Like the St Mary Axe outrage, the Bishopsgate incident attracted world-wide publicity and speculation. Inevitably a police response was called
for. On every television and press interview I made the point that the lack
of adequate legal powers to stop and search, and the restrictions under the PACE Act, made it impossible for the police to give any guarantee that
we could stop the terrorists doing the same thing again and again. We
needed now to consider setting up some kind of secure zone where every vehicle could be checked on entry. In fact, as already mentioned, I had reached this conclusion after the St Mary Axe bomb.
From all the indicators I had, I knew the Bishopsgate incident would change public opinion, especially the City business community who would be now well aware of the threat to the City's viability as one of the
world's leading financial centres. It looked at first sight as if primary
legislation would be required to allow police to set up any secure zone and the notion did not at first receive any support from the Corporation of London, or central government from the Prime Minister downwards, on the grounds that it would be an over-reaction, would make the City look like
Belfast, give a propaganda coup to the PIRA and that in any case the public would not accept it.
To its credit, the Corporation of London in taking soundings from the
City business community as to what level of security was acceptable, learned quickly and reacted to the strong message that something positive was required rather than sit and wait for the terrorists to strike again. In
this the Lord Mayor of the day, Sir Francis McWilliams, and the chairman of
policy, Michael Cassidy, played outstanding parts in guiding and leading the Corporation's response. '
Although police activity had been increased as far as our powers would allow, and generous finance had been provided for more recruits and more technology in the form of CCTV coverage, that was not considered enough by the City community and some foreign banks and finance houses were already talking about moving out of the City.
Experience and intelligence indicated that the PIRA (having, in their terms, seen two massive successes) were intent on pressing home their attacks on the area surrounding the Stock Exchange and the Bank of England at the eastern end of the City, which had clearly become their most attractive target. I decided that our first imperative must be to deny them that target.
Traffic experiment - secure zone
With this in mind I proposed to the Corporation that I should use my
powers under section l2 of the Road Traffic Management Act of 1984 to
restrict vehicle access streets to the area concerned. After consultation between the city engineer's staff and my own, we sought to reduce access streets from 38 to eight. The remaining 3O streets would be blocked completely or made one-way outwards. To do this I needed the consent of the Corporation.
The plan would reduce access to a practical level at which police could scan incoming traffic and, when necessary, stop and check vehicles suspected of being involved in terrorist activity. Pending changes to legislation, on those instances where the circumstances may be outside the terms of PACE, this could be done with the consent of the vehicle occupants.
It would also allow us to use high technology CCTV cameras positioned to record details of every vehicle passing through those points, as well as the facial images of the occupants. The main objective of the terrorists is to come in and do their dastardly work, then escape without being noticed. Experience has shown that any possibility of being stopped and checked,or recorded on camera, is a formidable deterrent.
By good fortune, the Corporation already had on the shelf a yet-to-be implemented plan known as 'Key to the Future', intended to reduce vehicle traffic in the area surrounding the Bank of England and which could be adapted to our security needs. The Corporation engineer and his staff enthusiastically joined with the police planning team to produce the traffic experiment scheme which now operates very successfully in the City. Showing courage and determination, the Corporation supported the plan.
There was much public unease and criticism. For obvious reasons, widespread public consultation could not be an option. If the terrorists had known what was being proposed, there was a risk that they might have attempted to place further bombs before the plan came into operation. There was, in fact, close consultation with central government and other affected statutory bodies before implementation, but the public announcement could not be made until a few days before actual implementation on 3 July,1993.
The press and some motoring organisations had a field day with dire predictions of gridlock and chaos paralysing the whole of central
London. However, the city engineer's and our own staff, using computer
predictions, had assessed accurately that the traffic changes could be managed - but it still took nerve to carry it through.
Other criticisms put to me took three main forms. The most common was that we were giving the PIRA a propaganda coup. My answer was that as the terrorists had already had massive publicity from hitting the City
with two huge bombs (and some smaller ones), causing loss of life, injury and massive damage to buildings and the country's economy, what more of a
propaganda coup could we give them? And what sort of coup would it be if
we allowed them to do it again and again?
The other main 'criticism was that we would be merely displacing the problem to other areas. My response was that terrorists make a large investment in risk and resources when they plan an attack. They have to reconnoitre the area, gather a team, acquire the materials, find
somewhere to construct and store the bomb, obtain a suitable vehicle and finally deliver the device. All this puts them at considerable risk of detection by the security services. There is no evidence to indicate that if denied their main target they will necessarily make the same investment in attacking a lesser one. An essential factor here is the unique economic importance of that part of the City. The stark reality is that bomb attacks on, for instance, Oxford Street, Buckingham Palace or the Houses of Parliament, although horrendous, would not inflict the same long-term economic damage as would the loss of the Capital's financial heart and that will not have been lost in PIRA's thinking.
The third criticism was that by doing this we were throwing down a gauntlet to the terrorists. Given the history of what they have done to
the City, one has to wonder what more of a challenge they needed. To have accepted any of these criticisms would have meant doing nothing more than we were already doing and I could not accept that as an option. Given our lack of legal powers and government's apparent lack of resolve at that time to give us new powers, it would have been all too easy to continue as we were, but still doing our best (for which we could not have been criticised) and then, when the next bomb went off have pleaded that we had not been given the powers to prevent it. It is worth remembering here that the causes of this terrorism lay elsewhere in the political situation in Northern Ireland and quite beyond the power of the City of London Police to affect. We could only react to the determined physical attacks on the City.
As it is, I have been criticised for allegedly misusing my traffic management powers for security purposes. On two separate occasions I have had a cabinet minister (not the Home Secretary) and a junior transport minister tell me separately and fairly bluntly, in face-to-face meetings, that I was abusing my powers. My response was that as the terrorists had by their bombing on two occasions caused massive traffic dislocation, it must surely be a sound and practical use of traffic management powers to bring in an experimental scheme that may prevent them doing it again. They were not persuaded. But I would far rather answer the charge that I abused my powers than that I failed to do everything possible to prevent another disastrous attack on the City. In any case, it would be a brave political soul who would start a legal challenge which, if successful, could mean dismantling the scheme and leaving the City once again at the mercy of the huge vehicle bomb.
It was probably the most contentious decision any police chief has had
to take in recent times and I am pleased that so far I have been proved
right. It may be that hand-held devices will still penetrate the cordon, but given this open and free society and the hundreds of thousands of people who enter the City every day in a variety of transport systems, there is no scheme which could prevent that. Certainly it is now much more difficult to
bring in a large vehicle-borne bomb.
The benefits of the scheme are now widely acknowledged. There have been no more vehicle-borne terrorist bombs, despite the threatening letters the PIRA sent to foreign banks. Crime generally in the City has reduced by 17 per cent, and this on a reduction of lO.6 per cent in l992 that was a result of our extra activity after the St Mary Axe incident. Motor traffic is much reduced and flows more easily. Pedestrians can move around in greater safety and all pollution levels have dropped measurably. On every environmental ground this part of the City has become a far better place in which to work, live or frequent.
Nor has traffic that normally passed through the City been greatly inconvenienced. By improving the flow of the main routes surrounding the experimental area, which was part of the plan from the beginning, the same amount of through traffic is still passing through the City as easily as it did before.
The Act allowed me to exercise the power for a period of 6 months (with the local authority approval) and then for another 6 months, but no
longer than 12 months in all. At the time of writing, we are now into the
second 6 months. Having retired from the police service in December, (1993) the future management of the police aspect of the scheme lies in the hands of my successor. While the terrorist threat remains at its current level, I believe that the scheme should remain as it is. Should the terrorist threat level reduce, as one day it must, and the police scanning points be removed, then for the environmental benefits alone the experiment should surely be made permanent. The Corporation of London is currently seeking the legal right to do just that.
After the Bishopsgate incident two other important innovations were brought in by the force before my retirement. One was Camera Watch. This built on the work done after the St Mary Axe bomb when the force actively encouraged and supported companies in setting up their own CCTV systems outside their own buildings. Taking that a stage further, the force set about Iogging all such systems and encouraging the owners to liaise with each other to eliminate overlap and, where appropriate, share monitoring. At some time in the future it may be possible for these private systems to be linked into the police systems when a need arises. Camera Watch took a lot of commitment in force time and resources, but has already proved worthwhile in its contribution to general crime reduction as well as anti-terrorism.
The other important innovation was Pager AIert. One of the lessons Iearned at the Bishopsgate incident was that people deep in buildings -especially at weekends when normal telephones are not manned, and because of double glazing and other noise insulation - fail to hear police loud hailers and other warnings from the street. They are then at risk of emerging from their premises into danger. To counter that, the force came up with the idea of a pager alert. With British Telecom (who won the tender) a system was set up whereby key people in premises, such as security officers, or even private individuals, can rent at Iow cost a dedicated pager on which they can receive a police warning of any serious terrorist or other public safety threat which might affect them. That,too, has been highly successful.