The terror attack in London on Wednesday, which killed five people and injured around 40, was a tragedy that struck at the very heart of Westminster. While UK security services had been preparing for such an attack following the recent wave of terror across Europe, it was a day they wished would never come to pass.
In light of the events, the media have been quick to point out potential failings of British security agencies, both before and during the incident. Be it that Khalid Masood was known to MI5 before the attack, that he was able to get so close the heart of our democracy or that parliament gates were briefly left unmanned after being breached by the attacker.
While these are, of course, understandable concerns in the current climate, it’s about time the press cut the authorities some slack. The task facing our counterterrorism agencies is near impossible and, to date, they have done an exceptional job in foiling such attacks. And yet, the full details of the incident on Wednesday had hardly emerged when news studios invited security experts to begin picking apart CCTV and amateur video footage of the assault.
I’m not saying this kind of reporting isn’t in the public interest, but it’s a disconcerting trend that undermines our security services in the immediate aftermath of tragedies they had desperately hoped to prevent. Not to mention at a time when their first priority is finding the person or persons responsible.
Perhaps my favourite example of this from the last week is the following gem from the Mirror, which carried the headline:
‘Chaotic moment PM Theresa May runs the wrong way as she’s bundled into car during London terror attack’.
Now, I’ve watched the video footage and I’m not sure I’d call a full two steps in the wrong direction ‘chaotic’. Then again, I wouldn’t say that Theresa May is exactly ‘running’ anywhere, nor is she ‘bundled’ into anything as she calmly waits for one of her security detail to open the car door. This sort of reporting is wholly inappropriate and does nothing to reassure the public in the wake of such an attack.
Of course, a major security review needs to take place following the attack. The public demands nothing less. But they’re also intelligent enough to realise that our authorities have their work cut out. These sort of lone wolf attacks are notoriously difficult to prevent and it’s all too easy to point fingers after the fact.
If anyone is asking whether the security services could have done more, it will be the incredibly brave men and women who put their lives on the line to help keep our streets safe. So instead of questioning the authorities – who, let’s not forget, lost one of their own on Wednesday – we should be praising them. The speed and professionalism with which they handled the situation in Westminster undoubtedly helped prevent further causalities.
In fact, it has since emerged that the assault on Parliament Square lasted just 82 seconds – a rapid response if ever there was one.