The main UK security and defence news of the last week has been the terrorist attack in Westminster which left four people dead, including a police officer and the attacker. The Guardian reports that a “lone actor” ran down pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and attempted to storm the Houses of Parliament, stabbing an unarmed officer in the process before being shot by armed police. The Met’s head of counter-terrorism, Mark Rowley, said a woman in her mid-40s and a man in his mid-50s were among the dead as well as PC Keith Palmer, a 48-year-old husband and father. “It is still our belief, which continues to be borne out by our investigation, that this attacker acted alone and was inspired by international terrorism,” Rowley said.
Theresa May was rushed out of parliament as the attack unfolded, and later chaired an emergency meeting of the Government’s crisis committee, Cobra. Shortly before 9pm on Wednesday, the Prime Minister confirmed that what she called the “sick and depraved” attack had been carried out by a single assailant. She praised the “exceptional bravery” of the police officer who died, and said that her thoughts were with the officer's relatives and those others who had been killed and injured in the “appalling incident”. Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has also paid tribute to the police and emergency services for their response to Wednesday's attack. Speaking in the House of Commons on Thursday, she said that additional police patrols would be mounted across the country.
As officers attempted to piece together details of the attacker’s background and motives, armed police raided six addresses across the country, including a second-floor flat above a row of shops on Hagley Road in Birmingham. Witnesses to the search said one of the flat’s windows was covered in cardboard, with non-uniformed officers spotted taking pieces of equipment into the property. West Midlands police confirmed eight arrests were made at the addresses raided in Birmingham. A statement from the force said the arrests and searches were intelligence-led and there was no immediate risk to public safety. Extra officers would be out on patrol throughout the next few days in the city, the force said.
The situation is still developing and the attacker remains unnamed, although police have indicated that they are aware of his identity and motivations – and it has just been reported that he was known to MI5. This incident has once again raised the question of whether the wider arming of police officers is necessary to manage the threat faced. However, there is no reason to believe that such provisions would have helped deter this attack given the heavily armed presence around the Houses of Parliament.
The attack served to demonstrate that the UK is also vulnerable to the type of vehicle-borne strikes that have already been seen in Europe, and that neither firearms nor explosives are required to inflict casualties. However, it also demonstrated the preparedness of counterterrorism-capable forces within London – a force which includes a large contingent of MDP officers.
MDP are working in support of the MPS, in addition to their normal role in securing the MoD estate in the Government Security Zone and will continue to do so as long as the threat level requires this support.
· Media coverage of police accidental discharge of weapons
· British troops land in Estonia for NATO mission to deter Russia
· Former IRA chief of staff and Northern Ireland First Minister dies
· Military row over ‘Marine A’ acquittal
· Royal naming for new Portsmouth aircraft carriers jetty
· Warning over ‘exodus’ due to Armed Forces housing shortage
· Criminal investigation into human rights lawyer confirmed
Media coverage of police accidental discharge of weapons
The Daily Mirror reports that armed officers have been involved in a series of incidents where rounds have been unintentionally fired. A total of 66 mishaps were reported over the last four years, according to the 39 UK police forces which responded to freedom of information (FOI) requests from the newspaper. The MDP is noted as having seen an incident where “one round of ammunition (was) unintentionally discharged into the ground whilst carrying out armed foot patrol within the confines of the site”: the officer was given a final written warning. Other mishaps include a West Midlands officer who suffered a perforated eardrum after accidentally firing a Sig Sauer 516 assault rifle during a routine unloading at the force armoury.
Police Federation chairman Steve White said: “Working with firearms is a challenging area.” He added “Obviously there are safety issues and the training needs to be as good as it possibly can be, acknowledging where there are lessons to be learned. National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for armed policing, Deputy Chief Constable Simon Chesterman, said: “All unintended discharges are subject to investigation in line with the seriousness of the incident.”
Although all firearms incidents must be treated with the upmost seriousness, the results of the FOI served to underline the rarity of firearms accidents amongst UK armed police, especially the MDP.
British troops land in Estonia for NATO mission to deter Russia
The Guardian reports that British troops have arrived in Estonia as part of a major NATO mission in the Baltic States to deter Russian aggression. Around 120 soldiers from the 5th Battalion, The Rifles, landed at the Amari airbase on Friday, 25 miles south-west of the capital, Tallinn. They were welcomed by Estonia’s defence minister, Margus Tsahkna, on their arrival from RAF Brize Norton. Eight hundred British troops are due to be stationed in the country as part of one of the biggest deployments to eastern Europe in decades. The first batch will set up a UK headquarters in the country before the rest arrive next month. Around 300 UK vehicles have also left the UK this week by ferry headed for Estonia, including Challenger 2 tanks, Warrior infantry fighting vehicles and AS90 self-propelled artillery pieces.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, said: “In the face of an increasingly assertive Russia, NATO is stepping up its commitment to collective defence.”
Former IRA chief of staff and Northern Ireland First Minister dies
The Guardian reports that colleagues and world leaders have expressed sorrow at the death of Martin McGuinness, a former IRA leader and Northern Ireland First Minister, who died this week at the age of 66 after a short illness. He had been suffering from a rare genetic disease caused by deposits of abnormal protein – amyloid – in tissues and vital organs including the heart. To many, McGuinness was seen as a peacemaker, but some still regard him primarily as a key figure in the IRA terrorist group that killed almost 1,800 people before Sinn Féin, its political wing, embraced the compromises its peaceful rivals in the Social Democratic and Labour party had articulated from the 1960s onwards.
Theresa May joined in the tributes but said McGuinness had initially chosen the wrong violent path. “While I can never condone the path he took in the earlier part of his life, Martin McGuinness ultimately played a defining role in leading the republican movement away from violence”.
Military row over Marine A acquittal
The Daily Telegraph reports that the defence used to free Marine A has tarnished the reputation of his fellow troops, one of his former commanding officers has said. Sergeant Alexander Blackman had his murder conviction quashed after the Court Martial appeal heard that he shot a wounded Taliban insurgent when his regiment went “feral”. But now, Major Steve McCulley, who was in charge of Blackman's 42 Commando J Company shortly before the killing, has complained the picture painted of the troops was a “dagger through the heart” of the Marines.
He told the Daily Telegraph “”We are well trained, we are a band of brothers, we stand shoulder to shoulder and to disrespect that is getting a commando dagger and stabbing it in the heart of the corps.” He added “It is destroying the memory of those men who paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
Blackman will be sentenced on Friday for the manslaughter wounded of a Taliban insurgent during a tour of Afghanistan in 2011, and could be released almost immediately as he has already spent three and a half years behind bars. His earlier conviction for murder was quashed earlier this month.
Royal naming for new Portsmouth aircraft carriers jetty
The BBC reports that a jetty for the Royal Navy's new aircraft carriers in Portsmouth has been officially named by Princess Anne. The Princess Royal Jetty has been strengthened to accommodate the 65,000-tonne Queen Elizabeth class carriers. Formerly known as Middle Slip Jetty, the 90-year-old structure has been upgraded over the past 18 months. After the naming ceremony, the princess met bomb disposal experts who have dealt with World War Two bombs unearthed during dredging work. The work on the jetty was part of a £100m upgrade to the harbour, including dredging of the approach channel, inner harbour area and berth in order to make them deep and wide enough for the new ships.
HMS Queen Elizabeth – currently being fitted out at Rosyth dockyard in Scotland – is due to make her debut in Portsmouth later this year. A second carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, is still under construction in Rosyth.
Warning over ‘exodus’ due to Armed Forces housing shortage
The Times reports that moving service personnel out of subsidised housing will hasten an exodus from the military, a former defence minister has warned. Writing in a new report from the Centre for Social Justice, Sir Julian Brazier, said that a failure to improve conditions for those in the army and RAF will leave Britain with tanks and fighter jets manned by “a diminishing and unhappy pool of people”.
The MoD is trying to reduce its housing bill by moving families out of subsidised accommodation — a central plank of military life — and into their own homes or rental properties. Alternative options, such as support to buy a house or an allowance to help cover the cost of renting a property, have been poorly thought through, according to Sir Julian’s report.
Criminal investigation into human rights lawyer confirmed
The Guardian reports that a criminal investigation into a disgraced lawyer who brought false claims against Iraq war veterans has a number of “lines of inquiry”, the National Crime Agency (NCA) has said. A file on Phil Shiner, who was struck off last month for dishonestly pursuing torture and murder claims against British troops, has been passed to the agency by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). It comes after 60-year-old Shiner, from Birmingham, was declared bankrupt on Tuesday, according to the Insolvency Service.
Mr Shiner and his firm, the now-defunct Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), were behind 65% of the 3,392 allegations received by the Iraq historic allegations team. The discredited government inquiry is being wound down following Shiner’s striking off, and its remaining caseload of around 20 cases have been handed to the Royal Navy police.
The Government is expected to publish draft legislation outlining how unwarranted prosecutions of Armed Forces personnel will be prevented in the coming months.