London ‘has made very substantial progress’ in tackling terror attacks – report
London is significantly better prepared to deal with a potential terrorist attack than five years ago, although the capital will never be “entirely safe”, according to an independent study.
Lord Toby Harris’ report says ‘very substantial progress’ has been made by emergency services and other agencies following the 2017 attacks on Westminster Bridge, London Bridge and outside of the Finsbury Park Mosque.
But he also warned of the growing threat of far-right terrorism, the normalization of extremist views online and the emergence of other threats that lack clear ideological roots.
Lord Harris said: “As a city there has been a lot of progress over the past five years and lessons have been learned and put into practice from the attacks that have taken place.”
But he added: ‘We must not be complacent, the terrorist threat remains a real and present danger and we can never make London entirely safe.
Lord Harris said the coronavirus pandemic and police downsizing had also had an impact.
He said: “Prolonged periods of lockdown have provided those at risk of becoming radicalized online more opportunity to be instigated into violent action.
“Second, business interruptions and social distancing requirements have changed the way people meet and interact with each other.
“Places that would not have been considered targets before are now potentially targets.
“Furthermore, many of these employees who used to routinely scan the public spaces in which they worked for signs of potential trouble have lost their jobs or been deskilled during months off, and there is a real risk of safety taking a back seat as companies desperately try to recoup their losses from the pandemic.”
Its 250-page report said the number of police in the Met was now on the rise, but thanks to the nationwide ‘exodus’ over the past decade the forces ‘will have a disproportionate number of police officers with limited experience’.
And he said youth services, mental health services and the voluntary sector in some cases remain “woefully” underfunded.
The biggest threat to the UK remains that posed by Islamist terrorism, Lord Harris said.
But he added that far-right terrorism – like that perpetrated by Darren Osbourne when he rammed his van into worshipers outside a north London mosque after evening prayers in June 2017 – was “increasing worrying”.
He also said the threat posed by left-wing, anarchist and single-issue terrorism “also remains and cannot be ignored”, while the past five years have also seen the emergence of prejudices without clear ideological roots.
Lord Harris made nearly 300 recommendations, including for an assessment of the protection of women-only spaces by violent individuals particularly motivated by the so-called “involuntary celibacy” misogyny movement known as “incel”.
Other recommendations included identifying CCTV blind spots at venues and on public transport; for the Home Office to encourage social media platforms to put in place a clear communication plan to deal with misinformation, disinformation and hate speech following an attack; and for every primary and secondary school to have a police liaison officer appointed to help mitigate the threat of young people being drawn into extremism and terrorism.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he was “committed to continuing to review potential threats”, adding: “I have asked Lord Harris to carry out this second review to further strengthen London’s preparedness. While I am proud of the progress made, I want to ensure that no stone is left unturned in equipping our city for any challenges it may face in the future.
“That’s why I’m calling on the government to help City Hall take action now to mitigate the new risks identified in Lord Harris’s review. Ministers must provide increased funding not just to our police, but to all services which play a vital role in preventing and responding to the terrorist threat in London and across the country.”
Metropolitan Police Deputy Deputy Commissioner Matt Twist said the force welcomed the report and its recognition of the “significant progress” made since 2016.
He added: “We also know and recognize that there is no room for complacency. The report contains a number of recommendations and we will be working closely with our key partners over the coming weeks and months to review them and determine how we can best implement them.
The UK’s terrorist threat is currently at “substantial”, the average level of five meaning “an attack is likely”.
The most recent terror attack in the UK took place outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital in November last year, which killed suicide bomber Emad Al Swealmeen.