The end of the age of innocence



Platform 10, Paddington early 1960s, ‘Warship’ class diesel hydraulic, possibly D801 Vanguard. Photo John Gilham

(Click above to see the photograph in its original context and to see John Gilham’s other BR Western Region photographs. Click the next link to see all of John’s railway photographs from the 50s and 60s.)

One of our younger readers reports that three of his school friends were picked up  by police because they were plane spotting near Heathrow Airport. The 14 year old lads and one boy’s 10 year old sister were bundled into a police car and taken to a local police station for questioning. They were given a stern warning not to indulge in such activities again and taken back to their homes in a marked police car.

Unpleasant treatment is also being handed out to train spotters and anyone taking a photograph near a railway station.

Police are using draconian anti-terrorism powers against trainspotters, it has emerged. Enthusiasts innocently taking photographs of carriages and noting serial numbers have been accused of behaving like a reconnaissance unit for a terror cell.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2000 has been used to stop a staggering 62,584 people at railway stations. Another 87,000 were questioned under separate ‘stop and search’ and ‘stop and account’ legislation. The figures were uncovered by Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Norman Baker, who warned that Britain was sliding towards a ‘police state’.

The revelation will increase concern that the controversial anti-terror powers are being used ‘ disproportionately’. Police have already employed them to suppress protests against the Government.

Daily MailThe train spotters who are treated like terrorists

Apparently not even an MP’s security pass diminishes the officers zeal. Andrew Pelling, Conservative MP for Central Croydon, was stopped by officers under anti-terrorism laws on December 30.

He told police that he was taking photos to highlight a “long-neglected bicycle and pedestrian route”, which had been of concern to his constituents and that he was intending on taking the photos to Parliament “to illustrate the dangers posed by the protracted maintenance works”.

But the two officers insisted on searching him after they told him they thought he was taking photos of East Croydon train station.

They searched his bag, but after finding nothing of interest they sent the MP on his way.

Daily TelegraphTory MP stopped and searched

A schoolboy was held as a terrorist suspect by police support officers (PCSOs) for taking photographs at Wimbledon railway station during a school field trip.

Fabian Sabbara, 15, was dressed in his school uniform when he was stopped by three police community support officers for taking photos of a station on his mobile phone. He explained he was taking pictures, as well as pedestrian counts and a traffic survey, as part of a GCSE project.

But PCSO Barry Reeve told Fabian, from Cheam in South London, to sign forms under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act, which allows police to stop and search at random anyone they suspect of terrorism. The pupil from Rutlish High School, Merton, was forced to comply or face arrest.

Daily MailSchoolboy 15 held as terror suspect

Now there are reports that National Express plans to ban train spotters from its principal stations.

TRAINSPOTTERS could be banned from King’s Cross for security reasons, it was claimed today.

Union leaders say National Express will bar spotters from stations on the East Coast main line because they are a nuisance and pose a “security risk”. There are suggestions of other operators following suit.

The ban, which union leaders claim “betrays Britain’s railway heritage”, covers King’s Cross and York, which is the spiritual home of the industry and next door to the National Rail Museum.

“The company has told us that train spotters will be banned at all its main line stations which will be installed with gated barriers.”

Stations covered by the ban also include Stevenage, Peterborough, Newark, Leeds, Durham, Doncaster, Wakefield and Newcastle.

Evening StandardDangerous trainspotters to be banned

Gerry Doherty, the general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staff Association (TSSA), accused National Express of having no respect for a tradition almost as old as the railways. “Sir John Betjeman will be turning in his grave,” he said. “It means that the barbarians have finally taken over the industry. Only people with no sense of history would commit such an act of mindless vandalism.

“Young trainspotters have been with us since Victorian times. Now National Express are saying they should be banned because they are a nuisance. These people know the price of everything and the value of nothing. They do not respect the industry or its values. They should go back to running buses.

“One of National Express’s managers actually told one of our reps that trainspotters were now a security issue. Do they think a 10-year-old boy with a pencil and notebook is in possession of a dangerous weapon? You do wonder what planet these people are on sometimes.”

The IndependentIs this the end of the line…?

There is a link between train spotting and heritage railways.

Keith tells me he has been a trainspotter for 40 years. Why has he stuck with it all his life, I ask. “Good question,” he says, laughing. “You get out and about, you meet other railway enthusiasts … ”

I want him to say it’s the thrill of completing the sets, but it dawns on me that this is not Keith’s main motivation. He likes railways and stations, is interested in industrial railways, visits preserved railways.

The GuardianSteamy pleasures

Where will the next generation of heritage railway volunteers come from if trainspotting is outlawed? Do take part in our poll and tell us what YOU think about the way trainspotters are being treated in the UK.

Trainspotters and the Police and Security Officers – Poll

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3 Responses to “The end of the age of innocence”

  1. Robert Hall Says:

    Sad reading – one has to feel, “another step along the Orwellian road”.

    Most particularly: find self wondering whether there is even the faintest trace of sense or rationality in the targeting over this matter, of juvenile “spotters”. In a situation of life in a polity which has active enemies (though – performing due “warding off evil omen” rituals – not at present an outright, at home, hot-war situation) a case could be made, for official wariness of adults taking an interest in details of transport and its workings; though most folk in this country would reckon a small security risk, preferable to harsh curtailment of people’s freedom of action. But – as the journalist says – “a 10-year-old boy with a pencil and notebook” ? One feels, “come on…”

    It occurs to wonder whether, in Britain in World War II (which I think most would agree to have been a situation of more acute overt national peril, than that which obtains at present), there were restrictions on the activities of juvenile trainspotters – then numbered in their millions. Would be interesting to hear re this, from anyone of that “vintage”. Their being wished not to get in the way, when wartime conditions were making the rail system very crowded and overloaded, would be understandable. However – it would seem probable that anxiety on this score, about child German spies (or dwarfs posing as children?) would in Britain – even, say, in 1940 — have been thought ludicrously paranoid, by almost everyone concerned.

  2. Michael Dembinski Says:

    Twenty years ago, Poland was a dictatorship and England was the land of the free. Today, this situation is rapidly changing. Britons are losing their liberty to a busy-body army of civil servants, jobsworths, nanny-statists, community police officers – minions with an interest in appearing Important.

    In Poland over the past 20 years, so much freedom has been won back. I’m glad I live in Poland. I’d be absolutely furious at being arrested at pointing a camera at a station building or train! (see post on my blog from 20 March).

  3. John Ball Says:

    I think that we must kick up a fuss every time this kind of nonsense happens. I fear that Britain is no longer the land of the free, but we should at least resist the taking over of what was once a proud country by the little Hitlers who seem to be taking full advantage of the excuse of ‘terrorism’ to justify bullying easy targets.

    I’m getting out of this miserable, petty and mean spirited little island as soon as I’ve got enough money put by. I’m glad that the Poles have more spirit, and house prices seem more reasonable there.

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