SECTARIAN incidents on Scottish trains have rocketed over the last 12 months according to police.
British Transport Police (BTP), which polices Britain’s rail network, say they officers have dealt with more incidents so far this football season than in the whole of the previous year.
BTP, currently taking a zero-tolerance approach to the problem, have dealt with 29 incidents so far this season, compared with 14 the previous year.
And the number of cases referred to the procurator fiscal for prosecution has already hit 40 compared with 10 the previous year.
But police say they are concerned that some rail passengers are reluctant to give evidence in relation to sectarian incidents.
BTP Chief Superintendent Ellie Bird said that two recent incidents had brought no response from the public despite appeals.
The first involved a gang on 25 Rangers supporters singing sectarian songs on a Glasgow train.
The second saw a 16-year-old allegedly assaulted on a Glasgow to Kilmarnock service after asking a group of Celtic fans to stop singing.
Investigations are ongoing into the first incident but two men in their mid twenties have been reported to the procurator fiscal in relation to alleged assault.
Confusion over the definition of a sectarian incident – particularly over which songs can be deemed offensive – as well as fear of a court appearance put many people off coming forward, according to Ms Bird.
She said: “Politicians and police officers have been challenged up until now in terms of ‘you tell me what is sectarianism’. A member of the public is going to feel the same.”
“The last thing they want is to go to court and somebody representing the defendant really tears into them and almost humiliates them by saying ‘tell me what the Famine Song means; what’s your understanding of this’.
“That’s a really terrifying situation to be in as a member of the public.”
She added that officers did not decide which incidents were sectarian but investigated complaints if a member of the public felt threatened.
She added: “Where does the fear sit, with the victim of the offender? It should not be with witnesses or victims, who should have absolute confidence they can come forward and not come out of court traumatised.”
The BTP has already begun using CCTV in the fight against sectarianism on the rail network.
Ms Bird said: “If there are problems on the way to the game, we can pick it up on CCTV and could have it ready for when they get back on the train afterwards.”
Dave Scott, campaign director at Nil By Mouth, a charity which works to fight sectarianism in Scotland, said: “Far too many so-called fans feel they are untouchable while travelling in packs and subject innocent bystanders to vile sectarian abuse and attacks.
“Sadly, this leads to people almost coming to expect such behaviour from supporters.”