Independent review finds London now significantly better prepared for a terrorist attack

Friday, 11 March, 2022

  • New counter-terrorism review by Lord Toby Harris finds significant improvements in communication and coordination between the capital’s emergency services and partner agencies following Sadiq’s intervention to ensure London is best prepared to respond to an attack.
  •  Lord Harris warns of the rising threat of extreme right-wing terrorism, normalisation of online extremism and emergence of other threats which lack clear ideological roots.
  •  Mayor calls for long-term funding from Government to better prepare emergency services against the constantly evolving threat of terrorism.

London is significantly better prepared for a terrorist attack than it was five years ago, a new independent counter-terrorism review has found.

The new review by Lord Toby Harris has found that substantial progress has been made by London’s emergency services and key agencies since 2016 as a result of action initiated by the Mayor.

In July, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, commissioned Lord Harris to undertake a new wide-ranging review of London’s preparedness for a terrorist attack, against a backdrop of the changing nature of the threat of terrorism facing the capital. This included a rise in online extremism, an increase in referrals to Prevent for concerns regarding extreme right-wing radicalisation, more individuals self-radicalising and learning techniques online and the increasing possibility of hostile state-sponsored acts against the capital.

Sadiq also asked Lord Harris to consider any implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for London’s immediate and long-term preparedness for a major terrorist incident. This included identifying areas of vulnerability based on the ways in which the pandemic has changed how people live and work, and the impact of lockdowns on wider security awareness and expertise.

Lord Harris’s second review follows his earlier assessment commissioned by the Mayor in 2016, which resulted in more than 100 recommendations* to better prepare the capital for a terrorist attack - the vast majority of which have since been implemented.[1]

Over the last six months, Lord Harris has worked with London’s emergency services, the transport sector, local government, and officials from several central government departments to review processes, understand new threats and challenges and identify areas where further progress could be made. He also spoke with representatives from across the faith, voluntary and community and business sectors to discuss the role of London’s diverse communities in both preparedness and during the aftermath of a terror attack.

Lord Harris found notable improvements in communication and coordination by the emergency services and partner agencies, with substantial learning having taken place following the tragic terror attacks perpetrated in the capital and elsewhere over this period. His report also notes the exceptional levels of cooperation that now exist across the Met Police, British Transport Police and City of London Police forces, which are so crucial to protecting Londoners in the event of an attack.

In the report Lord Harris has made 294 new recommendations that focus on several key areas including ensuring emergency services are properly funded and fully equipped, providing and refreshing specialist training for relevant teams to deal with specific types of attacks, and improving information sharing across those with a role to play in keeping London safe - many of these represent simple adjustments to existing processes.

These recommendations come as Lord Harris warns of the rising threat of extreme right-wing terrorism and emergence of other threats which lack clear ideological roots – with the number of referrals to the Prevent programme for both of these categories outnumbering those prompted by Islamist related concerns for the first time.[2] Lord Harris also warns that the UK must be prepared to consider the possibility of terrorist deployment of Chemical, Biological, Radiological or Nuclear (CBRN) weapons, and ensure emergency services are equipped and trained to respond appropriately

The review is also critical of Government cuts to policing numbers over the last decade and cuts in other key services, which in Lord Harris’s view “potentially hampers London’s capacity to react to terrorist incidents” and are “short-sighted”.

With the current terror threat level at ‘substantial’, the findings from this review suggest there is no room for complacency. London bears the highest risk of terrorism in the UK and the pandemic and recent overseas conflicts, including the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban and the war in Ukraine - pose new and continuing challenges to London’s security and preparedness.

Lord Toby Harris said: “I was pleased to see the huge amount of work that has been done in the last five years, not only by the police and the emergency services, but also by local councils and many other agencies, to improve our readiness to deal with terrorism. But we must not be complacent, the terrorist threat remains a real and present danger and we can never make London entirely safe.

“Working together we can all help through common endeavour to ensure that we are better prepared for whatever may happen.”

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan said: "Nothing is more important to me than keeping Londoners safe and I am determined to keep reviewing potential threats to our city in order to adapt and strengthen our ability to prepare for and respond to the evolving threat of terrorism.  

“I asked Lord Harris to carry out this second review in order to reinforce London’s preparedness even further. While I am proud of the progress made, I want to ensure that no stone is left unturned in equipping our city for whatever challenges it may face in the future.  

“That is why I am calling on the Government to support City Hall in taking action now to mitigate the new risks identified in Lord Harris’s review. Ministers must provide increased funding not just for our police but for all those services that play an essential role in preventing and responding to the threat of terrorism in London and nationwide.”

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist from the Metropolitan Police said: “The Metropolitan Police welcomes Lord Harris's report and we are particularly pleased that Lord Harris recognises there has been significant progress made since 2016 and that the emergency services and other agencies in London continually seek to learn and to improve our response to any terrorist attacks.

“These improvements are in no small part due to the incredible dedication and determination of officers and staff here in the Met - as well as our many colleagues from other agencies - to do the very best we can to keep Londoners safe.

“However, we also know and recognise that there is no room for complacency. There are a number of recommendations contained within the report and we will work closely with our key partners over the coming weeks and months to look at these and consider how we can best implement them.

“But in the meantime, Londoners should be in no doubt that we, along with our emergency service partners and other agencies, remain absolutely ready to respond should the worst happen.”


[1] Lord Harris confirmed nearly all of the 127 recommendations from his 2016 review into London’s preparedness to respond to a major terrorist incident have already been implemented. Link to 2016 Harris report is here

 [2] Outnumbering those prompted by Islamist related concerns for the first time [page 17, Lord Harris review, 11/3/2022]

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