Khalid Masood’s car following the attack on Westminister Bridge (Picture: Universal News And Sport)
Police in the UK are beefing up their defences against terror attacks.
Britain’s armed policing strength will surge to more than 10,000 by next year and officers will finally be trained to shoot terrorists who use vehicles in attacks.
A major uplift in the number of authorised firearms officers on hand to respond to a marauding assault by extremists was launched in the wake of the Paris atrocity in November 2015.
Following the Westminister attack in London last month and previous similar atrocities in Stockholm, Nice and Berlin, police have also been told to shoot terrorists behind the wheels of vehicles they are using as weapons – a U-turn in policy.
‘Within our policy, we used to talk about not shooting at a moving vehicle because of the danger we might cause if we fired at a driver.
‘But if the vehicle is being used as a weapon in the first place, there aren’t many tactics available in relation to stopping it, particularly a very large lorry.
A lorry was used in the Stockholm attack (Picture: Getty)
‘Driving a vehicle in front of it for example is not going to stop it. So you need to shoot the driver,’ said national lead for armed policing Simon Chesterman.
He also added that officers will now have access to ammunition capable of penetrating doors and windows.
Roughly 640 additional personnel trained to carry guns have been added to forces in England and Wales, with the overall number of AFOs set to rise to around 7,000 by April 2018.
But this figure does not take account of roughly 3,500 armed officers attached to non-geographical forces – the British Transport Police, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, the National Crime Agency and the Ministry of Defence Police.
When these presences are included, the total number is expected to stand at around 10,500 in 12 months’ time.
Giving an update on the staffing surge, Chesterman said there was now a ‘very potent’ capability.
The most recent figures available showed there were 5,639 AFOs in forces across England and Wales as of the end of March last year.
Police will now be trained to shoot vehicle attackers (Picture: Rex)
This was a slight fall on the previous year and meant the number had dwindled by more than 1,000 in five years.
Mr Chesterman said: ‘It is true that by the time we’ve delivered the uplift we will in effect be back where we were in 2010. But there is an important distinction to make.
‘Since that time we’ve honed and improved our plans to mobilise the non-Home Office forces so there is a cavalry there.
‘There are plans in extremis that ministers can deploy military on to the streets. All that planning has taken place.’
He said the gap that developed in recent years has been filled with armed vehicle response officers as opposed to more ‘basic’ firearms personnel.
‘There’s a higher level of capability,’ said Mr Chesterman, the deputy chief constable of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary.
Security and rescue workers tend to the area after a lorry truck ploughed through a Christmas market on December 20, 2016 in Berlin, Germany (Picture: Getty)
‘So although the capacity is very similar to what it was in 2010 the capability is phenomenally different and much improved and increased.
‘I am convinced that in terms of what we are actually capable of delivering now, it’s far more than it was.’
As part of the recruitment drive, the network of specialist counter-terrorism firearms officers is also set to double in size. Members of these units are highly trained, including in operations involving ships or aircraft.
Mr Chesterman also warned that there was a “perfect storm” brewing in the background, which could hit efforts to attract the best candidates to armed policing and retain current personnel.
He cited factors including concerns among firearms officers that they will be treated as suspects rather than professional witnesses if they are involved in police shootings.