ANYONE who has ever travelled on a late-night train filled with rowdy football fans will know how reassuring the presence of a police officer can be.

What we don’t, perhaps, appreciate is the logistical planning behind the scenes that goes into providing that visible security.

Almost every weekend during the football season, officers from the Leeds-based British Transport Police (BTP) Operational Support Unit, travel aboard trains ferrying supporters of Yorkshire’s top clubs home from matches.

“That’s our main task during weekends,” says PC Jo Kellett, one of a seven-strong team that works across the Yorkshire region. “For example if Bradford City or Leeds United is playing a London-based club we will travel to King’s Cross. Unless it is a really big game we don’t travel down with them, we are there to escort them back. We went down to Wembley when York City played Macclesfield Town in May.”

The team is alert to any form of anti-social behaviour. “There are those people who are known to us, and some may cause problems when in drink. It is a small minority, but can cause disruption to other passengers,” says PC Kellett.

Travellers passing through the region are also monitored, such as the recent game between Manchester City and the Dutch team Feyenoord, whose fans arrived by ferry in Hull and went onwards across Yorkshire by train.

“With all matches we assess numbers and whether there is any potential for disorder. We consider the demeanour of the fans, whether they are travelling in groups and if any are known to the police.”

The team is riot-trained. “For big fixtures, such as the recent Leeds United and Barnsley game We wear protective clothing, with helmets accessible in case we need them,” says Jo.

Histories of previous clashes are noted, and whether trouble arose.

Dealing with football crowds is just one string to the team’s enormous bow.

Terrorism is high on their agenda. They are trained behavioural detection officers, going out to busy locations on the rail network either in plain clothes or uniforms, observing people’s behaviour, looking for anything suspicious.

They have authority to stop and search, and can take steps to take matters further if necessary.

“If someone is acting suspiciously, we stop and talk to them, and find out more,” says team member PC Marcus Robinson.

Busy railway stations have long been places towards which vulnerable young people gravitate, being commonly found loitering or begging.

“We see many youngsters and runaways. We are alert to sexual exploitation - there have been many instances where we have prevented young people meeting adults they have met online,” says PC Robinson. “We have undergone training in safeguarding, and we feed information to our own safeguarding unit. In cases of severe need we have 24-hour access to someone who can help. It is a multi-agency approach.”

The BTP is also involved with the Small Talk Saves Lives campaign, launched in conjunction with Samaritans, Network Rail and the wider rail industry to give people the confidence to help prevent suicide on the railways and beyond.

“A little small talk can be all it takes to interrupt someone’s thoughts of taking their own life,” says Sergeant Bob Smith, who leads the team. “Studies have shown that there is a two to three minute window in their mind frame - someone talking to them can disrupt their train of thought and help to save their life.”

Officers also have the unenviable task of delivering tragic news to families in the event of a death on the railway.

Other issues addressed by the officers include cases of racial abuse. “We had a recent case at Bradford Forster Square railway station in which staff were racially abused. A team of three or four officers then spent time there reassuring the staff and sending a message to the public that such behaviour will not be tolerated,” says PC Kellett.

Another involved the theft of suitcases on cross-country trains. The incidents were pinpointed to the area between Leeds and Sheffield, and, in an operation involving plain clothes officers, the culprit was apprehended.

A plain clothes operation also led to a man being charged with the theft of bikes from York railway station. “They were being stolen every day from two racks,” says PC Robinson. “The man we identified had bolt cutters, and has been charged with multiple bike theft.”

Trespass, anti-social behaviour and vandalism are tackled. Incidents such as items being thrown on to the track can cause major disruption across the country.

Recent incidents near Bingley tunnel include stones being thrown at trains and items including a duvet thrown onto overhead power lines.

The team is trained in rope work at height, to enable them to attend incidents such as protests or demonstrations on overhead gantries or other high platforms.

BTP officers are alert to signs of activity linked to terrorism. “If there is a bag left behind, or someone is behaving suspiciously, for instance,” says Sgt Smith. “We are counter-terrorist search trained and can look for an identify an improvised explosive device (IED)”.

BTP has developed the HOT principle, distributing posters and literature helping rail and station staff to recognise the difference between an abandoned/left item and a suspicious one. It follows guidance linked to the three letters - is it hidden, is it obviously suspicious and is it typical of the environment?

“It encourages staff to act as our eyes and ears,” says Sgt Smith.

The BTP use Project Servator, which involves unpredictable and highly visible deployment of officers, primarily to tackle terrorism, but also to deter, detect and disrupt a range of criminal activity, including theft and pickpocketing.

The initiative was launched in 2014 by the City of London Police in response to the public perception of increased levels of crime and the threat of international terrorism.

It involves uniformed and plain clothed officers together with other specially-trained officers. They are supported by other resources, such as police dogs and a network of CCTV cameras. Rail staff also support deployments through vigilance and regular communication with officers.

Officers, some in plain clothes, turn up unannounced at railway stations to carry out patrols,” adds Sgt Smith.

*Text the BTP on 61016 for non-emergency incidents or e-mail; 0800 405040.