A PLANNED takeover of British Transport Police risks exposing Scotland to a terrorist attack, the force has warned.

The Scottish Government has put forward controversial proposals to merge the specialist service with Police Scotland, although a series of concerns about the move have been raised.

In a submission to Holyrood’s justice committee, BTP highlighted the “very real” threat posed by terrorists to the transport network and warned potential attackers may seek to exploit “disjointed” arrangements within the UK.

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The force said: “There are significant examples of UK-based terrorist groups planning attacks against the West, as well as an escalation in extremist left and right-wing groups and the still real threat from dissident republican groups in Northern Ireland.

“Furthermore, the nature of the threat is changing, with intensified danger from ‘lone-actors’ using low sophistication, high impact attacks in crowded places including railway carriages and stations.

“These developments have underlined the importance of ensuring there is an integrated approach to counter-terrorism... an attack in Scotland may well be prevented in England.”

It added: “Any perceived vulnerability arising from disjointed protective arrangements could be exploited by those planning an attack. It is therefore important for officials to consider how a devolved model could retain the current seamless counter terrorism approach as well as enable a swift and assured tactical response.”

The SNP has insisted it is pushing ahead with its plans to integrate BTP into Police Scotland, meaning more than 200 specialist officers will transfer to the national force, with new powers in the area being transferred to Edinburgh.

Critics have pointed to high public satisfaction rates recorded for BTP and said Police Scotland, which has been hit by a series of scandals since it was set up in 2013, is ill-equipped to take on more responsibility.

The British Transport Police Federation, which represents frontline officers, said in its submission that no evidence had been put forward to clearly show the benefits of dismantling the force in Scotland.

The organisation fears officers will be asked to carry out other duties, diluting their specialism and compromising their relationship with the public and the rail industry that funds them.

The Federation also warned that the merger could prove complex and expensive, with Police Scotland already on course to overspend its budget this year by £17.5 million.

Douglas Ross, justice spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, described the evidence as “extremely troubling”. He added: “As we have been warning, BTP officers could end up being used to plug gaps in Police Scotland. More worryingly, as the BTP say, the lack of an integrated service could be exploited by those planning a terrorist attack.

“The SNP government has other options on the table that are consistent with the agreement to devolve control of BTP. It has failed entirely to explain why it is pressing ahead with its own reckless plan.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Specialist railway policing expertise and capacity will be maintained and protected within the broader structure of the Police Scotland force.

“Devolution of BTP was recommended by the Smith Commission, reached through cross-party agreement. The integration with Police Scotland will enhance railway policing through direct access to the local, specialist and national resources of Police Scotland to build upon the high levels of personal safety and security currently enjoyed by passengers and staff across the Scottish rail network.”