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Greater action needed nationally to tackle ‘Martini’ terrorism

British Transport Police (BTP) chiefs have revealed that the service is putting increasing amounts of its core funding into countering terrorism on Britain’s railways, but other areas of the force’s work are having to absorb the cost.

BTP bosses made the admission during an evidence session in front of the Transport Select Committee last week as part of the committee’s ongoing inquiry into rail safety.

The BTP revealed that around 10% of its budget is directed towards counter-terrorism protection and outlined the difficulty it faces in protecting the country against ‘Martini’ terrorism, warning that it is so named because “it can happen any time, any place, anywhere”.

“In hierarchy of risk, the biggest threat is terrorism,” said BTP’s deputy chief constable (DCC) Adrian Hanstock when asked by committee chair Louise Ellman as to what he thought posed the greatest danger to rail passengers.

“The challenge of protecting a network that is so wide and open, and the risk being so unpredictable, causes us the greatest level of concern. It is a very real threat that we have to counter.”

The BTP warned that while the force is “completely embedded” within national counter-terrorism arrangements,  it is resorting to seeking additional funding from the rail industry to support its own measures as the force has not yet been successful in securing any of the £1bn of central counter-terrorism funding allocated to the Home Office.

The committee raised concern that the BTP’s firearms capacity is limited to London, casting doubt about the force’s readiness to respond on an inter-city train or elsewhere in the country. British Transport Police Authority’s interim chief executive Charlotte Vitty initially accepted that there is a “very real emerging threat outside London”, but DCC Hanstock later downplayed the comment.

“As the chief executive points out, we are tackling an emerging contingency, rather than a threat,” DCC Hanstock said. “I do not want people to be alarmed that suddenly something is happening in the north that we need to counter, but we know that we need a greater contingency, based on what is happening in terrorism in world events and on the national threat level.

“We present that as a package of risk that the force needs to address, and we indicate how we think we need to carve up the budget to meet that risk. We are now putting more and more of our core funding—the funding that the authority gives us—into terrorism and countering terrorism, which means that other areas of the force have to absorb that cost.”

MPs also raised fears about potential attacks using vehicles on level crossings in the wake of recent attacks using lorries in Berlin and Nice, and asked what could be done to try to mitigate the risk.

“I wish it was an easy one to answer,” replied DCC Hanstock. “It is often described as Martini terrorism, if you will forgive the phrase, because it can happen any time, any place, anywhere. Having an open network, in the way we do, running lines that criss-cross a small country, opens up those kinds of vulnerable points.”

However, DCC Hanstock offered assurance that Network Rail has invested in mobile safety vehicles and fixed cameras at key points, with BTP inspectors also present at Network Rail’s regional operational centres.

He added that level crossings were one of 24 ‘key challenge areas’ – potential ways in which terrorists could attack the network – already identified in the force’s strategic risk assessment.

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