Police defend decision not to install London Bridge barriers despite warning it was 'viable and attractive' terror target

Lizzie Dearden

Officials decided not to install barriers on London Bridge despite it “crying out for protection” after the Westminster terror attack, a court has heard.

Police ranked London Bridge in the five most likely sites for an atrocity in the City of London before it was targeted in a June 2017 attack that left eight victims dead, an inquest has been told.

But a senior officer defended the decision not to put up protective barriers, saying there was no intelligence suggesting London Bridge was a particular target.

In March 2017, Khalid Masood had ploughed a car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge before stabbing a police officer to death outside parliament. Isis had also released detailed advice on vehicle attacks.

City of London Police commissioned an independent threat report by a security firm that concluded that “the location and layout of [London Bridge] lends itself to a ram attack with no physical barriers in place to prevent a vehicle mounting the pavement”.

The court heard the force received the report in late April 2017 and the following month, a sergeant wrote that the location was “probably my biggest concern” for a low-sophistication attack.

London Bridge, which spans the River Thames between the City of London and Borough, was described as a “crowded place, iconic site, predictable eastern pavement crowded at commuter times” in an update following an extraordinary security group meeting a day after the Westminster attack.

But Jane Gyford, who at the time was the City of London Police commander of operations and security, said the location did not meet the criteria for installing barriers, because there was no specific threat or large public event.

Giving evidence at an inquest into the London Bridge victims' deaths, she told the Old Bailey: “There was no intelligence picture to suggest London Bridge was going to be the site of an attack and therefore we were looking at the picture as a whole and we were taking action.”

Asked if temporary protective barriers might have been an option under a national scheme, Commander Gyford replied: “There is no case in this country where National Barrier Asset has been used without intelligence or to do with an event.”

The inquest heard London Bridge also did not fall within the Home Office’s “rigid” definition of a crowded place, but Commander Gyford said the force had “concentrated our efforts on it in any case”.

But barriers were not installed and on 3 June, 2017, three Isis supporters ploughed a hired van into pedestrians on London Bridge before crashing and launching a stabbing rampage in nearby Borough Market.

The inquest heard steel guardrails, not designed to withstand vehicle impact, had been removed from the bridge as part of a wider programme to improve safety and “reduce street clutter” in 2010.

Security barriers were only installed on London bridges after the June 2017 attack (Reuters)

Specialist barriers were installed swiftly on central London bridges in the wake of the London Bridge attack.

A lawyer representing six of the victims’ families suggested that police measures, including high-visibility deployments and enhanced patrols by armed response vehicles were less effective at preventing attacks than barriers.

“This particular place was crying out for protection, was it not?” Gareth Patterson QC asked.

“My suggestion is that, whether [the decision-making process] was rigorous or not, the wrong decision was clearly made, and the unreasonable decision was made, not to install barriers.”

Commander Gyford replied: “I disagree.”

On Tuesday, the court had heard details of an independent report by security analysts Cerastes that identified London Bridge as a “viable and attractive” target for a vehicle attack.

Jane Gyford, former City of London Police commander of operations and security, said her force had begun taking action on its findings.

“We started the engagement with the Corporation of London and Transport for London, we started looking at what we needed to do, not only at this site but other sites,” she added.

“But we were not in extremis, we were acting on the current threat and intelligence picture.”

A senior Metropolitan Police officer said her force, which is responsible for the south side of London Bridge, had not seen the study before the atrocity.

Deputy assistant commissioner Lucy D’Orsi said the report would not have changed how the police prioritised which areas to protect.

“We do have to prioritise where our effort is placed,” she added, saying other “iconic sites” were assessed as needing protection.

“I don’t think the report itself would cause me to start putting protective security measures in because it could be written for a multitude of places in London.”

Ms D’Orsi told the inquest that while the police could advise on protective security measures, it was down to the property owners to implement the advice.

“It would be helpful if there was legislation that did require people to consider protective security,” she added.

“Whether that’s in planning, building new properties, and also I think that’s applicable to the public and private sector.

“There’s an absence of legislation around protective security.”

Her comments came as the government considers laws compelling large venues to increase security following a campaign by victims of the Manchester Arena bombing.

The inquest into the London Bridge victims' deaths will be followed by a separate jury hearing into the deaths of the three attackers.

Additional reporting by PA