An SNP MSP has sparked anger by questioning the British Transport Police Federation’s attitude to public safety, even though its officers saved lives and risked their own in the London and Manchester terror attacks.
John Mason, the Glasgow Shettleston MSP, suggested that the federation’s opposition to controversial Scottish Government plans to merge the British Transport Police (BTP) with Police Scotland was based more on empire building than public safety. The politician’s views were expressed in an email exchange with Nigel Goodband, the chairman of the organisation that represents police officers providing security on the railways.
Mr Goodband had written to every MSP to raise concerns held by the British Transport Police Federation (BTPF) of the impact the merger would have on public safety.
He warned officers were leaving BTP Scotland because of risks to their jobs, pay and pensions and argued the railway network can “ill-afford” to have a lower standard of security and protection when the terrorism threat remains severe.
His emailed letter said the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill was being rushed through Holyrood and was signed off with Mr Goodband adding that the “security of passengers and rail staff is being risked in pursuit of rushed and ill considered legislation”.
The email exchange, seen by The Scotsman, showed that Mr Mason responded to Mr Goodband on 29 June when he sent a message defending the Scottish Government’s plans. Mr Mason’s email then questioned the BTPF’s motive for opposing the merger policy.
He said: “You claim public safety is your main concern. I am not convinced. I think there is a desire on the part of the BTP and BTPF to have its own little empire.”
Mr Goodband took issue with Mr Mason’s allegation and sent the politician a strongly worded reply the following day.
“To question our motives is simply distasteful,” Mr Goodband wrote. “Earlier this month as highlighted in my correspondence to Ministers, it was our brave colleagues in BTP who were first responders to the destructive attacks in Manchester, many saving lives. It was a BTP officer who bravely took on three terrorists in horrific attacks at London Bridge.”
On 1 July, Mr Mason wrote back to Mr Goodband and said he did not think safety was “a serious concern” for the BTPF when it came to opposing the plans for a merger.
Scottish Labour’s Justice spokesperson Claire Baker called on Mr Mason to apologise. Ms Baker said: “Yet again John Mason has proved himself an embarrassment to Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.
“To question the motives of our police officers who risk their lives every day to keep us safe is disgraceful.” The First Minister reprimanded Mr Mason following the outrage caused by remarks made by Mr Mason when the deaths of John and Joseph McCaig, aged 17 and 18, and Dougald McCaughey, 23, were discussed on Twitter.
Last night an SNP spokesman said: “The Scottish Government and SNP MSPs have listened very carefully to the views of serving officers. As Police Scotland has made clear, specialist railway policing expertise and capacity will be maintained and protected within the broader structure of Police Scotland.”