Railway Girls in Blue

Maureen Messent talks to women officers of British Transport Police


New Street Station was almost deserted in the after-midnight quiet.
As the train that had brought her back to Birmingham pulled away from the platform, the girl in the sheepskin coat shivered in the February cold and pulled her collar closer around her ears.
She did not realise the man was following her until she neared the entrance of the temporary wooden tunnel then leading into Stephenson Place.
His footsteps, fast when hers were fast, slow when she walked slowly, broke through her thoughts of the day she had spent with her family.
He closed with her in the tunnel. A strong hand grabbed her shoulders.
The girl neither struggled nor shouted. “Would you like to come with me?” she invited him.
Whatever the man thought she meant, he was interested enough to walk with her up to New Street and to stand by her side as she hammered on the door of the Midland Hotel.
Just one thing is certain.
The man did not realise his pretty victim, was 23-year-old Woman Police Constable Elaine Ragsdale, of the British Transport Police.
As she recounts the episode, telling how Elaine pushed the man through the hotel door and told the surprised night porter to keep an eye on him while she fetched help from the British Transport Police, Police Sergeant Patricia Staniforth almost laughs.
But not quite. Because she would be the first to admit her job, as Birmingham divisional woman sergeant in the British Transport Police, is a serious and responsible one.
Aged 39 and breezily efficient, she is the woman in charge of the 16 railway policewomen in the division, ten of whom work from New Street.

And she grows indignant if questioners make the mistake of asking her the difference between the British Transport Police and “the ordinary police.”
“Our powers are exactly the same as those of city and county police forces,” she explains. “Our jurisdiction cavers all B.R. stations, hotel, catering and road services, as well as waterways and docks.
In one way, we have more scope than county and city police forces. We take our cases through to their conclusion in the magistrates’ courts and we can be promoted to anywhere in the country.”
Working side-by-side with the larger male force of British Transport Police officers and constables, the women carry out patrol work, man the Railway Police radio and handle all incidents concerning women and children
And it is not unusual for them to arrest burly male drunks.

Since March, when the reconstructed New Street began functioning as a “closed station” — the only way off it is through the ticket barrier — the policewomen have been having a closer look at fare-dodgers.
This is in line with the national British Rail effort to clamp down on all joy-riders.
Last year in the Birmingham division, British Transport Police investigated 600 cases of fare-dodging. Four hundred of these resulted in prosecutions.
In Birmingham at present, as in other parts of the country, special ticket checks are held in close co-operation with all ticket collectors.
On a certain day, for example, a line will be “sealed off” by having ticket inspectors at each of the stations on the route into the city.
All passengers must have a ticket before they board the train at one of the “sealed” stations. Or, if they have no time to buy a ticket, they will be issued with a special pink ticket which shows where they joined the train.
On arrival at New Street they must give up either the regular or the pink ticket. And woe to the unwary fare-dodger who has boarded the train beyond the “sealed” station area.
The maximum penalty for a first conviction of this nature is £25, for second and subsequent offences £25 or three months’ imprisonment.

Much of the policewomen’s work is performed in plain clothes. They may dress as ordinary travellers to act as decoys to men suspected of indecent behaviour, or to investigate cases of fraud.
“Take the people who think they are on to a good thing when they get hold of a B.R. identity card,” said Police Sergeant Staniforth.
“These are issued only to B.R. employees and entitles them to certain travel privileges.
“ Fare dodgers will find them after a B.R. employee has lost them. Or they may pick up an old one and alter the dates.
“Then there are the ticket alterers. One man had a clever little scheme which took some time for us to twig.
“Each morning he would buy a 6d. ticket. This entitled him to travel from his hone suburban station to the next down the line.
“As soon as he boarded the train to Birmingham he would slice the 6d. ticket, through the middle and stick the portion with that day’s date on to the back of an old ticket between his home station and Birmingham.
“Hence he was able to produce a ticket showing both the correct date and destination.’

At the British Transport Police College in Tadworth, Surrey, cadets learn first-aid, police procedure, ju-jitsu and the basic points of English law.
They will attend other colleges while  training and later, posted to a division, they will work in close liaison with city and county police forces.


This article first appeared in the Birmingham Evening Mail, Wednesday, September 6th, 1967.

Thanks to Patricia Graham (née Bradley), who served as a WPC at Birmingham New Street from 1962 to 1966, for sending us this article all the way from her home in North Carolina, USA.