Theresa May faces criticism over police cuts after London Bridge and Borough Market terror attack
As the UK is rocked by terror for the third time in three months, Prime Minister Theresa May has said “enough is enough” and has announced plans to introduce new anti-terror laws, including regulation of the internet. However, in the wake of the terrible events at London Bridge and Borough Market on 3 June the PM has been sharply criticised by police officers and an ex-Counter Terror Officer for her cuts to the police force over the past few years, claiming that the ‘savings’ made have been at the expense of public safety.
First though, it needs to be said that the response of the emergency services was, as it always is, outstanding.
The attack began at around 10pm on the 3 June when a white van mounted the pavement on London Bridge, hitting several people. Three men jumped out at nearby Borough Market and began stabbing passers-by. Firearms officers who arrived at the scene “within minutes” [around three minutes] according to witnesses, fired approximately 50 rounds of ammunition, shooting dead the suspects, who were wearing fake suicide vests. The first ambulances arrived on the scene about eight minutes after the attack began. Seven people lost their lives and 48 others were injured.
Special tribute must also be paid to the unnamed British Transport Police Officer who is said to have taken on all three terrorists armed only with a baton. He was injured and is remains in hospital. Speaking to The Independent, Chief Constable Paul Crowther praised the officer’s “enormous courage”.
Following the latest attack, as well as that at Manchester a few weeks ago, Home Secretary Amber Rudd has been forced to deny accusations that slashing police numbers by 20,000 has made terror attacks more likely.
Blogging for HuffPost UK, Jim Gamble, the former head of Special Branch in Belfast, accused the Prime Minister of trying to “asset strip the critical services who in times of trouble make the real difference”.
“No matter how you cut it,” he wrote, “no matter what spin you put on diversification of resource or doing things differently, there are 20,000 fewer police now than there were in 2010.”
Added Gamble: “That’s fewer eyes and ears on the street, fewer ‘bobbies’ building relationships, community confidence and critically creating that visible reassurance and deterrence that is key at times like this.”
Speaking to Sky News, Former Met Police Senior Investigating Officer, Peter Kirkham accused the Government of lying about the numbers of armed police officers on the streets, and said the Police service was “in crisis” because of cuts.
“We hear talk of extra police officers on the street; they’re not extra,” he said. “They’re officers that have had their rare leave days cancelled, they’ve had 12-hour shifts routinely extended to 16 hours, and they’re being drawn from other areas.
“The officers you see behind us [at the scene of the Borough Market attack] are from Hounslow and Hillingdon, they’re not extra officers at all. They’re from other duties and they’re being burned out.”
When pressed on the issue, Kirkham said that those who claim there are “more police on the streets than ever before” are lying.
“They’ve funded bringing back the number of armed officers we had in 2010, by 2020, and they’ve got to address a series of issues before they get there.
“I heard Theresa May’s speech in which she said that four things needed to change. She missed the most obvious, urgent one which is cuts to ordinary policing. What needs to be done, and needs to be done immediately, is stop and reverse the cuts to ordinary policing. They’re needed for intelligence gathering in communities, they’re needed in monitoring those 23,000 very low-level people that are, “known to the police and security services” in their community.”
Asked to clarify that he thought the Government was lying about the number of armed police on the streets, Kirkham said “yes, in 2010 we had 1000-plus more. They [the Government] are part-funding that to bring numbers back up to that level but we’re not there yet”.
Indeed, evidence suggests that both in the case of the Manchester and in the London Bridge attacks, the counter terror office was warned by members of the community about the increasingly worrying behaviour of Salman Abedi, and the main suspect in the London Bridge attack, who has yet to be named. Those warnings, it seems, were not heeded.
Commenting on how Islamist extremist terror organisations might be stopped in a recent interview on Russian Sputnik Radio, Counter Terror expert Major Chris Hunter said that terrorism cannot be defeated as it is an ideology, but that terrorist networks need disrupting by cutting off their funding.
“You look at attacking their finances, their recruiters, the actual networks themselves, the trainers, the logistics – all of those different elements and you do that by combining intelligence capabilities, with military and law enforcement capabilities, as well as relying on the civilian population.”
He added: “You need to find the various elements to attack and exploit, in the same way that you would with any big criminal empire. Once you start to disrupt the terror organisation, then you can have a significant effect on their capabilities.”