Parliament should not become a fortress

  • 30 Mar 2017 17:25
It might seem paradoxical for a security expert to question calls for tighter security, but the UK should think twice before turning the Palace of Westminster into a fortress.
Charlie Burbridge

There are undoubtedly measures that can and should be considered in the wake of last week’s attack. From pedestrianising Parliament Square, to air-lock style gates, armed officers or the provision of enhanced electronic surveillance in the streets that surround iconic landmarks.
 
But good security is a balance between reasonable expectations of safety and hard won personal freedoms.  The UK Parliament is one of the oldest in the world and in calling for security at all costs, we risk losing the very thing we seek to protect - the accessibility of our democracy and our right to carry on with our daily lives as we choose.
 
Protecting the public in central London, where some sites attract huge crowds, or in packed underground stations, theatres, concert halls or exhibitions, is a finely-balanced operation that goes largely unnoticed by the millions of visitors every year. 
 
However, terrorism by its very nature is a psychological threat as much as a physical one, and it is the life we currently lead that our enemies are trying to disrupt.
 
Metropolitan Police measures combine sophisticated counter terrorism investigation in the background, with day-to-day information and intelligence gathering through street policing and personal surveillance, using both technology and a visible police presence.
 
While armed police are garrisoned in and around London, an on-demand resource will not protect the public from low-tech attacks that are over within 82 seconds.  We will therefore need to consider carefully how we balance personal freedoms and public confidence in considering the merit of more armed officers permanently stationed around London.
 
The attack last week was perpetrated by a man armed with a car and two knives.  If there is a grim comfort to be drawn amidst the desperate tragedy of that afternoon, it is that ten years of good policing, backed by painstaking intelligence built on a body of sound legislation, made it much less likely he would be armed with firearms or explosives. 
 
Charlie Burbridge is managing director of G4S Risk Management Group