Andrew Trotter OBE QPM I was told, was cycling up from an appointment at Victoria station and would be delayed. I wondered if it was the best day to do the interview. Would he be busy and not in the mood to talk? ‘Oh no he’s always very cheerful and polite’ said the press officer who brought me coffee while I waited. And when I was eventually led up to his office, a wash of charm and diplomacy hit, along with a potently obvious sense that he’s fair, but not exactly a pushover.

‘I’m recovering from a knee injury’ he said looking flushed, and after a false start with my voice recorder which made him laugh almost uproariously, his good nature was confirmed.

As chair of the Association of Police Officers’ Communications Advisory Group, Trotter was recently in the headlines for his view that forces should not officially confirm the name of arrested suspects until they have been formally charged, much to the chagrin of civil liberty groups and the press, not to mention at this point, the government’s own adviser on law reform, the Law Commission.

The move follows a recommendation by Lord Justice Leveson in his report into press standards, and it’s a report that Trotter is obviously very familiar with. As the inquiry heard, Trotter’s handling of the press at the 1999 Ladbroke Grove train crash became best practice for the police. Personable and trustworthy, his strategy of openness brought out a mutual respect and he clearly does have a lot of time for our breed.

Trotter’s background has been well-documented. Before the BTP he had a long career with the Met interspersed with a spell at Kent Constabulary, before transferring back to the Met on promotion to Superintendent, rising to Deputy Assistant Commissioner in 1998. ‘I had a thoroughly enjoyable time with the Met, although it was a very challenging time, with the Macpherson report and post-Stephen Lawrence. I was doing countryside and stop the war marches, royal and state events, driving the whole performance regime around crime across London, bringing in murder re-investigations, so really good fun and loads to do. And then the Chief Constable of BTP at the time, Sir Ian Johnston, asked me to assist him in re-building the place.’

Did that appeal? ‘I knew of the BTP’ he said after a slight pause, ‘I went to Ladbroke Grove as a Met officer and I saw BTP colleagues up front for the first time in some detail. I was impressed with a lot of things about the organisation, but it was equally apparent that it was seriously under-funded at the time. What attracted me was its national reach and its work with the private sector – and the fact that the only way it could go was up.’

That change in direction has clearly been initiated and led by Trotter, and the BTP website proudly credits him with leading a ‘steep change in performance within the force’.

Same skills and more

I wondered what defines a British Transport Police officer from Home Office colleagues. ‘They need exactly the same skills and more,’ believes Trotter. ‘I value police officers all over the country, but BTP officers often work on their own, often in very remote locations and with very little supervision. I’ve noticed a consistent attribute is their initiative and confidence, because they’re always working on someone else’s patch. Not only do they have to know all the law that a Home Office or Scottish Office officer would know, they need to know all the transport regulations that apply to policing and they must have a broader view of what they see in front of them, because the transport system, wherever possible, must keep running, not just as a commercial imperative but one that affects people’s lives across the country.’

An evidence-based approach

That pressure to avoid delay must be enormous, and Trotter obviously agrees. ‘One of the things I’ve really pushed is looking at how what we do impacts the railway. For example fatality management: we have a lot of fatalities and one or two incidents jarred me in the way we handled them. I felt we could have done better and that perhaps we even added delay in our slavish adherence to our own standard operating procedures, which as usual, had been put in to deal with a previous problem. So we did a root and branch dismantling of the way we deal with these matters.

‘If someone’s dead that has to be dealt with properly with dignity, sensitivity and in making sure there’s a professional investigation. We try to do those things as swiftly as we can so that our decision making doesn’t add delay. But in making our minds up about whether a situation is suspicious or not, we look at the evidence available and then empower our officers at quite a low level in the organisation to say, ‘I think this was an accident, let’s make a decision and go’, which is the reverse of what you might find in motorway policing where they tend to start at ‘this is a crime scene and we’ll work our way down’.

Dismantling all of those processes and procedures and putting them back together again has brought a considerable reduction in delay minutes – last year it stood at 23 per cent. ‘We’ve made a 93,000 minute difference,’ said Trotter, ‘still doing exactly what we ought to do and not cutting corners, but swifter.’

Trotter is certain that this evidence-based approach is the best type of policing for a finely balanced transport system: ‘Our Home Office and Scottish Office colleagues whom we work with very closely don’t have that mind-set, and if they get to an incident before us as they might in rural areas, we do value their help but we try to take it off them very quickly so we can apply our principles, because if they deal with it it’s blue tape everywhere and everything stops. We also take this very different view and approach with bomb threats, suspect packages and so on. We’re not risk averse but we’re not reckless either, and if someone says ‘There’s a suitcase over there’, it’s still a suitcase until we determine that it’s suspicious, or the railway staff do. Whereas somebody else might immediately assume it’s a suspect package, which brings with it a whole train of events – the 400 metre cordons, the standoffs. We look at the evidence and then decide how to react.’

Pick a pocket or two

Crime on our transport system has come down for the eighth consecutive year, but Trotter is not a man to rest on his laurels, ‘I’ll never be too triumphalist about that because there are still around 100,000 crimes a year.’ But has it changed in nature? Nobody in the industry, and beyond probably, can fail to know about the seemingly intractable problem of cable theft; but there has been a big shift – delay minutes have come down by more than half according to latest figures. It’s pickpocketing that’s on Trotter’s mind. ‘It’s not a new offence of course, we see it come and go but at the moment it’s on the rise, particularly on the underground and the mainline termini in London. It’s an anxiety that I have at the moment about how we’re going to get that down. We do all the things we’ve always done with undercover squads and so on, but we’re going to have a whole new approach as we move into the spring, because we’re seeing a lot of people come into this country to steal. I think the other day there were 25 offences on the underground and that’s a lot. A small proportion of those are fraudulent insurance claims and some lose their phone after a few drinks but without doubt it’s a particular problem.’

Social media helping with arrests

Trotter is very aware that social media has aided detection and prosecution especially in the area of anti-social behaviour, but it could also have represented a bit of a runaway train for the BTP, so to speak.

‘Because we are pretty adventurous on social media, we get reports back on Twitter. We didn’t set our account up to receive reports, but we do, and in real time people are tweeting us, ‘help now’, so we’ve had to change our working practices from being media driven to an operational response. And while social media has opened up new ways of contacting us, I approach it with some caution thinking ‘what are we going to open up?’ But I’m absolutely passionate about the fact we need to get to people who need help.’

Trotter told a story about an event on the tube that featured on the Sun’s website, ‘not that I read it, I wouldn’t dream of it’ he added quickly, ‘but I saw it online and thought, ‘what’s that?’ And the Sun was asking people to come forward. Nobody had reported it to us but we dived in there and solved it. By tweeting an appeal for information we got the offender, so social media has helped us hugely on that score, opening up new avenues to talk to the public and get new information.’

The realities of business

Working within such a complex and politicised industry can’t be easy, and I wondered how Trotter interacts with the organisations that fund the BTP. ‘I meet with Toc MD’s regularly and talk to them primarily about the service we provide. I listen to their concerns about the setting of priorities and national and local targets, and I deliberately do that so they don’t feel we are imposing anything – that we are flexible enough to do what they want locally and adapt our procedures and priorities to that.’

And does that work well? Surely there are clashes? ‘No! Not at all. They’re business people and they will always want things better and cheaper and I absolutely respect and understand that. I have a very good relationship with Toc’s that has improved considerably over the years, primarily because of the service we provide. I’m never complacent, but I can walk out of the offices of some very strong characters with quite a few notes of praise about the BTP. We are assiduous in our attention to providing that good service and we’re not defensive about any area we think we could improve on. At the same time however we are a police force, with all the independence of a police force, we’re not a private security company.’

That good relationship didn’t always exist though, and Trotter is open about that, as well as clear about why things have improved. ‘I don’t get a hard time these days in the way that perhaps would have happened in the past, and that’s partly because I demonstrate to the industry that we’re handling its money carefully. That we’re not only effective but efficient and that costs have been taken out of the business.’

And that has certainly been the case, via a 20 per cent reduction of senior BTP officers through voluntary redundancy, removing back office costs, and another current major restructuring to squeeze out costs even further. ‘We’re doing it because I want more police officers on the front line,’ explained Trotter, ‘as there are bits of the country where I feel we’re not providing a good enough service. Local forces are experiencing considerable cuts to their budgets and we need to make sure we can look after the rail industry.’

Driving out costs has been a ‘hardy perennial’ for Trotter who mentioned the recommendations of the McNulty report. ‘But even in the best of times, the rail industry will want it cheaper, as any private sector organisation would and public sector ought to do. I have absolutely no problem with that. I think that pressure will always be there and I don’t mind – but whether it’s a £50 million or £500 million service, what we’ve got now provides by all the measures in crime detection and reduction, satisfaction and so on.’

Rising fares = rising frustration?

I wondered if the BTP ever notices a change in passenger attitudes and behaviour when big fare rises take effect for example. ‘Yeah…you know it’s interesting that,’ pondered Trotter. ‘I obviously use the trains both as a police officer and a member of the public, and listening to some of the interactions, I notice every time there’s another hike you get some clever people coming up with various comments to the ticket collector that can be a bit sharp, which is unfair. I think it’s not so much the rises, because all of us with families who travel on the train face them, as well as rising car park charges and all those sorts of things: it’s more that we get pushback from people who say, ‘I pay a lot, not only to travel but to park my car or bike here so there is an obligation on you to look after it,’ and rightly so’.

Andrew Trotter

Not happy to pay

A big issue for the BTP according to Trotter has arisen in designing out ways that people can avoid paying for their fare – a development which constitutes an affront to some of them apparently. ‘It’s a key reason for a lot of the disorder. Where we have a service that people have previously abused a great deal, and then suddenly, between ourselves and the industry we put in checks to stop that, there is objection.’

Pointing out of the window to a London Overground station: ‘It’s a fantastic success’ said Trotter, ‘but half of that was achieved not only by investment, but by the fact that we went along in considerable numbers at first to help enforce the fact that passengers had to pay. And it was quite difficult for a while. People had been jumping on and off that rather decrepit old service intimidating the few rail staff and getting away with it. In fact it’s changed a bit now, but if you were to draw a line across north London linking its crime spots, it would look like the Overground route. So much has changed now with the gentrification of many parts of London though, and the rolling stock that LOROL has makes people feel safer – you can see right down the carriage, CCTV and staff are everywhere. And if you look at the passenger satisfaction scores, we played a part in that, a small one, but a part in bringing order to decent places.’

Best and worst memories

One can only wonder at the richness and variety of experience gathered in such a long and high-profile career, and Trotter pointed out that ‘every operational cop has horrors stored in their memory…things I’ve dealt with whether it be fishing dead children out of a pond or carrying a man out of a fire – I wasn’t being heroic and he’d lost a child in it. They’re things I still have flashbacks about. And then of course you have the major events like Ladbroke Grove and 7/7, both of which I was closely involved with. From a professional officer’s point of view, you can be satisfied with the way you’ve responded but you think about the human tragedy that sits behind it. Only this morning as I was cycling through Hyde Park on the way back up here, I passed the 7/7 memorial thinking, ‘it’s not that long ago’. You think about these things because you just do. Names crop up in traffic reports for example and it just clicks – something about the event and what happened. All you can take from it is not satisfaction beca
use there are things we did well and things we could have done better, but you just think ‘We did our job’, and I think on those occasions we did.’

On the highs, there are ‘loads’ but Trotter is still thoughtful. ‘Again all police officers have really good arrests that make a difference…when I was a rural Sergeant in Kent, taking over a surprisingly rough area and dealing with some very violent characters with very little back up. Running my own division in Westminster when I was with the Met – crime came down by 30 per cent through the application of very simple principles, dealing with basics such as drunks, beggars, thieves and drug users with visible, intrusive policing…’ At this point Trotter wryly diverted ‘Had I been an American I’d have written books and done world tours for the police’… and trying to apply those same principles to the BTP.’

‘If I go and wander around a railway station I expect the place to look right. I expect my officers to spot things that are out of place and to deal with them. And I want people to feel that railway stations are safe. Now we can’t say that for every single UK station, and we’ll always have problems with late night drinkers, football fans and so on, but my goal is that rail staff and passengers can view them as a good place to be. It helps the retail side to flourish, and it’s an important part of people’s end-to-end journey.’

Sounding every inch a Chief Constable, Trotter discussed the transformation of King’s Cross. ‘15 years’ ago it was synonymous with drugs, prostitution, crime. But the investment from Network Rail has been incredible as has the policing between the Met and BTP in driving out low-level crime. The sort of thing that people used to walk by and accept as normal I do not accept as normal. It is not normal to have a beggar on a railway station. I’m not anti-beggar but they’re not going to be on a railway station. It’s not normal to have drunks staggering about, or to have baggage thieves or people being bothered. So we have high visibility from us and the PCSO’s (Police Community Support Officers).’

Out and about

Trotter makes a point of getting out and about nationally quite a bit. ‘I’m often held in meetings but I do try. I was up in Liverpool the other day, on the Merseyrail network with one of my PC’s, just going about and checking the stations and chatting to staff. I thoroughly enjoy it. It’s good to talk to the PC’s and I really like watching their interaction with rail staff – you can pick up on whether the relationship is right or not – does the PC know about recent incidents? Is he or she greeted by name? And when you’re invited in the office for a chat and they start to talk over something they both know about – you know it’s good. It’s fairly unscientific but I increasingly trust my antennae.

‘Sometimes a rail employee will tell me about something and I’ll say, ‘did you report that, it sounds horrendous?’ because I want to make sure they feel confident that we want to hear from them. Staff assaults are really important to us and the BTP’s success in dealing with them has improved hugely, because we approach it in the same way the Home Office force might with domestic violence.’

Rail is on-trend

I mentioned that, combined with its innate standing as the object of a plethora of collective emotion both affectionate and hate filled, the rail industry seems to have quite a ‘hip’ image at the moment – being the subject of quite a number of TV programmes has made it a lot sexier.

Talking about BBC 2’s The Railway: Keeping Britain on Track, Trotter was pleased at how the BTP was portrayed. ‘You’re always slightly on edge when you watch your own people on TV, but I think they came across very well, showing their calmness and professionalism under pressure. The rail staff came across especially well I felt. They were great at dealing with some very difficult and anxious people and the human side of the industry came across. My admiration for engineers was confirmed also – watching them at Greyrigg working in foul conditions and just getting on with it. I remember when High Speed One had been built, going to St Pancras and talking to the engineers about the challenges they faced with tunnels, bridges, rivers, canals and power and just thinking ‘wow’.’

Trotter recalls, ‘what really interested me when I came to the BTP was how these very powerful business people, the Toc MD’s, really love the railway. I’m a judge on the National Rail Awards and I sit in this office, along with rail journalists and people from the industry, interviewing people about the award they’ve been nominated for, and what comes across is their passion for the business. ‘

Has this rubbed off on him I wonder or colleagues? ‘I do think there’s a genuine interest in the railway, and I find I’m so much more tuned in to the issues, on a personal as well as professional level. When I get invited to the front cab with an MD who wants to show me what their rolling stock can do, the pride and energy and interest they have is quite infectious. I don’t think until I came into this job that I appreciated just how much enthusiasm and passion there is for rail, and you do find yourself getting more interested – if I see something in the newspapers about rail I immediately read it and that would never have happened years ago.’

Clear strategic direction

I wondered about Trotter’s management style and he immediately turned to the press officer, ‘Jo would say it’s very good and benevolent’ and at that both laughed out loud. ‘I suppose I’ve always been a fairly strong leader, whether of a team or as captain of the rugby club. One learns over time that certain approaches are perhaps not the best way of doing business, and I do like to reflect on things and say ‘well actually maybe I could have done that better’, because when I was younger I always wanted teams that got out there and wanted to do it. And you can encourage and enthuse people like that, but over time I’ve developed slightly different ways of dealing with people than perhaps I would have done many years ago.

‘The BTP is an organisation with some pretty bright people in it, but they usually want a boss who has a clear strategic direction. I’ve put together a team around me, many of whom have far better talents than I, and that’s quite deliberate. I want people who complement but who challenge – I don’t want to be so strong that they feel they can’t influence, but equally I want them to know ‘we’ve had our discussion but that’s the way we’re going to go’. Some are pleased with that and others maybe not but I’m pretty clear about the way I want the organisation to develop and I want enthusiastic energised people who share that vision really.’

Keeping busy

Trotter used to play a lot of rugby apparently, but various injuries have put a stop to that. ‘Following my knee operation I’m back on my bike so I go mountain biking and a bit on the road, and I’ve gotten into canoeing of late. I’ve also got six children and seven grandchildren so they occupy my time.’

So how would he feel if they wanted to join? ‘Yeah. I’d be more than happy if they wanted to do that. You always want to protect your children don’t you, you think of the horrors, the dreadful fatalities that I find my staff have to deal with, but I would be much, much, more confident for any of my girls or my boys to join the police now, and much more so now about joining the BTP. We’ve set our standards high, and when I joined they weren’t if I’m honest.’

Warming to that theme, Trotter said: ‘I’m clear that I want bright, sharp people with the right attitude. I’ve set this challenge for my Learning Development department, ‘How do you test for enthusiasm, drive and energy?’ I’d trade anything for those things. Persistence, resilience, good manners, ability to use discretion and common sense – these are big asks these days. Show me those people and we can train them. So I like a high level of intelligence and a really good character, because my philosophy is that I want them out there as I say, often on their own and with probably less supervision than they had before. I want fewer supervisors, fewer bosses, and more people who are self-motivated, with a clear direction on what I want to do and who get on with it.’

Coping with the predicted future

With rising passenger demand, huge developments nationally including HS2 and Crossrail – how will the BTP cope?

Trotter seems un-phased and says it’s great to be part of a booming industry, but then admits these developments will bring challenges, alongside issues such as retail shoplifting, and having bars and clubs on railway premises, which will require their own set of policing demands. ‘There is a need to make sure our work with local forces at transport hubs is looked at in the round,’ he explained. ‘One of the reasons that we’re going through the current restructuring to bring more officers out is for that very reason, that as we look forwards – we set ourselves 2019 as an end goal to our strategy – and look at all the different factors, it’s going to increase demand, but our budget is unlikely to go up. The structure we had hitherto has delivered a very good performance and good stakeholder relationships and I won’t lose that. But the challenge is, how are we going to provide more for the same money? People talk about the decrease in football violence, well not in our world there isn’t. We’re seeing more demonstrations that people get to on the train, and if you look at some of our weekend activities in any part of the country it could be a football fixture, a rugby international, Aintree, York races, the Notting Hill Carnival, New Year’s Eve – the demands are huge.’

Trotter is stoic about the budget situation. ‘We know we’ve got a funding stream from the rail industry and within that we will do our very best to provide the service. If the budget were doubled of course I would do much more, but that’s not going to happen. The pressures from McNulty, the fact that we are a non-departmental public body reporting to the DfT means we are subject to the sort of constraints the public sector is facing at the moment, so we have an interesting set of challenges in that we’ve got to demonstrate we’re no different from any other part of the public sector and we will take our part in the cuts. In fact we’ve cut our budget by just under 14 per cent in real terms over the past few years and delivered much better operational performance. That sort of thing appeals to the rail industry because that’s the language it understands.’

A help and not just a cost

Asked if there was anything he would like the rail industry to do differently or better, Trotter pointed to an improvement in integrating the BTP’s planning. ‘We ask the industry in its planning to really think about the crime prevention side of things. We like to get our views over and have some really good experts who can help.’

‘Different franchise lengths result in different levels of investment and that has an impact because there are times when actually we’d like much more investment if it were possible; whilst I’m aware that it’s a business and people will say, ‘What’s the return on that’, we’d like more CCTV and more lighting and staff everywhere.

‘Overall though, I think we’ve learned a lot with the industry, and in terms of the working together ethos I think there’s been a real improvement, so it’s not a criticism, more of a ‘please can we continue with a similar approach’, because we are here to help and I don’t want to be seen as just a cost that comes into this. I want to be integrated into the business while maintaining the proper due distinction in our roles.

‘There is more to be done,’ feels Trotter, ‘but the investment from Network Rail on level crossing vans and cable theft etc has been really impressive and NR has been a great partner to us, as have individual Toc’s. The work we do with London Overground has been very integrated, so it genuinely feels like we have better and better partnerships just about everywhere in the country. Even when we have bouncy times over the costs, we still get railway companies paying for more PCSO’s in rural stations and it’s made a big, big, difference.’

A deepening partnership

In concluding, I asked Trotter if he wanted to convey a message, rather than be asked questions. ‘I’d like to say a big thanks to the rail industry, not only for the way it has improved hugely over the years in its operating procedures, but the way it works with us in partnership has made a big difference. I think we now have an integral role, working with the industry in prevention and planning as well as reacting, and we are increasingly treated as partners in the business, not just as a service provider.’

We care about the business

All relationships are a two-way street and again, Trotter readily admits a very different story could be told a few years ago on matters other than finance. ‘We would have had a lot of stick from the rail unions about, perhaps, the way we dealt with staff assaults. We would have had a lot of stick from many of the managers in the business for the way we went about our business. They didn’t feel that we were quite as empathetic as we could have been, or understood the needs of the industry quite enough. Nowadays, while there will always be occasions when we get things wrong or could do better, the fact that managers know they can call me directly and that we care about the business and we listen; the fact that we engage them in our policing plan, along with the Police Authority, means they feel they’re involved. We have gone out of our way to say, ‘What do you want? How can we do it and how can we do it better?’ I think the industry appreciates that. If I’d have gone to some rail meetings a few years ago they would have been a lot bouncier than they are now.’

‘So you enjoy your job enormously by the sounds of it?’ I ask. ‘Oh yes, there are times when you sit through multiple committees and you’d rather be elsewhere, but it’s great fun,’ he said laughing. And as I go through the door Trotter betrayed the fact that first and foremost he is a policeman, saying, ‘When I tell my colleagues I’m doing an interview with a rail magazine they say I’m turning into a trainspotter.’ But I get the feeling he’s ok with that.