Counter-ter­ror chief gives back­ing to se­nior of­fi­cer

Western Mail - - UK & WORLD NEWS - EMILY PEN­NINK, HENRY VAUGHAN and MAR­GARET DAVIS news­desk@waleson­

ACOUNTER-TER­ROR­ISM chief has blasted “ab­hor­rent re­marks” lev­elled at a se­nior of­fi­cer who stayed in his car as an un­armed PC was stabbed to death in the West­min­ster at­tack.

As­sis­tant Com­mis­sioner Neil Basu, who headed the in­quiry into the mur­der­ous ram­page, re­acted as an in­quest jury found Khalid Ma­sood was law­fully killed when he was shot dead by a min­is­ter’s body­guard.

Speak­ing out­side the Old Bai­ley, Mr Basu paid trib­ute to the brav­ery of his of­fi­cers and said his thoughts re­mained with the vic­tims of Ma­sood’s “bar­baric ac­tions”.

On the con­tro­versy over then act­ing Com­mis­sioner Sir Craig Mackey’s de­ci­sion not to con­front Ma­sood, he said: “Can I turn to some of the ab­hor­rent re­marks cir­cu­lat­ing about the deputy com­mis­sioner Sir Craig Mackey?

“I and the in­ves­ti­ga­tors both know there is noth­ing that Craig could have done to have stopped Ma­sood or to have saved PC Palmer or any oth­ers from be­ing in­jured.”

The in­quest had heard how Ma­sood, a 52-year-old Mus­lim con­vert, mowed down pedes­tri­ans on West­min­ster Bridge in a hired SUV, killing four and se­ri­ously in­jur­ing 29.

Ma­sood crashed into rail­ings be­fore storm­ing through gates near the Houses of Par­lia­ment armed with two knives. He stabbed un­armed PC Keith Palmer to death be­fore be­ing shot dead by a body­guard who rushed to the scene.

The at­tack on March 22 last year took just 82 se­conds.

A jury took two hours and 22 min­utes to find that Ma­sood was law­fully killed.

They found that Ma­sood in­tended to “in­flict se­ri­ous harm and/or take a life” as he con­tin­ued with­out stop­ping or chang­ing di­rec­tion.

He had been is­sued with ver­bal warn­ings but “con­tin­ued to move to­ward the close pro­tec­tion of­fi­cers at speed” be­fore he was shot, the jury said.

Ear­lier, Coro­ner Mark Lu­craft QC had di­rected the jury to re­turn a law­ful killing verdict as the body­guard who shot Ma­sood be­lieved it was nec­es­sary to open fire in de­fence of him­self and oth­ers.

The in­quest heard dra­matic accounts of how un­armed po­lice of­fi­cers and mem­bers of the pub­lic fled af­ter Ma­sood killed PC Palmer and con­tin­ued to ad­vance, clutch­ing blood­ied foot-long knives, in­tent on tar­get­ing more of­fi­cers.

His ram­page was stopped by a close pro­tec­tion of­fi­cer iden­ti­fied only as SA74, who was act­ing as body­guard to a gov­ern­ment min­is­ter.

The of­fi­cer shot him three times af­ter Ma­sood ran at him, de­spite shouted warn­ings to “get back”.

SA74 gave an emo­tional ac­count of how the drama un­folded, his voice wa­ver­ing as he re­called: “I was cer­tain that some­thing ter­ri­ble was hap­pen­ing.

“I saw a large black male run­ning pur­pose­fully to­wards me. He was car­ry­ing two large knives and I could clearly see that they were cov­ered in blood,” he told the Old Bai­ley. “He was go­ing to kill me.” Ju­rors were shown dra­matic footage of the the body­guard and his col­league SB73 con­fronting the heav­ily built at­tacker, who slumped to the ground af­ter he was shot.

Amid fears he was wear­ing a sui­cide belt, Ma­sood was hand­cuffed and given first aid by the marks­man and his col­league.

Ma­sood, who had sent a “ji­hadi” doc­u­ment mo­ments be­fore launch­ing his at­tack, was later pro­nounced dead.

Sir Craig Mackey, one of the coun­try’s most se­nior po­lice of­fi­cers, faced calls to re­sign and se­vere crit­i­cism on so­cial me­dia af­ter he told the in­quest he had stayed in his of­fi­cial car as Ma­sood mur­dered PC Palmer.

Giv­ing his ac­count of events for the first time, he said that he locked the doors and re­mained in the ve­hi­cle with two civil­ian col­leagues be­cause they had no per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment or a ra­dio.

Af­ter Ma­sood was shot dead, Sir Craig, who is due to re­tire in De­cem­ber, tried to get out of the car but was ad­vised by an of­fi­cer on guard at the site to leave.

As act­ing Com­mis­sioner at the time, he also had to co-or­di­nate the po­lice re­sponse to the at­tack.

At the time it was not known whether it was part of a wider co­or­di­nated at­tack, al­though in­ves­ti­ga­tions later con­firmed Ma­sood acted alone.

In his sum­ming up, Mr Lu­craft QC de­fended Sir Craig’s ac­tions as “sen­si­ble and proper and in­tended to pro­tect oth­ers in the car”.

He said: “It is clear from the ev­i­dence of Sir Craig there was noth­ing he could have done to stop Ma­sood.

“PC Palmer was un­der at­tack prac­ti­cally as soon as Sir Craig saw the at­tacker.

“None of them had any means of pro­tect­ing them­selves or re­sist­ing an at­tack, and even if he had got out of the car, it is clear from the CCTV ev­i­dence he would not have reached PC Palmer be­fore Ma­sood in­flicted his fa­tal wounds.

“Sir Craig did not flee the scene. “His first in­stinct was to get out in New Palace Yard, as we saw on the footage when he opened the car door.

“How­ever, he was told by an of­fi­cer to leave, and for good rea­son.”

Ma­sood’s five vic­tims were PC Palmer, 48, Amer­i­can tourist Kurt Cochran, 54, re­tired win­dow cleaner Les­lie Rhodes, 75, mother-of-two Aysha Frade, 44, and Ro­ma­nian de­signer An­dreea Cris­tea, 31.

Fol­low­ing an ear­lier in­quest, Mr Lu­craft con­cluded they were un­law­fully killed by Ma­sood.

The coro­ner found that there were “short­com­ings” in Palace se­cu­rity and it was pos­si­ble that PC Palmer may not have died if armed of­fi­cers had been posted near to the Car­riage Gates.

> March 22, 2017: A po­lice­man points a gun at Khalid Ma­sood on the ground out­side the Palace of West­min­ster, Lon­don, af­ter he ploughed into pedes­tri­ans on West­min­ster Bridge and fa­tally stabbed PC Keith Palmer

> Sir Craig Mackey

> Khalid Ma­sood

> Neil Basu

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