Like many, my thoughts are with all those affected by the terrible event on Wednesday 22nd March 2017 when a cowardly and selfish man killed four people and injured many others. Some of those injured may never fully recover and the lives of many will have changed forever by the actions of one individual.
As ever, the Police service were at the forefront of the incident and ran towards the danger whilst moving others away and shielding some from the attack. Standing between society and this type of evil cost one Police officer his life and three others were victims on Westminster Bridge when they were run over after attending a commendation ceremony. The conduct and actions of the officers at the Palace of Westminster and on Westminster Bridge, were rightly recognised and reported as being heroic and representative of Policing in the UK. They upheld the finest traditions of the service and the swiftness and professionalism of the response was acknowledged and praised almost across the board.
There was genuine shock and horror amongst most of society and the outpouring of gratitude and thanks to the thin blue line was extremely welcoming and needed. I spoke with many officers working there after the attack and they were all genuinely moved by the show of Public support but also devastated by the loss of one of their own.
The danger is that people may start to really believe what they see and read in the press, some of these reports quickly become the accepted account of what happened regardless of whether there are any facts contained in the story. These stories or reports are frequently opinion based and may contain conjecture from many who have an issue with policing. The public reaction this week shows that the majority do support their Police and are grateful for the work that is done. They understand the sacrifices being made, the long hours being worked and the fact that it remains a very dangerous profession with the unexpected or occasionally terrifying incident likely to require Police to step forward and deal.
This continual negativity has an understandable effect on the Police service and there are very few weeks go past without some form of critical report. Within a day of Wednesdays attack there were already debates and discussions around the extraction of the Prime Minister from the Palace of Westminster and whether her Police security team had made mistakes. The overall issue of security and why Police officers at the entry gates were not armed was questioned and was this another Police error? There were also questions about why the acting Commissioner was not speaking to the press and why he had left the scene of the attack. He was reportedly a `significant` witness and had been present as the attack at the gates of Westminster took place. In the last day, more footage has emerged and questions raised about a gate being left unguarded whilst officers ran to the aid of their dying colleague. It took just one day for the critics to resurface and start minutely examining every action by Police during the attack.
Mobile phone footage taken by people hiding in offices whilst being protected by Police, emerged from a couple of sources with their commentary highlighting the `errors` identified by these instant security experts. If you wanted to be hyper critical, and knowing the Police service and those involved I know they will be, there are a couple of points that could have been better. The car for the Prime Minister could have had the driver ready and waiting but again, it looked like the back-up car was ready to go hence the slight movement in that direction first. In any event throughout that evacuation, she was under control and safe with her team around her ready to confront any attack from any direction. These officers are from the same department as the protection officers that moved forward and dealt with the attacker so quickly and effectively.
The question about easy access for the attacker through the gates was also raised. There used to be a fixed armed post on the entry gates but my understanding now is that it was removed a couple of years ago, due to cuts in the Police resources. It was also felt by many working at the Palace of Westminster that it was not the image they wanted to portray and having a gun toting Police officer on the entry gate looked oppressive. That is why the officers on that gate were unarmed and not because of a policing error but from a change in policy, influenced no doubt by the views from Westminster. There will no doubt be an intensive review of security and probably a return to the armed post that seemed to be effective in previous years.
The acting Commissioner was a significant witness but he is also a very important figurehead and his presence in the midst of a crime scene would have been more of a hindrance than a help. His protection team did the right thing to remove him as quickly as they did.
Lastly, the issue of the unattended gates and remember one of the officers posted to those gates was now lying fatally injured in the courtyard with his colleagues ensuring the threat had been dealt with. They would also have been assessing any further threat whilst rushing to provide emergency first aid to the officer and the suspect who had been shot. In situations like these you must prioritise and they would have been aware of the gates and ready to deal if another attack took place. Their priority was now emergency first aid whilst assessing any further threats which would have included the gates being open. An armed response vehicle was on scene within seconds and would also have been able to deal should the open gate pose an additional threat. It was closed just over a minute later and at no time escalated as a potential threat.
I could write so much more on every single aspect but it is indicative of the agenda by some in this country to look for criticism in policing at literally every opportunity. The Met seemed to go from heroes to villains in some peoples` eyes overnight and I imagine the possibility of further criticism of the Police and security services has not vanished as we learn more about the attacker and his life. No doubt, someone somewhere should have read and assessed him as being capable of this action and predicted this would take place.
My real concern is the lack of balance in some reporting and the effect this continual `police bashing` has on the public and the very officers tasked to protect society. To me, Police officers are heroes every day in dealing with everything society demands of them. The villains are those who have the luxury of being able to criticise without ever having to face the situations Police officers deal with. If you see a Police officer over the next few days go up and thank them for their work, I know it will make a difference to their day and restore their faith in the public.