policing the railways, Scotland's justice secretary has announced.

The role is currently carried out by the British Transport Police (BTP) but the Smith Commission on further devolution to Scotland recommended that the power be devolved.

BTP wanted to continue providing the service with oversight from Holyrood but instead it will now be integrated into Police Scotland.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson told the BBC: "Police reforms have been taking place in Scotland over the last 18 months, moving to the single force.

"It's been the Scottish Government's view that this (transport policing) would be better if it was integrated into Police Scotland, given that it would sit alongside our national police service.

"That's why we believe this would be a better fit for how we are taking policing forward in Scotland."

When the SNP first took office in 2007 it had a dispute with BTP over its high use of stop and search.

Ironically, stop and search has gone on to be one of Police Scotland's signature policies.

Labour MP Tom Harris warned that the move was premature and said it was another example of centralisation by the government.

He said: "BTP is a long-standing and effective police force," he said.

"It will be sad to see it merged with Police Scotland as part of a further centralisation of services.

"This move is premature. No-one has been consulted - neither the travelling public nor the police officers themselves. A hasty decision today could put at jeopardy the safety of the travelling public tomorrow."

According to the BTP federation website, the force has 231 officers in Scotland and a network of 11 offices within major railway stations.

Police Scotland has more than 17,000 officers, making it the largest force in the UK outside London.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "We agree with the Smith Commission recommendation that responsibility for the functions of the British Transport Police in Scotland should be devolved to the Scottish Government and welcome the draft clause that has been prepared to make this change happen.

"Police Scotland is responsible for all policing in Scotland outwith the railways and we believe the functions of the British Transport Police should be integrated within the single service.

"The BTP provide a specialist function that is recognised and valued by the rail industry and its passengers and it is essential that this specialism is maintained within Police Scotland. This will ensure the most efficient and effective delivery of all policing in Scotland, keeping communities safe and strong."

Picture by JD Mack