Danger isn?t confined to London, which is why we must arm the police
by Michael Fabricant, Conservative MP for Lichfield
As with any terror attack, the murder of Keith Palmer, an unarmed police officer, by Khalid Masood will be reviewed by the police and intelligence services. Kneejerk reactions are rarely helpful.
But by one of those awful coincidences that sometimes happen, I had tackled Amber Rudd, the home secretary, only 16 days earlier in Home Office questions about our armed policing in the House of Commons. Choosing my words carefully, I focused on the rules of engagement under which officers can open fire. I told her that many armed police in the Palace of Westminster and elsewhere have told me they might be deterred from opening fire as quickly as they ought in a terror attack because of the complex rules, fear of suspension, and subsequent investigation.
She answered: ?I recognise that this is sometimes a difficult issue. We have been reviewing the support we provide to our firearms officers so that they can carry out their crucial duties without fear, while ensuring there is necessary scrutiny.
?My honourable friend has specific concerns about automatic suspension and firing first. I can confirm that only in exceptional circumstances would someone be automatically suspended for using their gun. There is no rule prohibiting officers from shooting first. Their decision is and must be based on an assessment of threat to life, including their own.?
I was reassured by the answer and I hope the police were too.
On Wednesday, those rules were put to the test and Khalid Masood was shot dead.
There will be serious questions as to why PC Palmer was unarmed in such a vulnerable position. But there were successes too. The fact that Masood did not have access to automatic weapons or explosives – which he would surely have used had he had the opportunity – demonstrates the general effectiveness of gun control in the UK.
But his use of a vehicle and knives demonstrate that jihadists can improvise and still cause mayhem and loss of life. And such activity will not be restricted to central London. Even in the leafy lanes of Lichfield, IRA terrorists shot two young trainee soldiers. Nowhere is safe.
Back in the sixties, Roger Miller sung a song which began: ?England swings like a pendulum do; bobbies on bicycles, two by two; Westminster Abbey, the tower of Big Ben; The rosy-red cheeks of the little children.? It was briefly a hit and helped our struggling tourist industry.
Those days are long gone. There is a clear and present danger everywhere which has to be addressed.
I believe the time has come when all police officers should be armed, either with conventional guns or Taser-like weapons which do not require the officer to engage in close combat.
If, unlike Wednesday, a terrorist in some Shire county had access to automatic weapons, an armed response unit could be miles away. The 1986 Hungerford massacre and the 2010 Cumbria shootings are a stark reminder of how deadly these incidents can be.
Neither the public nor the police are keen on our officers being armed. A recent Metropolitan Police survey found only a quarter believed all officers should be armed as standard.
But I fear the days of our bobby on the bicycle are over. The armed police officer should become a reality now.