Is it Blitz Spirit or Better Security? Julia McCarron talks about being in #Westminster during the attack

News and information from the Advent IM team.

We are now a week on from the atrocities of the Westminster attack on 22nd March 2017 and London and Londoners, its visitors and commuters continue with their day to day lives almost as if the attack never happened. Almost. Clearly for those directly affected by this individual’s mindless actions, day to day life will never be normal again and my heart goes out the those lost, injured and their friends and families. But once again, as with previous terrorist attacks, our Blitz Spirit has kicked in and the defiance this nation has always shown against those that endeavor to take our democracy and freedom away from us is stronger than ever. But is it just that which has seen us move forward from last Wednesday?

I was in London on 22nd when the attacks began, just south of Westminster Bridge at a conference. We heard the sirens screaming past in droves that afternoon but to be honest few of us reacted because … well its London? And as Sadiq Kahn said, readiness for a terrorist attack is part and parcel of living in a great global city like London, or New York – and a year on that’s still a statement of fact and the unfortunate reality of the world we live in Mr. Donald Trump Jr!

Our facilitator mentioned to us at the afternoon coffee break that for those of us who were keeping up with Twitter (I wasn’t by the way because I was at a conference and listening to the speakers!?) we would be aware there had been an ‘incident’ and Westminster Bridge tube station was shut. So if our journey home went that way it was fine for us to leave. Mine didn’t, I don’t think anyone got up to leave and we continued the afternoon presentations. No-one in the room mentioned anything about the attack.

I came out of the conference, noticed a helicopter flying above and some annoying person stopping abruptly in front of me to take a photo. I got on the tube, no delays and arrived at Marylebone without a hitch. It was only when I sat down waiting for my train that I checked my news app on my phone and realised what had taken place. My immediate response was to check that a colleague of mine also working in London but away from Westminster was ok and on his way home, which he was. I then contacted my family and work who obviously knew I was in London but not necessarily where. And contacted a client whose offices I have visited a number of times in the last 6 months who are located just around the corner from where the stabbing of PC Palmer occurred. They were all ok too but the offices were in the lockdown zone. I then noticed that the police presence at Marylebone was far greater than usual and 2 policemen were to my untrained eye carrying what I can only describe as ‘very big guns’ (Call of Duty is not my thing). My train was due so I got on it and home I went.

It was only when I was almost home that I actually reflected on the day’s events. There but for the grace of God went I. But aside from the sirens and the police at Marylebone, for me my trip to London had been uneventful, in fact possibly more uneventful than usual. There was no panic, no-one at the station or on the train seemed to be talking about what had happened. Life went on for us.

When I got home that evening and put on the news I started to realise why that may have actually been. As I watched the timeline of events and listened to eye witness accounts I realised that the police, security and intelligence services had reacted so quickly that the incident had been contained to Westminster. The years of exercises and training had paid off in a manner that in my view probably reduced the number of deaths and injuries that might have occurred. I understand that’s no consolation for those that were killed and hurt and I’m not saying it is … but it could have been worse, much worse. Many of those who saw PC Palmer stabbed said how police swarmed the area within 83 seconds, police and medical staff from the nearby hospital rushed to the aide of those mowed down. I was proud to be British in that moment.

I then caught the interview with Amber Rudd by the BBC’s political editor and I couldn’t believe what Laura Kuennsberg was saying. Less than 8 hours after the attack when information was still being gathered on the perpetrator, his motives, his actions, in my view she was basically saying the fault lay entirely with the intelligence services. No proof, no nothing, it just did. I was appalled to be honest. This was sensationalist journalism, not responsible journalism. As we have discovered since, the individual had not been on the radar for many years and for good reason. There had been no need for him to be. Less than 24 hours later arrests had been made and we now know he was working alone with no known ties to IS … but naturally they would attempt to take the ‘credit’ for it, why wouldn’t they?

In my opinion, and it is purely mine from my own experience that day, I don’t believe our police, security and intelligence services could have done a great deal more than they did. Yes, it is a grave day when innocent men and women are lost and seriously injured by an act of terrorism but I’m not sure how you can cater for someone deciding they are going to mow down people arbitrarily on a bridge, especially when that someone had no known apparent reason to do so. These low tech attacks take place for a reason … they are almost impossible to detect. Emergency services rushed to the aide of people hurt and yes, they may have left a gap in the net at the Palace of Westminster, but what should they have done? Left people in the street to die? And maybe that was the individual’s plan all along, to create a hole and get in and stab as many people as he could. But he didn’t get in. Police at the first point of contact stopped him, fatally in PC Palmer’s case, but he didn’t get any further. And whether it was police or an MP’s protection service that shot the terrorist, it was their job to protect and that’s what they did. Everyone had a part to play and played it.

I’ve been asked since whether I would go back to London and my response is of course I would. Why wouldn’t I? A family member told me that children from the school she teaches at had been to Parliament yesterday for a school trip despite parents wanting it cancelled. I told her, they are probably safer this week than 2 weeks ago as the likelihood of the same incident being repeated in the same place is highly remote. That’s just common sense. Someone even told me that a colleague of theirs had not gone to London for work the day after the attack because, “his wife wouldn’t let him”. Most people have carried on regardless and for me, business as usual since Wednesday 22nd March has been as much a testament to our Blitz Spirit as the improved security practices we demonstrate in this world of terrorism vigilance we live in. And business as usual for me on the afternoon of 22nd March was because police and security services had contained the situation, they had done their job and for that I am personally grateful.

I hope we never have to deal with such an event again, but I’m a realist and I know that’s wishful thinking. However, I feel safer in the knowledge that we are ready and prepared for what’s thrown at us if it does. It may not save everyone, but lives will be saved as a result.

Julia McCarron – Director, Advent IM

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