‘My priority was not getting stabbed ...’
DC Glynn Powell describes tackling knife-wielding Piotr Swiatek at the Scottish Parliament almost a year to the day after PC Keith Palmer was brutally slain in a terrorist attack at Westminster
A COURAGEOUS police officer who faced down a knife- wielding thug attempting to set fire to the Scottish Parliament has revealed he feared he could have been stabbed to death in an attack similar to the murder of PC Keith Palmer at Westminster.
Detective Constable Glynn Powell bravely disarmed Piotr Swiatek, who was jailed for 30 months in October for pouring fuel on wooden posts before pulling out a large kitchen knife.
Quick-thinking Powell, 49, ran out of the entrance hall of the Parliament to tackle Swiatek and pin him to the ground in the incident on March 24, two days after the first anniversary of a terror attack at the UK Parliament in Westminster which left 48-year-old police officer Keith Palmer and four pedestrians dead.
Palmer was stabbed to death by Khalid Masood seconds after he mowed down and killed Kurt Cochran, 54, Leslie Rhodes, 75, Aysha Frade, 44, and Andreea Cristea, 31, while speeding across Westminster Bridge in a car.
Powell, whose wife is also a police officer, said he thought about Palmer in the minutes after the incident at Holyrood in March this year.
“That situation could have happened again, if things had gone differently,” said Powell. “These are the thoughts you have after an event like that. The events at Westminster were very tragic and they came to the forefront of my mind. It’s very similar circumstances.
“Obviously, the motivation turned out to be different but, the actual circumstances involving the knife, you’ve got to draw similarities.”
Powell was six years into a stint as a uniformed officer at Holyrood. It was a typically busy Saturday – the Parliament building in Edinburgh was packed with tourists and the area outside thronged with sightseers – until Swiatek arrived.
He said: “I caught sight of him crouching next to wooden poles, right up against the building. I thought it was a bit strange, so I went up the glass transit corridor to have a closer look. I’m looking at him through the glass and he’s put an unknown substance all over the window and the wood and he’s got something in his hand which turned out to be a lighter. I could see a flame and I immediately formed the opinion he was trying to set fire to the building.
“I raced back out of the front entrance and ran towards him, shouting at him to stop. When I was a yard or two away from him, he stood up and pulled a large kitchen knife out of his jacket. As soon as I’m upon him, without any warning whatsoever he raises it above his head. I assumed he was going to bring it down on me.”
It was then that Powell took the split-second decision to tackle Swiatek, a 31-year-old Polish national. “I instinctively grabbed the arm which was holding the knife,” said Powell. “There was a brief tussle, during which he dropped the knife. Then I put him to the ground.”
Powell was reluctant to discuss the technique he used because it could inform criminals how to “counteract” the move, but he said it was based on officer safety training.
Powell is an imposing figure, standing six feet three inches tall, but Swiatek was no pushover. He said: “He looked in pretty good shape. During the court trial I looked at him sitting in the dock and he looked like he’s lifted a weight or two.
“Luckily I was stronger than him and he went down. It was instinct, really. I didn’t have time to think about it when the knife went up. My priority was not getting stabbed.”
As Powell knelt on Swiatek’s chest to restrain him, Parliament security officers who had run out to assist spotted the handle of a second knife sticking out of the top of Swiatek’s jeans.
Powell said: “I turned around behind me and pulled it out of his waistband and threw it a safe distance away. Fortunately, he didn’t have a chance to go for the knife because I had him. The chances of him getting that knife were slim.”
It emerged during Swiatek’s trial at Edinburgh Sheriff Court that he had poured flammable barbecue fluid on the Parliament and planned to set it alight before Powell stepped in.
He was found guilty of attempted fireraising, possessing two knives and holding a blade above his head. He had been drinking heavily that day and had travelled by train from his home in Livingston. His defence lawyer said Swiatek offered no explanation for his actions.
Sentencing him to 30 months, Sheriff
The events at Westminster were very tragic and they came to the forefront of my mind. They were very similar ...