THERE has been a rise in the number of sexual offences on the region's railways.

There were 67 sex crimes recorded by British Transport Police in the North West in 2013/14 - a 19.6% increase on the 56 in 2012/13.

Most of the increase was accounted for by incidents against females, which rose from 27 in 2012/13 to 35 in 2013/14.

The regional statistics reflect the national picture, which saw 1,117 incidents of sexual offences recorded in 2013/14 - a 20.8% increase on the 925 in 2012/13.

BTP said this increase was slightly higher than that experienced by police forces nationally.

Across the North West, incidents of robbery and assault on the railways fell from 32 to 14; public disorder crime was down from 666 to 550 and drug offences dropped from 803 to 691.

However fare-dodging and other "ticket fraud" offences increased from 1,919 to 2,068, while theft of passenger property rose from 818 incidents to 829.

Covering England, Wales and Scotland, the BTP figures showed that overall for 2013/14, notifiable crime, which makes up the more serious offences, fell by 5.7% from 53,885 to 50,840 - meaning there were more than 3,000 fewer victims of crime than in 2012/13.

It the tenth consecutive year that crime on Britain’s railways has fallen.

Speaking about the rise in sexual offences, BTP Chief Constable Paul Crowther said the force's Project Guardian had had a significant impact.

He said Project Guardian "focuses on increasing awareness and confidence among the public to report unwanted sexual behaviour to the police or members of staff.

"We are particularly interested in those offences which are often unreported, such as sexual assault, exposure, outraging public decency, lewd comments and harassment."

Chief Cons Crowther continued: “The initiatives and operations which have made such an impact during the past 12 months really highlight the advantage our specialist knowledge brings to the railway.

“By working with the rail companies and passengers, we are able to truly understand the challenges they face and devise innovative solutions to tackle those problems.”

In 2012 theft of passenger property was highlighted as a growing concern, as thieves turned to trains and stations which offered easy pickings.

In response, BTP launched Operation Magnum, an awareness campaign which advised passengers about the most common tactics used by thieves as well as tips to avoid falling victim to those methods.

Mick Cash, acting general secretary of the RMT transport union, said: "These are truly shocking figures which just illustrate the complacency over the safety of the travelling public which is endemic among the train companies, the regulators and the politicians.

"The 20% increase in sexual offences on the railways should force an immediate halt to the on-going programme to remove guards from our trains and the Government-endorsed plans to close ticket offices and de-staff stations.

"Clearly we need more staff in public view, across the network, to deter the criminals and halt this appalling surge in attacks on women."