Full alert as Britain goes on war footing

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Full alert as Britain goes on war footing

Fraser Nelson and Karen McVeigh

BRITAIN woke up to war yesterday. With extra police on the streets and newspapers sold out by 9am, the effects of the bombings 3,500 miles away were already being felt.

In London, possible terrorist targets - the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace - were guarded by extra police. Officers’ holidays had been cancelled and the Metropolitan force was on full alert.

Britain was the only country to lend its military might to the US attack, allowing Royal Navy submarines to fire cruise missiles. This has, implicitly, made Britain a target for terrorist retaliation.

"We ask people to go about their normal business," the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, said yesterday. "That’s one way of defeating terrorists - to do business as usual."

In Scotland, Henry McLeish, the First Minister, echoed Mr Straw’s words and appealed for people to be "vigilant but calm."

He said: "We want people to feel safe and secure. There is a heightened level of alert in Scotland - we’ll be strengthening security at major installations and of course airports, but we want people to carry on business as normal - that is absolutely vital in these testing times."

Scotland Yard is responding to the war status by what it calls Operation Calm - sharply increasing the number of police officers on the streets and around key targets.

In London, an extra 1,500 officers have been deployed on the streets since last month’s US attack - this number may increase. A "ring of steel" cordon around the City was in operation from early yesterday and Canary Wharf, the 50-floor tower in the Isle of Dogs which was evacuated on 11 September, was heavily guarded. From the outset, Tony Blair has been worried that the war against terrorism could be misinterpreted as a war of cultures against Islam.

Syed Ali, a retired civil servant who lost his daughter in the World Trade Centre attack , says he has already felt a palpable change of mood in London.

"I have received a bad reaction in the street - gnashes of teeth, bad looks," he said. "But they don’t know I lost a daughter - they just see an Asian or an Arab."

Scottish cabinet ministers were told yesterday that contingency plans are in place for dealing with any emergency that might occur north of the Border as a result of Britain’s involvement in the strikes on Afghanistan.

Jim Wallace, the minister responsible for police and fire services, assured his colleagues that emergency planning measures and contingency plans are in a good state of readiness.

Although defence and national security matters are reserved to Westminster, Scotland has responsibility for its own police, emergency services and emergency planning.

Mr Wallace, the deputy First Minister, is a member of the UK civil contingencies committee in Whitehall and has already taken part in a meeting about the current crisis.

An executive spokesman said last night that people could be reassured that security measures and contingency plans were a high priority and were kept under constant review.

Mr McLeish dismissed comments by the Labour MP for Linlithgow MP, who claimed that the allied strikes were exactly what Osama bin Laden would have wanted.

"We are now in a very, very serious situation, and I expect we should be supporting the Prime Minister in these very difficult times," Mr McLeish said.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), October 08, 2001

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