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Sky Views: Has Westminster security gone too far?

Adam Boulton, Editor-at-Large

This week’s attack on Westminster was brutally simple . A lone assailant, Khalid Masood, killed four people and seriously wounded more than 20 others. It took a matter of seconds and the weapons – knives and a car – are readily available to most adults in this country. Masood did most damage on the soft targets – pedestrians, many of them tourists, crowding a pavement on Westminster Bridge beside a road that is one of the capital’s main thoroughfares. The defences of the hard target – politicians going about their business in Parliament – held.

If terror is about threatening and unsettling the lives of ordinary citizens, the reaction to his murderous assault handed the lone killer a posthumous victory. Adam Boulton

Heroically and tragically, PC Keith Palmer was murdered . He was the first line of defence at the gates of the Palace of Westminster . It is difficult to see how someone whose job involved interacting with the public could have been better protected from a shock stabbing attack. A few yards further into New Palace Yard, Masood was shot dead by an armed close protection officer who was guarding Defence Secretary Michael Fallon. In spite of these terrible events, the national threat level was not raised from “severe”.

Security forces remained on alert for the likelihood of some kind of terror event, but there was no specific intelligence of an imminent attack being planned. After paying due tribute to the police and emergency services and a statement on the attack from the Prime Minister, MPs congratulated themselves on returning to business as usual. Debates resumed, but it was not business as usual at Westminster. Some 24 hours after the attack, roads around Parliament – Whitehall, Parliament Square, Millbank – were still shut to both vehicles and pedestrians, inconveniencing tens if not hundreds of thousands of people and disrupting one of the nation’s hubs. Even one former security minister said privately that he thought the precautions were going “too far” . If terror is about threatening and unsettling the lives of ordinary citizens, the reaction to his murderous assault handed the lone killer a posthumous victory. Alas, the Palace of Westminster is no stranger to attacks .

In the 1970s, the IRA’s mainland campaign bombed the Great Hall and blew up Airey Neave as he was leaving the MP’s car park. In February 1991, mortars were fired into 10 Downing Street . After each of these attacks, the security cordon was much more limited than this week and obviously served a practical purpose. This century there have been three violent attacks against MPs holding surgeries in their constituencies . Nigel Jones and Stephen Timms were injured, while Jo Cox was murdered. Almost all MPs have vowed to go on meeting the public as an essential part of their job. However, the Palace of Westminster has become more and more like a fortress even though the attacks there have been relatively frivolous.

In 2004, Otis Ferry and other pro-hunt demonstrators broke into the chamber of the Commons and disrupted proceedings . In another incident, Fathers for Justice threw a harmless purple powder down from the public gallery. The public gallery is now sealed off from MPs by high glass . Getting near the chamber requires an electronic pass to get through multiple locked doors . Visitors to the Parliament must go through full magnetic arch screening, and on the sides exposed to roads, the building is protected by railings, bollards and heavy truck-proof barricades. Most MPs gratefully admit that they are well protected in Westminster even following this week’s bloodshed. Nobody criticises the police and security services for doing their job .

But overzealous bolting of the stable door by the security services and health and safety style overreaction once a danger has passed just curtails the very freedoms they are supposed to be protecting and hands the terrorists an unnecessary win.

Sky Views is a series of comment pieces by Sky News editors and correspondents, published every morning.

Previously on Sky Views: Tom Cheshire – Ronald McDonald is a hero for our times1

References

  1. ^ Tom Cheshire – Ronald McDonald is a hero for our times (news.sky.com)

Message on Counter-Terrorism from the Metropolitan Police

Message On Counter-Terrorism From The Metropolitan Police The UK threat level has been severe for some time and this level will not change.

The level of threat is complex and ranges from lone actors intent on carrying out crude attacks to sophisticated networks pursuing ambitious and coordinated plots;

As always, we advise the public to remain vigilant and to report any suspicious behaviour or activity to the Anti Terrorism Hotline on 0800 789 321 or in an emergency the public should always call 999. Please reinforce that to your workforce. I appreciate that you have responsibility for the security of buildings and therefore a large number of people. It is important at times such as these that the police security stance and that of the private security sector is joined up. As a result, we are recommending that you consider some protective security tactics to aid your security at this time, whilst remembering that the threat level remains at SEVERE.

We know that terrorists will undertake hostile scouting ahead of conducting an attack and increased vigilance by staff and the creation of a hostile environment combats such hostile inspection. Please refresh the knowledge of staff that have received Project Griffin and Project Argus training and deploy staff who have received training in behavioural detection (where you have them). Please be proactive in challenging visitors, vehicles and anything out of place and consider the following options from our Stakeholder Menu of Options, particularly around crowded place, night time economy and iconic sites.

  • Review patrol strategy (be unpredictable). Adopt high visibility clothing.
  • Brigade resources with neighbouring contracts/buildings
  • Report any suspicious activity in a timely manner. Early reporting of suspected hostile reconnaissance is vital in combating terrorism
  • Implement communication links with surrounding premises to pass on information about suspicious activity/behaviour
  • Consider closing non-essential access and egress points
  • Focus CCTV on all communal areas and vulnerable points
  • Ensure CCTV is fit for purpose

This is not an exclusive list and I recommend you look at the full menu and consider any other options that suit your premises or organisation. Please review your building and business continuity plans in the light of this attack. You should ensure that first aid points are fully stocked and the location of key equipment is made clear to all staff. We also recommend that staff are directed to the Citizen Aid app and Run, Hide, Tell on YouTube.

The number of casualties treated by the public highlights the importance of understanding first aid.

NaCTSO has refreshed its latest guidance on recognising the terrorist threat and I would recommend you access this at www.nactso.gov.uk

The following links provide additional useful information that may assist when deploying the tactical options:

http://www.cpni.gov.uk
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/stay-safe-film http://www.cpni.gov.uk/advice/physical-security/cctv
http://www.nactso.gov.uk
http://www.mi5.gov.uk
http://www.gov.uk/government/collections/crowdedplaces#sector-specific-guidance

Please also carry out your own reviews of security levels and some of you will have innovative and new ways of delivering protective security, which you may wish to share with other partners.

If you deploying such tactics and are willing to share them, please forward them to NaCTSO who will circulate them. Please contact them on nactso@cpni.gsi.gov.uk

Lucy D Orsi,

Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Specialist Operations, Metropolitan Police

Strabane security alert ends after ‘bid to kill police officers with roadside bomb with command wire’

A security alert in Strabane has ended after a “roadside bomb with a command wire” exploded at the side of the road which was “designed to kill ” officers.

The alert at on the Liskey Road and Townsend Street was sparked on Tuesday and ended on Friday afternoon. Three officers escaped injury after the device exploded while they were on patrol. Police said the device was a “roadside bomb with a command wire attached”. Chief Inspector Ivor Morton said: “This was a complex security operation involving what can only be described as a roadside bomb with a command wire attached. “This device was designed to kill or seriously injure officers serving the local community in Strabane, but it was also left in a built up area where it could quite easily have killed or maimed members of the public – showing a callous disregard for the safety of the local community.

It is extremely fortunate that we are not talking about the deaths of police officers or members of the public today.

The blame for this incident lies squarely on the reckless individuals who placed this device . The overwhelming majority of people in the community do not want this type of activity and we as a police service will continue to work to bring those responsible before the courts.” A 20-year-old man has been arrested in Newtownstewart in connection with the attack .

He was taken to Musgrave Serious Crime Suite in Belfast on Friday morning for questioning. Mr Morton thanked the public for their patience. He said: I would like to thank the local community for their patience and understanding during the course of this prolonged policing operation. “Our primary aim throughout has been community safety and we are committed to doing this by working with the community . The security operation caused significant disruption to the people of the area, but was necessary to allow for a careful examination of the scene in order to keep people safe.

Online Editors