UK

London Bridge Terror Attack: British Policing 'Arrogant' For Not Arming More Officers, Ex-Marksman Says

'Anywhere else in the world, it would’ve dealt with swiftly by the first officers to arrive'.

05/06/2017 19:51 BST | Updated 05/06/2017 20:55 BST

Britain is “arrogant” for not routinely arming its police officers with guns, which could have saved lives in the London Bridge attack, a former marksman has said.

One British Transport Police officer was stabbed by the terrorists when he confronted them with just his baton as they attacked people during their rampage on Saturday.

The terror attack, the second in Britain in as many weeks, left seven people dead and 48 injured.

Tony Long, a sharpshooter who shot five people in his 30 years as a firearms officer, told HuffPost UK the terrorists would have been stopped sooner if the first officers at the scene had been carrying guns.

The attack has caused an argument about the fall in the number of armed officers, with Jeremy Corbyn calling on Theresa May to resign for presiding over falling numbers as home secretary.

The London Bridge attackers were shot dead eight minutes after the first 999 call. The first officers arrived two minutes after the call.

“Anywhere else in the world, it would’ve been dealt with swiftly by the first officers to arrive on scene,” Long said.

Long said those unarmed officers who could not confront the terrorists “must be feeling enormous guilt”.

PA Wire/PA Images
Armed police guard an area close to Borough Market in London following Saturday's terrorist attack

He said a former colleague had told him how his son, a young officer, arrived on the scene of Saturday’s attack but had to hold back because he was not armed.

“They weren’t capable of stopping these marauding attackers armed with knives when members of the public were throwing chairs and tables and bottles,” Long told HuffPost UK.

“[He] felt he wasn’t capable of protecting the public. In fact the public were doing a better of protecting themselves. That cannot, under any circumstances, be deemed to be right.”

Britain is rare in not routinely arming its police officers. While an increasing number carry Taser stun guns - for which they undergo intensive training - only a select group of specialist officers carry guns.

Anywhere else in the world, it would’ve dealt with swiftly by the first officers to arrive on scene

The issue has risen on the agenda after recent attacks.

In January, the Metropolitan Police Federation said it would survey officers to ask whether they wanted to carry guns, citing the threat terrorists pose to their safety.

On Monday, one officer with 20 years’ service wrote of how they had changed their mind on whether they would carry a gun.

In an anonymous article, the officer said the current armed response time for isolated areas in their force “would shock you”.

Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick said she opposed widely arming police.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday it was “simply not sensible”, saying: “People in this country don’t want us all armed to the teeth.”

Long, who left the Metropolitan Police in 2008, blamed “British arrogance” for not arming police more widely.

JUSTIN TALLIS via Getty Images
Tony Long (left) at the 2015 murder trial over his shooting of robbery suspect Azelle Rodney in 2005, where he was acquitted

He said it was wrong to claim British policing’s emphasis on “policing by consent” - the notion that powers are exercised with the approval of the community - meant officers should not be armed. 

“Whole generations have been told this thing: we police by consent and therefore we don’t carry a gun,” Long said.

“All the European and all the American police forces police by consent... It’s this sort of British arrogance that, if police were to carry firearms, you’d be like those foreigners who can’t cope with crime problems. 

“It’s a bit insulting... Police forces the world over go about all the aspects of police work we do carrying guns and it makes not the slightest bit of difference.”

Long conceded that arming all officers, which he favours, would be a “huge logistical step” with implications for police spending and training.

He said it could be a stopgap to henceforth require all new recruits to agree to carry a gun if so required.

Long said the British police service was sentimental about Dixon Of Dock Green, a police show from the 1950s whose main character came to epitomise the friendly British Bobby. 

Bernard Hogan Howe cited Dixon as his role model when he became Metropolitan Police commissioner in 2011.

When Long joined the police in 1975, his training included viewing the film The Blue Lamp, in which Dixon is fatally shot.

“We were all supposed to come out of that with a subliminal image in our head that it was better to die as an honest, upright friendly British Bobby then to walk away with a smoking gun like a brash New York cop,” Long said.

Long said young officers had never heard of the Dixon character.

“They’ve been told that, if they were to carry guns, the public wouldn’t trust them. It’s wrong. It’s just a total myth,” he added.

HuffPost UK contacted the National Police Chiefs’ Council for comment on Long’s remarks but had not received a response as this story went live.