Why the Westminster attack was a lucky escape
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It is understandable that one looks for consolation in the aftermath of tragedy and malice. It is a natural response, but not always a healthy one. One might, for example, see it as a jolly good thing that Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility for yesterday’s attack, has so little by way of operational and strategic command over its assets that it has squandered a chillingly real opportunity to do serious damage. Had the attack been planned with any real thought, or prepared with any rigour, the results would have been far, far worse. But this, I think, is false consolation. No man, and no state, should be comforted by the knowledge that he is secured only by the incompetence of his enemy. And already, what little information we have about the way events unfolded shows us how the consequences of a well-organised attack would have been devastating. Notwithstanding the obvious bravery of the first responders, whom we are right to praise, the facts would seem to suggest that we are lucky things were not worse, such were the holes in our security and lapses in the coordinated response procedure. The examples are numerous. The attacker, for example, would seem to have used a rented car to carry out the first stage of the operation. Yet anyone who has ever moved house knows that it is possible to rent a van, or even a lorry, at very short notice. Had this been done, the bodies on Westminster Bridge would have been more numerous, the injuries more severe. The attacker was armed only with a knife, and we should be thankful that guns are not as readily available in this country as they are in France or the US. Yet they are still available. There could be as many as four million guns in the UK, several hundreds of thousands of which are illegal. Even this is a conservative estimate, since criminals, by definition, are disinclined to report their own firearms. And Theresa May, whilst at the Home Office, oversaw such drastic cuts to UK border patrol forces – we have barely any boats (at one stage, just three) to patrol the entire East Coast of the UK – that it is impossible to estimate what is being smuggled into the country, or how much, or by whom. The death of Martin McGuiness reminds us that the IRA had no trouble whatever procuring huge quantities of explosives and firearms, and all serious criminal gangs enforce their territory with armed militias.
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