Monday, 2 December 2019

How to stop London Bridge style atrocities

For me, the London Bridge attack was particularly horrific. Between 2013-15, the desk in my office in Park Street overlooked London Bridge. I'd actually arranged to meet an ex colleague in Borough market on Friday, but rearranged it on Thursday. Working in London, I'd missed three different terrorist atrocities by a matter of minutes. The 7/7 atrocity was perhaps the nearest miss. I was on the no 30 bus behind the one which was blown up  and I saw people leaving the bus looking dazed and covered in debris. A friend of mine was blown up by the IRA on Victoria Station. Not only did she have to cope with nearly dying, she had a couple of years of unwanted press attention, as she'd told the surgeons "Please don't amputate my leg as I want to walk down the aisle when I get married". So worried about her big day being ruined was she, that only family were invited to the church. We were only invited to the reception later, apologies being made, but the explanation was that they didn't want the Sun to turn up. For victims it doesn't end when the flesh mends. 

So this leads to the question "how do we stop this?". Before we get to this, lets take a look at what happens. An atrocity happens. The first couple of days, we have the press focusing on the victims and the details. Then we have a couple of days of what we can do. Then we all forget about it and those of us who haven't been directly affected, we forget all about it until next time. Given the huge number of terrorist incidents, the pattern is there for all to see. We even had a bomb at the Inglis Barracks in Mill Hill in the 1980's.
Do you remember Micky Robbins? Did we learn an lessons from his sad death? Have we learned anything as a society? Social media has been full of 'solutions'. Some of my American Twitter friends have suggested that if we carried guns, this wouldn't have happened. The idea of terrorists having free access to firearms would seem to me to be completely bonkers. As the terrorist involved on Friday clearly wanted to die, the thought of people shooting back wouldn't worry him. With a couple of automatic weapons, he'd have killed far more, before anyone could get a round off. In a crowded place, such as this conference, the chances of people getting killed in the crossfire. So that clearly isn't the answer.

There does seem to be a pattern in the modern, post IRA era of terrorists. The killers are almost always known to police or known to the security services. They are also, almost always people who have been deemed to be 'low risk'. This would be where I start, if I was looking at prevention. People ask why are these people not under surveillance. The reason is because surveillance is very expensive. The security services have prevented 24 attacks this year. All of the resources are used up on those deemed "higher risk" and most of the time this has worked. The sad thing is that 'most of the time' isn't enough. So it is clear that the security services and the police need more resources, so that the web can be cast wider. Then there is the probation services monitoring such people when they are released. It appears that as the terrorist in question had been deemed to have 'mended his ways', it was a waste of money for him to be monitored by the probation services. As he was a cunning and crafty individual, would a visit or two from the probation services have made a difference? We will never know, but it would have at least given us a better chance.

Then there is sentencing and the prison service. There are hundreds of highly dangerous people in prison. In the case of this individual, he spent a huge effort making sure that he conned the authorities by undergoing courses. Had he done none of this, he'd probably still be walking the streets, as it seems that if terrorists behave themselves they are let out after half of their sentence has elapsed. It is clear to me that this is not fit for purpose with committed terrorists, who care nothing for their own, or anyone else's lives. If  a 21 year old terrorist serves sixteen years, they are only 37 when released if they serve 16 years. That is still young and fit enough to cause mayhem. I am 57, I play football every week, so it is clear to me that if someone is dangerous, they should be kept locked up until they are much older, unless we are 100% sure they have reformed. As a society, I believe that we need to offer people the chance of redemption, and I do not believe in locking people up for ever, unless they are a risk to the public. In the case of Jihadi terrorists, I don't know what the answer is, but we should err on the side of caution. Locking up more people, again will cost a lot more money. We don't have enough prison places, we don't have prisons that are fit for purpose and we have no proper strategy for managing such people, as has sadly been clearly demonstrated.

Finally we have to look at the root cause of all of this. That is social injustice. It seems that this terrorist was a bullied and unpopular child at school. He was recruited as a Jihadi as these were the only people who offered him friendship. The people who run terror cells are adept at identifying loners with low self esteem.  If we want to stop this, to some extent we need to nip this in the bud. How are such people radicalised as young men? Addressing this is the key, but again it is expensive.

If Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn truly wants to address these issues and stop future atrocities, we need a Royal Commission to address all of these, with a commitment to fully fund all of the strategies. Money for prevention of radicalisation at schools, more money for police and security forces, more prison places and prisons that are set up to reform people. More money for the probation services, more co-ordination between all of these organisations.

But finally, we need to admit than in a grown up, tolerant society, we will never be able to stop these atrocities completely, but we need to try.

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