Scottish Daily Mail
Why police fear even higher toll if it happens here
AS THE grotesque carnage in Paris unfolded, most British frontline police officers will have come to just one chilling conclusion: the death toll in a similar outrage here would be many times greater. For while the French can throw hundreds of armed police on to the streets of Paris within minutes, and thousands within an hour or so, we simply can’t.
Like a fire sweeping through an occupied house, minutes count if lives are to be saved in terrorist atrocities.
Not only do the gunmen have to be located, they also have to be contained and – if necessary – confronted. This can be done only by armed officers.
In France, all 278,000 police officers carry guns. The corresponding figure in Britain is just 6,000, so the assurances from the Home Secretary, Theresa May, that procedures are ‘in place’ to deal with rapidly moving terrorist situations are greeted with deep scepticism.
Most police officers attending terrorist incidents are virtual spectators until an armed response vehicle (ARV) can be summoned to the scene.
The lack of ARVs has caused real concern among officers, particularly those in smaller, more rural forces, who believe they and the public are being placed at intolerable risk on a daily basis.
One officer from a county force told me that his nearest ARV would normally be at least 20 minutes away – often even further. No need to imagine how much damage can be done in 20 minutes by terrorists with automatic weapons.
But forces who want to expand their firearms teams are having difficulty recruiting in the wake of the high-profile police shootings of Azelle Rodney and Mark Duggan.
Although both men were armed criminals, the officer who shot Rodney was tried (and acquitted) for unlawful killing and those involved in the Duggan shooting were subjected to a three-and-a-half year inquiry before being exonerated.
Is it any wonder armed units are struggling to attract and retain good officers?
Meanwhile, claims that Britain has ‘strong border controls’ smack of utter complacency to officers working at our air and sea ports.
We may be an island nation but the thousands arriving from war-torn regions in the backs of lorries and even private cars and caravans show we are far from secure.
It would also be wrong to imagine that guns are not being trafficked across our borders. Theresa May’s creation, the UK Border Force, has suffered cutbacks and reorganisation. Former customs officers, who have been reluctantly absorbed into it, are concerned that the importation of firearms and component parts of firearms is being gravely neglected.
Many customs officers skilled in detecting smuggled weaponry, have been, to their fury, deployed permanently to passport controls where, despite Home Office denials, the priority is still avoiding queues.
Another very real threat emanates from our prisons where extreme Muslim inmates exercise huge influence and where dangerous criminals have converted to the most virulent form of Islam.
Shortly before retiring, I studied some of these individuals: the prospect of them returning to our streets chills my blood.
The simple fact is Britain’s police – brilliantly professional as they remain – are spread far too thinly. A security review, ordered by May, is currently under way. Those on the front line hope that someone will listen to their views.
They are not holding their breath.