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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 May, 2004, 11:14 GMT 12:14 UK
Capital not prepared for terror attack
Police cordon
Could the emergency services cope with a multiple attack?

London's emergency services would struggle to cope with a multiple terrorist attack according to the BBC's Panorama programme.

London under Attack reveals some serious gaps in the government's emergency planning system, which would come into force in the event of an attack.

The docu-drama, to be broadcast on BBC One on Sunday, focuses on how the emergency services would cope with multiple terrorist explosions in the capital.

The programme which features a fictional terrorist attack, has already been criticised by the Home Office, who declined to co-operate with the making of the programme and have called it "irresponsible and alarmist".

The programme reveals that police, ambulance and fire services communications systems are incompatible with each other in London and across the UK and that in the deep underground, Metropolitan Police radios do not work.

Radios incompatible

(The scenario) might be at the lower end of what terrorists on a good day might achieve.
Crispin Black, Intelligence expert

The communications system used by Civil Contingency Reaction Force (CCRF) - a specialist groups of reservists whose role is to help out in the event of disaster scenarios - is also incompatible with any of the emergency services.

This means that in the event of a disaster - none of the emergency services would not be able to talk to each other on their own radios.

Panorama reveals that the Metropolitan Police CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) specialist reserve has 30 officers and that 19 out of every twenty frontline police officers is not trained for an attack of this kind.

It also discovered that both London underground and local authority staff in England and Wales have had no training in how to deal with terrorist attacks.

The Home Office withdrew its support from the Panorama programme because the BBC refused to bow to requests to change the scenario being explored in the programme.

Almost beyond belief

gas cloud
A gas cloud drifts across London in a scene from Panorama

After admitting they hadn't seen the programme, the Home Office issued a statement saying: "We are disappointed to learn that the BBC appears to have adopted an irresponsible and alarmist approach to what is understandably an emotional and frightening subject."

The BBC has responded by saying: "Our view is that it would be irresponsible not to explore the subject given that the Government and everyone else in civil defence is warning that an attack is imminent."

That view has been backed up by Crispin Black, an intelligence expert and former civil servant in the cabinet office, who appears in the programme.

He said it was "almost beyond belief" that London Underground staff had received no training about how to deal with a terrorist attack.

Mr Black, who sat in on the emergency COBRA cabinet meeting after the September 11 attacks, added that the scenario "might be at the lower end of what terrorists on a good day might achieve."

Panorama: London under attack will be broadcast on BBC One on Sunday, 16 May 2004 at 22:15 GMT

London under attack
06 May 04  |  Panorama
Wall of silence over terror threat
16 May 04  |  Panorama
How the attack unfolded
16 May 04  |  Panorama
Facts behind the fiction
16 May 04  |  Panorama
UK advice not up to scratch
15 May 04  |  Panorama
The role of the police
15 May 04  |  Panorama
Gaps in the system
15 May 04  |  Panorama
Preparing for a crisis
15 May 04  |  Panorama
Terrorism: What they've said
15 May 04  |  Panorama
Terror timeline
15 May 04  |  Panorama
The panel
15 May 04  |  Panorama
Your comments
14 May 04  |  Panorama


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