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Physical barriers: An effective way of stopping vehicle-based terror attacks?

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Former chief superintendent calls for routine arming of all officers as a greater priority.


The newly installed barriers at Westminster Bridge on Monday morning. Photo: Press Association

Barriers have appeared on bridges at the request of police following the second vehicle attack on one of the London landmarks this year.

But there are differing views on how much safer this makes the public.

Manufacturers claim they can reduce the number of officers needing to be deployed, but a former counter terror commander believes they are minor and has renewed his call for routine arming of officers.

Met Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley announced the latest installation on Sunday night, and the barriers have been erected to protect pavements in areas including Westminster Bridge and London Bridge.

Such barriers can stop a 7.5 tonne vehicle travelling at up to 50 mph.

But at a cost of around £675 per metre they do not come cheap.

Jonathan Goss, MD of Townscape Products, a company which makes similar devices to the ones installed on the bridges, said: “Terrorism has taken an unforeseen turn over the past year and those that wish to undermine our way of life have begun using vehicles to cause mass harm.

“To address this threat head on – we need to keep vehicles and pedestrians separate by using intelligently positioned barriers.”

He claimed they are more effective than armed police at keeping pedestrians safe as they will stop vehicles completely.

“When it comes to hardening our urban environment to protect us against terrorist attacks, authorities need to start by focussing their efforts on the most at-risk public areas to make best use of any available budget.

“Once these locations have been identified, the sole job of blocks, barriers, bollards and planters is to ensure that vehicles cannot access the public area in question,” he added.

Designs such as plant pots can make them blend in with their surrounding without being too obvious.

Last year Lord Toby Harris’ review of counter-terrorism measures in the capital, commissioned by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, recommended that such barriers in the Westminster area receive more funding from the Home Office.

The Labour peer wrote: “Following the lessons of the Nice attacks, these could allow more effective mitigation of similar attacks here than the expensive systems that are currently in place.

“A business case for these flexible barriers has previously been considered by the Home Office, but may be revisited. They should review this urgently and move to fund a solution.”

The peer told PoliceOracle.com in May that he was yet to receive a government response to his report.

He put this down to the purdah period which followed Theresa May’s calling of the snap General Election.

But Kevin Hurley, former Surrey PCC and a counter-terror lead in the City of London Police, told Police Oracle: “I think for the prominent and tiny section of our busy roads yes you can protect with those barriers but the reality is terrorists will just run people over any else where there isn’t a barrier.

“If you can’t constrain the movements of the attacker they will carry on until the specialist firearms officers get there.

“The only way to stop an attack is to shoot them immediately, that means all response officers should carry a side arm.

He cited the seriously injured BTP officer who faced the attackers near Borough Market armed just with a baton as an example of the pressing need for this.

“Anyone who says otherwise had never personally had to face down someone with a knife wants to stab him to death,” he added.

View on Police Oracle

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