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The Commissioner reflects on the "very real" threat from terrorism following recent atrocities

Blog post   •   Jul 31, 2016 07:47 BST


The Commissioner reflects on the very real threat from terrorism, but says defeating it is as much about refusing to be afraid as anything else, and by not being cowed terrorists will never win.

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe:

We have all watched the recent terrorist atrocities unfold with a terrifying and depressing sense of horror and dread.

I know that with each new outrage, and especially those on our doorstep in Europe, there is a greater sense of fear that Britain will be the next victim in this wave of cruel and mindless mass murder.

I feel and understand that fear and as the police officer in charge of preventing such an attack know that you want me to reassure you. I am afraid I cannot do that entirely.

Our threat level has been at "Severe" for two years - it remains there. It means an attack is highly likely - you could say it is a case of when not if.

But where I can offer reassurance is in answering the other questions I know that you so often ask of yourselves, your loved ones and friends - why and how has it not happened here yet? What are we doing to prevent it? How will the police protect me when it does?

What I can say is that we have not had a terrorist murder since the barbaric attack on Lee Rigby. I can point to the plots we have foiled, including terrorists who we have put behind bars after we foiled their advanced plans to murder police officers leaving Shepherd's Bush police station to walk their beats. Another saw a British based terrorist with advanced plans to carry out a Lee Rigby style attack on US soldiers, using a car and knives to murder the servicemen and potentially detonate a bomb as part of the murderous plot. He was thwarted thanks to joint work by the police and MI5.

When I was a beat bobbie in South Yorkshire my starting point had to be that I wanted to stop the bad guys and the gangs before they bullied the families on my patch.

So now, like then, I don't want to admit any crime, let alone these kinds of terrorist atrocities, is likely to happen on our watch but that is what the Severe threat level means.

Indeed, there are lots of things working in our favour. The relationship between MI5, MI6 and the police is a world-beater. It has given us an advantage in intelligence and ultimately foiling plots. My team at Scotland Yard co-ordinate the national police effort across the country, working with specialist hubs in other regions. In short we have a professional, joined up and national network of intelligence-led investigations.

Our gun controls and the simple fact we are an island mean that terrorists in the UK would struggle to get the firearms required to repeat attacks similar to those we have seen on the Continent. This gives a solid base as it means the UK environment is immediately hostile to the terrorist.

I would also add to this the British way of life and culture. Firstly the vast majority of our officers are unarmed - I truly believe this gives us a far healthier relationship with the people we police. Our neighbourhood officers - the ones who know their streets, who know their environment and who know many of the names of the people in their communities - are our major weapon. They are our eyes and ears on the street.

Secondly it is our tolerance and acceptance. Our approach to Muslims is no different because these attacks purport to be committed in the name of Islam. We don't stigmatise the millions of British Muslims whose values and faith completely reject the terrorists' litany of hate. We are a nation that accepts difference but builds communities with shared values. We should be proud of that - it is another reason why the UK is a hostile environment for those intent on murderous terrorism. It means that the vigilance of our officers is backed-up by millions more eyes and ears. These are whole communities united in defeating terrorism.

But even with this solid foundation to prevent attack I have renewed our focus on what we will do when terrorists breach these defences.

Within hours of the terrible events in Paris last November I recognised that the attack we had witnessed just 200 miles from London required a huge response.

So we have increased the number of specially trained and equipped officers who would go forward and confront these kinds of heavily armed terrorists. Initially, this was through longer shifts. Now our resilience has increased as all Met officers who carry a gun have been trained to go forward and take the initiative, in the face of a new terrorist threat. Meanwhile we are training hundreds of extra officers so they are ready to supplement our numbers during an attack similar to that seen in Paris. This increases overall numbers of firearms officers by 600 to 2800.

This increases our firearms capacity significantly at a time of crisis. Although we can't talk about the tactics of how many firearms officers we have on the street at anyone time our uplift, increased hours and dedicated resourcing means our 24/7 immediate response specialists who can go forward and confront the most terrible of threats is increasing three fold - significant numbers ready to take on an attack.

For the first time our team of Counter Terrorism Specialist Firearms Officers who train for the very highest attack risk are ready 24 hours a day. They have the rope, marine and other advanced skills needed to tackle the toughest of challenges.

All of the UK's armed officers are brave men and women who have volunteered to put themselves on this new and ever shifting front-line.

I'd ask you put yourself in their shoes just for a few moments. Imagine that if heavily-armed murderers were roaming our streets intent on killing public and police alike, it is your job, your duty, to confront them. That you may have to go forward and that you could be killed in doing so.

We tell the public to "Run, Hide, Tell". We ask these officers to run in the opposite direction to you.

They are paid no more for this, they have families, they are as attached to living life as us all, but they do this for you. They do this knowing that their split second decision making will be scrutinised in post-incident investigations that can sometimes last many years. I'm sure they have your gratitude.

I realise that some of what I am telling you today is not reassuring. I hope that some of it is more so. The threat we all face is very real, no-one watching events in Europe can think otherwise, but it is important that we have a shared understanding of the work that goes on every day to stop attacks happening and to prepare for the time when we are faced with this terrifying threat.

London is a vibrant city. I am especially proud to police it. Hostile to terrorists and a place the world wants to visit and invest in - and rightly so. Help us to keep it that way - be our eyes and ears against terror - but also enjoy it. We should be positive and enjoy our freedoms.

Yes, these can feel like dark and desperate times, I feel that too sometimes, but defeating this terrorism is as much about refusing to be afraid as anything else, refusing to change our beliefs, our values or our way of life. We will not become like them, we will not hate, we will not be cowed and because of this they will never win.

  • If you see or spot anything suspicious call the Anti-Terrorist Hotline on 0800 789321 or 101 or in an emergency 999.