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
- ^ Tom Cheshire – Ronald McDonald is a hero for our times (news.sky.com)
Footage of the Prime Minister being escorted from Parliament following the Westminster terror attack has prompted questions about her security team. Sky News police analyst Graham Wettone analysed the footage to see whether Theresa May was moved safely. “The initial attack is coming from the Carriage Gates and the Prime Minister’s car is in the other courtyard . That looks a short distance, but essentially it’s quite some distance to cover.
“The attacker is dealt with very, very quickly . There are a number of armed protection officers literally round the corner.
“Then there’s the courtyard, the safe and secure area where the Prime Minister’s car was located while she was in Parliament in Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs). “You see two protection officers coming out into the courtyard to secure it . They’re in constant communication with the team that has the Prime Minister. “Theresa May is being kept in a secure, safe location within the corridors. “You see her come out with the protection team .
She momentarily moves to the right – she saw one officer move to the right and she wasn’t sure whether to follow him or stay with the protection team behind her. “But you see the officer behind her, who’s very close, has indicated she needs to come to the silver car, with the officer standing next to the door ready for her to get in.
“She’s very relaxed . She even steps back from the door and waits for it to be opened for her to get in . No sign of panic, very calm, she has complete confidence and trust in her team. “The officer has got an MP5 (gun) out, a powerful firearm to deal with any threat . He turns towards the Carriage Gate where the threat has come from.
“She’s in the car, safe and secure . The officers get in the back-up car . Her car moves off, goes towards the exit gates but they haven’t been cleared yet.
“It’s common practice to back off and keep your exits open . The driver can either go the route he’s been asked for, or if he gets different information he can go a different route. “That looks like a very good, very well controlled removal of the Prime Minister from the estate.
“To the untrained eye it may look a bit chaotic . But this isn’t Hollywood, it’s not like you see on the films . They managed it in a controlled, calm manner.”
A Parliamentary security review is now under way, with some MPs raising concerns about weak-points in the estate’s perimeter. Others have questioned unarmed officers being positioned in the first line of defence. A security review was launched in October 2014 after the then-prime minister David Cameron had a run-in with a jogger in Leeds.1 The man – Dean Farley – was briefly arrested but released without charge .
He said he just “brushed into someone while running”. The attack has also drawn comparison with US presidential security, which was put to the test during last year’s campaign when a protester at a rally in Ohio jumped the barricade and tried to rush Donald Trump. Four security men surrounded Mr Trump in seconds, and were praised by the now President for doing “a great job”.
An evil rapist who screamed at his victim from the dock before punching a security officer has been sentenced to life. Neil Anthony Thompson, 28, subjected his victim to a nightmare ordeal after following her home and climbing through her window armed with a knife. During a 30-minute attack Thompson threatened to kill her more than once.
It ended only when the brave victim managed to escape and run naked to a neighbour for help. Her incredible bravery continued at Manchester Minshull Crown Court1 on Thursday when she was interrupted during her statement by a shouting and swearing Thompson. Attacking the guard beside him, Thompson shouted at his victim as he tried to break free from the dock – while stunned officials in Court Seven sounded the alarm for help.
However, after a brief struggle, the convicted attacker was placed in a headlock and led to the cells to calm down. The hearing was adjourned until the afternoon, when Thompson emerged again to be given a life sentence. Afterwards, his defiant victim told the M.E.N: What he did in court just shows the type of person he is.
Neil Anthony Thompson has been jailed for life
I don t regret facing him in court – I wanted to look him in the eye and tell him what he d done to me and my family.
I ve got my life ahead of me and I won t let what he did define me . This is closure.
Earlier, Phil Barnes, prosecuting, told the court how Thompson, of Oswald Road, Chorlton2, followed his victim home on November 12 last year. She was sitting on her bed texting her boyfriend when Thompson burst into her room armed with a knife. He shouted at her to give him all her money , before ordering her to undress.
What followed was a gratuitous, brutal, sustained and violent series of sexual assaults which left her shaking and terrified for her life . The ordeal only came to an end when the victim bravely fled the house chased by Thompson, but she managed to get help from a neighbour who called the police. Detectives followed a trail of fingerprints, footprints and DNA evidence to a nearby bail hostel three days later.
On arrest, Thompson complained about being interrupted while watching a pornographic site and insisted he had been home alone taking cannabis and spice on the night of the attack. Only when confronted with the undeniable evidence did Thompson admit rape, attempted rape, three charges of sexual assault, causing a person to engage in sexual activity without consent, trespass with intent to commit a sexual offence and burglary. Sentencing Thompson to life with a chance to apply for parole after eight years, Judge Tina Landale said Thompson had shown no remorse and couldn t care less about the impact of his behaviour . She said he could apply for parole in eight years, but added: However, you are an extremely dangerous man and it s possible you may never be released.
Minshull Street Crown Court
Defending, Thomas McKail said Thompson was appalled by his outburst in court and had in fact been trying to apologise to his victim. He added: There is no amount of apology or remorse that will begin to make amends for the damage caused to the complainant and her family. He said his client recalled following her home but cannot remember the attack .
As a career burglar, much of his life had been spent behind bars and he had been institutionalised, he added. Det Sgt Rebecca Mills, of GMP s Trafford borough, said: This is one of the most horrendous incidents I have been involved with investigating and the details of it will no doubt send cold shivers down the spines of anyone who hears them. Praising the courage of Thompson s victim, she added: I would like to thank her and pay tribute to her for this bravery, and I just hope the significant sentence passed today will bring her some comfort to know that her help has taken a dangerous man off the streets and seen justice served.
‘There is no way someone like that should ever be allowed to walk the streets again’
The victim of Neil Anthony Thompson showed incredibly bravery – first escaping his evil clutches, then helping police with their investigation – and finally facing him in court. On Thursday she saw him jailed for life and shared her relief that he can t hurt anybody else.
I don t have the words to describe how I feel about Neil . The overriding feeling is anger . He doesn t deserve to ever be let out . There is no way that someone like that should ever be allowed to walk the streets again.
There are a lot of cases where rapists aren t caught, where people haven t come forward because they might be afraid of the police not believing them.
I want to say if anyone has had a similar thing happen to them, come forward . If I hadn t come forward this person would still be out there, doing what he did to me to other people.
My life has changed now . It s affected me, my family, my health .
I m coming to terms with it, with wondering why me ? I m not going to be able to answer that.
I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks . I worry a lot now, I ve very nervous about situations . I m now very shy around people I don t know . I was shy when I was younger but I managed to get over that and this has brought it all back home.
A couple of weeks ago I felt like I couldn t cope any more . Everyone in my life has been affected, even though it happened to me.
The emotional effects on my mum where she started to suffer badly with anxiety and depression . She doesn t really sleep or eat.
My relationship with my dad is now also very strained . We rarely speak now and he has been very distant from me . I think he is struggling to come to terms with what happened.
When I m walking about on my own outside I feel as though I m now on high alert, constantly looking over my shoulder and about, in a way, suspecting everyone I come across on the street.
Before Neil did what he did I was in my second year of university .
But after this, I couldn t even get myself out of bed to find the energy or the mental strength to go into uni . As a direct result of Neil, I left university and I am no longer in full time education while I try to focus on putting my life back together.
I now share a flat with girls who have been through similar things in their lives . I m worried what is going to come next for me, emotionally .
But now I have closure and I want to get on with my life.