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 Thursday, 16 January, 2003, 11:23 GMT
Six Forum: Can the police deal with terrorism?
Sic Forum: Are the police equipped to deal with terrorism?

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    Vice-President of the Police Superintendents' Association, Rick Naylor, answered your questions in a LIVE forum for the BBC's Six O'clock News, presented by Manisha Tank.

    Police have launched an internal inquiry after an officer not wearing body armour was stabbed to death during a counter-terrorism operation in Manchester.

    Father-of-three Stephen Oake, 40, died and three other officers were injured as police searched three men in a flat in Crumpsall, in the north of the city.

    Officers are still checking the flat and surrounding premises for the deadly poison ricin.

    The incident has again raised the question of whether the police are adequately equipped to deal with the threat of terrorism.

    The BBC's Frank Gardner says that despite years of experience in dealing with threats from the IRA, the police are struggling to cope with the new challenge.

    Are the police equipped to deal with terrorists? Should the police be armed? Does the UK need an FBI-style anti-terrorism agency?


    Manisha Tank:

    Hello and welcome to the Six Forum with me, Manisha Tank. The stabbing to death of a police officer after an anti-terror operation in Manchester has sparked a police inquiry that was after it emerged that the officer, father of three, Stephen Oake had no body armour to protect him. In addition the suspects in question were not handcuffed.

    The incident has raised a new debate over how well equipped Britain's police really are in fighting terrorism. Is the Government doing enough to support police efforts and what role do the intelligence services play? Most of all is there now a stronger case for arming Britain's police?

    I am pleased to be joined in the studio by Rick Naylor, Vice President of the Police Superintendents' Association.

    We'll start with an e-mail from Jules Charrington, Brighton: How is it possible that experienced police officers can go on what was effectively an anti-terrorism raid without body armour or any protective clothing?

    Rick Naylor:

    The officers that actually effected the entry into the flat last night in Manchester were equipped - they were the most equipped officers in the Greater Manchester force and there were highly trained officers who were doing that job.

    Unfortunately, the incident that resulted in Stephen Oake's death happened about an hour after the officers first entered the flat. It's really unclear at the moment, until we have the investigation, as to what actually has happened in that hour between the officers getting in the flat and the incident happening last night. It is obviously a dreadful, dreadful incident and my condolences and that of the association go out to Stephen Oake's family and friends.

    Manisha Tank:

    Hector Cerda, Oklahoma, USA: Why weren't better procedures in place when dealing with possibly violent suspects?

    Now you just said that the incident happened about an hour after everything began. So, is there a suggestion there that perhaps you didn't expect for this to turn out the way that it did in terms of the violence that ended up occurring there?

    Rick Naylor:

    Precisely. I think obviously in every police operation there is a risk assessment done, so the officers know what risks from the intelligence that they have that they face before they go into any sort of situation. That risk assessment undoubtedly will have been done by the Manchester officers last night.

    It was only when they actually got into the flat and they found two other people there and then as we have found out today that they really were on the terrorist wanted list, that they ante upped during that operation. It was precisely at the moment where one of the suspects was being identified as to who he was that he went berserk and obviously a fanatic like that takes a lot of police manpower to subdue.

    Manisha Tank:

    There's always that unseen element in these things but still there is a lot of public questioning going on of what happened. Tina Hardy has just e-mailed in: Why were the police not wearing bullet-proof vests? Surely they should be standard issue.

    What is the situation surrounding whether a police officer goes out wearing a vest or not?

    Rick Naylor:

    Uniformed officers are equipped in England and Wales with stab-proof/bullet-proof vests and they wear them in the course of their normal duties - uniformed officers. Such vests are available to other officers - plain clothes officers, if you like - for specific operations. They don't normally go out in their normal duties wearing those sorts of vests. They are heavy, some of them and they are uncomfortable but it's normal for uniformed patrol officers to wear them, particularly in cities like Manchester, London and Birmingham.

    So it would have been on the risk assessment as I said a few moments ago plus the advice of a tactical adviser which they will have had last night, as to what sort of protection those officers should have had.

    Manisha Tank:

    Alan Collingham, Farnbrough, England: Are the police taking the terrorist threat seriously?

    Anonymous: Do you accept that not enough has been done to protect the public, nor your own officers on the front line?

    Rick Naylor:

    On the question of dealing with terrorism, the British Police Service have many, many years of experience of dealing with terrorism - most notably Irish terrorism, as we know.

    The new element that's come into policing after 9/11 is the Islamic terrorism as we've seen in the tragic events of yesterday - we assume anyway. So we have a lot of experience of dealing with terrorism and the intelligence services in this country are very effective in dealing with that. You only have to see the numbers that are arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and dealt with either through the courts or deported. There is sufficient legislation there, there is sufficient police expertise.

    What I think has got to change, perhaps with my colleagues up and down the country, is that they've got to realise that some of these people are fanatics and are willing to lose their lives to achieve their aims and that is something that perhaps the British police service has not faced before.

    Manisha Tank:

    Now picking up on the idea of new elements, obviously chemical weapons have been of great concern and the discovery of ricin in North London which we talked about on the Six Forum. Isabelle Kent, Boston, USA: Do you [the police] have a specific emergency plan for if there's a chemical or biological attack? Do you think that the hospitals and police force would be ready if this happened now?

    Rick Naylor:

    Well the short answer is yes. The Metropolitan Police, the British Transport Police and other police forces up and down the country have been practising their capability in dealing with chemical and biological attacks. They've certainly looked at all their plans and brought them up to date, so we are aware of it and we are working towards being prepared. So I can reassure the public out there that the police are ready, as are the Fire Service, the Ambulance Service and the hospitals.

    In fact, last night at the North Manchester Hospital, they put into practice their chemical attack plan and they stopped taking in casualties and the doctors wanted to examine and observe the officers and the ambulance officers that went to the scene last night.

    Manisha Tank:

    Now this incident has only exacerbated the debate about equipping police officers with guns. There's been a huge debate also going on in Britain about gun crime and whether again the police should be equipped.

    Martin Hammer writes in from London: If it's good enough for Northern Ireland, then right now it's good enough for London and the rest of the UK. An armed police force is the only way forward to combat the rise in criminal society that has no respect for the law.

    Do you agree with this? Let's bear in mind that we are dealing with this new element of terrorism - one that has been completely unpredictable.

    Rick Naylor:

    Yes, I understand that. But when you look at the normal, everyday policing that happens in England and Wales and Scotland - we'll have to leave Northern Ireland to one side for one minute. But when we look at the mainland, the vast majority of policing does not require officers to be armed.

    There are arms available to officers. Every force has armed response vehicles which can be mobilised in a matter of seconds and directed towards incidents and that has been a development in recent years. There are more armed officers out on the streets of England and Wales than there have ever been really in response to the gun crime problems in certain cities and that's to reassure the public that the police do take this seriously.

    But if we up the ante and actually arm every police officer, it will send a stark message to not only the lawbreaking society and individuals in the community but also the law-abiding ones. We will have certainly increased the fear of crime by doing that, I believe.

    Manisha Tank:

    Rod Garr, Miami, USA: Why not arm the Police? This would have probably saved a life in Manchester.

    Rick Naylor:

    It could have made matters worse. If we think of the scenario whereby this man had gone berserk and he'd actually not just armed himself with a knife, but been able to have got a firearm that was the possession of one of the police officers, we could have been talking about a greater tragedy than we are.

    Manisha Tank:

    While we've been talking our online viewers have been voting and letting us know how you feel about the police carrying guns. We'll here's the answer - this is not a scientific poll - 70% of our Six Forum viewers say the police should be armed. Obviously, as I said, not scientific but it is an indication though. What do make of that Rick - 70% of the people out there watching this forum now believe that the police should be armed.

    Rick Naylor:

    Yes, I can understand the public feeling - the fear if you like of what's happened last night and the tragic events in Birmingham over the New Year and the way that it has been portrayed in the press etc. But I think that most of my colleagues - and I say that with 27 years police experience - would regret the day that the British Police Service became routinely armed. I think we would lose something special - and I'm not harking back to the Dixon of Dock Green era - but it is something special for police force to go out and work with the community unarmed.

    We are admired across most of the world for the work that the British Police Service do unarmed in very difficult situations. What we can't get away from is that policing is a dangerous and difficult business and sometimes - like Stephen Oake did last night - officers have to pay the ultimate price to protect the community.

    Manisha Tank:

    Finally let's go to an e-mail that we received from Peter Neyroud, Oxford - a UK Chief Constable emails us with a comment: The tone of your coverage suggests that there is a magic solution to tackling terrorism that can be found by looking at US models. I can assure you that the Americans are asking even more questions about their own capability. Post September 11th terrorism poses new challenges for police and for governments across the world.

    Do you agree - is there anything to be learnt from the American model?

    Rick Naylor:

    In many, many policing aspects we are a street and a gas lamp ahead of our North American colleagues. I was over in America just before Christmas and in many aspects of police investigation - DNA, CCTV and intelligence gathering - we are at the forefront, the cutting edge of policing in the world and the British Police Service should sing about its achievements there.

    I agree with Peter that there isn't a magic solution. Terrorists don't go around with a badge on saying, I'm a terrorist please arrest me. Because of the very nature of the thing that they're doing, they try to assimilate themselves into the population - very, very difficult to identify them, they assume many different identities. It is a particularly difficult area of policing and my admiration goes out to all those police officers - the anti-terrorist squad, special branch officers that have to work in this way. It is a very, very grey and murky area of policing.

    Manisha Tank:

    I'm afraid we're out of time for now. We had lots of issues to get through there. Rick Naylor thanks very much.

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