Commons Gate

Transport Security: Travelling without Fear (HC 1085-i)

Transport Committee 3 May 2006

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Evidence given by Sir Richard Mottram GCB, Security & Intelligence Co-ordinator, Cabinet Office, Commander Ian Carter and Chief Superintendent Jerry Savill, Metropolitan Police, Deputy Chief Constable Andrew Trotter and Mr Brian Dwyer, Force Counter-Terrorism Risk Adviser, British Transport Police.

Q47 Mr. Eric Martlew: I have listened to you on this [terrorist threat to transport], Sir Richard, and obviously there are elaborate precautions for aviation. You seem to be suggesting that there is very little that can be done on the trains or on the buses of this country and if we did find something there would be a very major cost to it. I do not find your views reassuring about the trains, the Tubes and the buses, to be honest.

Sir Richard Mottram: What we have in relation to the trains and the Tubes, for example, is we have an infrastructure of requirements on the companies that operate those in relation to security. We have quite a strong focus on the way in which, for example, the London Underground is manned from a security perspective and a whole set of other perspectives. We have a Police capability, in fact we have a specific British Transport Police capability. We have the whole paraphernalia - and I do not use that word in any way disparagingly, quite the reverse - of offering security advice. The only point that I am making is that I do not know of a magic bullet in relation to the threat that those systems face that I could deploy if it were not for an issue about resources. Obviously resources are always an issue but there is not a magic solution that we could adopt that it would have a very big effect but which people do not want to do because it would cost a lot of money or be disruptive or whatever. Because of the nature of those systems the need is to have a security response that is proportionate and is not self-defeating. You have to be able to travel if the purpose is to travel. I am not being glib but you know what I mean. That is the issue. If there were a magic bullet or two, I would be sitting here saying to you, "Wouldn't it be good if we could deploy this magic bullet or two." It is just that I do not think there is.

Q48 Mr. Eric Martlew: There is no magic bullet?

Sir Richard Mottram: No, that is the only point I am making. Let me make myself clear because I always have a risk that I do not make myself clear. I am not, of course, down-playing the importance of all the security measures that are taken. For example, whenever you travel, in relation to the most obvious things to do with suspicious behaviour and luggage left unattended and all those things, there is a very clear and constant set of messages right across our system, and of course I strongly support those.


Q70 Mr. Eric Martlew: What do you think is the role of the public in combating terrorism and what do you think we should be doing? What are we not doing?

Sir Richard Mottram: You can think about this at a number of different levels. Fundamentally the ideal way in which we would deal with the terrorist threat from British nationals is through a process in our community that ensured that people were not radicalised to the point of committing terrorist acts, so there is one level in all of this which is certainly very important, which is thinking about how at a community level we can think about the effective integration of people into the community and deal with those voices which are pointing people, putting it crudely, in the wrong direction. That is a task, I think, right across our society. You can then get much more specific in thinking about the role of the public and as you come down the levels you are into areas about vigilance, you are into how they respond during emergencies and so on, and a lot of that is in place. What we feel for our part, and this goes back to the point the Chairman was raising about the importance of communication, is that I am not sure that we have thought enough in the development of this strategy about regular communication and so a big priority for us going forward is precisely to think about whether the public are well informed about the part that they can play. This is part of a much broader issue around civil contingencies generally and it means that we need to be more open with people and more willing to take them into our confidence - and this is difficult, for obvious reasons to do with security and intelligence - about the nature of the challenge we face and their role in helping us. That is rather general but you see the point I am trying to feel for? I do not just see this as a specific thing about, "If you spot luggage on the Tube tell someone". That is obviously very important at a level but the problem we face is much deeper. It goes much further back and the further back we can seek to tackle it, in relation certainly to British nationals, the greater our likelihood of success.

Q71 Mr. Eric Martlew: If we can come down to the travelling level, we have had some evidence that there is a bit of a conflict between the industry, who are making sure that people are not frightened of travelling, and those of you who would like to increase the knowledge. Would you accept that?

Sir Richard Mottram: I would not accept that as a distinction because I am certainly not interested in frightening people from doing things, because the essence of our strategy as specified is that we want people to go on living their lives. We do not want them to have a sense of an oppressive set of risks which make them change their behaviour in fundamental ways, so there should not be any difference between us and the industry in that respect. We want people to travel, of course.


Q103 Mr. Eric Martlew: Gentlemen, I have heard, not from yourselves today but from other witnesses about the experience gained during the IRA campaign, but is it not the reality that we are facing a different enemy altogether, the suicide bombers?

Deputy Chief Constable Trotter: It is, very much so.

Q104 Mr. Eric Martlew: The point has been made about getting through Westminster station onto the train, but it can be just as effective by blowing up Westminster station, so how are you dealing with that?

Deputy Chief Constable Trotter: You are absolutely right. The suicide bomber is a very different threat from that which we had before. It does not mean we cannot learn some of those lessons, but one can put tremendous security into a particular place, into a building, into a system, and they will find other places to go. It could be bars or clubs or anything else, and we have seen that throughout the world, but that is what they will do because it is not just about the transport system; it is about killing people in public places. It is broader than just reinforcing particular places. I think you have to be careful that when you are dealing with security systems you do not create another target by having crowds of people trying to get into it. It becomes a target in itself and that remains a challenge, that we have to make sure that we do not defend one place so much that we expose other places. This all comes back to the point of intelligence. It comes back to how do we get to this position, what do we know abut these people; if they are in this country, if they are home-grown, what do we know about them, because the opportunities to cause attack are self-evident and they are everywhere.

Commander Carter: I share that view. It is simply this. Where is it different? Yes, there was a home-based threat with the IRA, but the reality is that the threat in July and its activity both on 7 July and 21 July truly came from within. The real threat has come from within in July. It came from communities of people brought up in this country, particularly that actually are focused on a wider jihad. They want to take a particular activity towards us. The key part would be engagement within the communities. Some of the lessons learned around July are that some of that local work could have identified those people, caretakers could have identified premises that had changed their usage, people locally could have identified things. In other words, we are in a position where on the mainland in this country we have got a different environment from that we had with the IRA.

Q105 Mr. Eric Martlew: Just talking about that, has the threat increased since then or decreased?

Commander Carter: I think the threat remains the same at severe general. The reason that remains there is that there is a constant threat in the background, and both ourselves and the security services work hard on intelligence based on some of the work we do. The key thing is that there is no secret. It has been publicly stated that three attempts of terrorist activity have been thwarted since the July attacks. It is in the public domain, there is nothing there that is new about that. The threat continues on. There are people still planning to take action against people within this country.

Q106 Mr. Eric Martlew: And the reporting is through intelligence?

Commander Carter: Through intelligence and, of course, police intervention.


Q123 Mr. Eric Martlew: I find this very interesting. I may have got it wrong, but is there an argument in actual fact for a specialised police force to look after the airports? Is that the implication of what you are saying? You are obviously sitting right next to the Deputy Chief Constable who looks after the railways, but with very little help. Is there an argument for a specialised police force?

Chief Superintendent Savill: My view there is that I think in decades to come there might well be. There is a lot of reorganisation of policing across the United Kingdom and there is now the merging of national policing structures and serious organised crime agencies. I think it is quite plausible that in the future counter-terrorism will be dealt with at a national level and, when that point is reached, I can see great sense in there being a protective security division of a federal-type agency which could provide protective security at airports and on the rail infrastructure, at seaports and possibly even on the motorways, but, as we stand at the moment, I think that structure needs to bed down. With the forces as they remain at the moment, there are imbedded commands at a number of airports, but they are in crisis, reliant, as I would be, on the rest of the Metropolitan Police for an urgent response, and 35,000 other officers if I need them. If we look forward, and I think other factors will have an influence on that, personally I think that in the next ten years the police will have already supported the concept of the joint border agency to provide frontier security and I think it is when we get to those critical landmarks that I can see a national transport police agency being a viable way forward.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

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On behalf of Eric Martlew, 3 Chatsworth Square Carlisle Cumbria CA1 1HB