Security Alert at Westminster Palace as Suspect ‘device’ found
A mobile phone and drinks bottle sparks security alert at The houses of Parliament, Westminster brought to a temporary standstill as roads are cordoned off and people advised not to use mobile phones near suspected device. James Kirkup, Political Editor at The Telegraphreports:
- A section of the Palace of Westminster in the shadow of Big Ben was evacuated in a brief security alert after an X-ray detected a mobile phone and a drinks bottle.
- Police and security officers cordoned off a section of the Parliamentary estate around New Palace Yard, next to the base of the clock tower.
- One officer said the alert was triggered after an X-ray operator at the Parliament visitor centre detected what appeared to be a mobile phone connected to a liquid bottle in a bag.
- Specialist officers from the Metropolitan Police, wearing rubber gloves, were called and inspected the package.
- It transpired that the phone was not connected to the bottle.
The security alert comes just 2 months after it was announced that cut backs had to be made to the security budget, and that some of the policing roles at The Palace of Westminster would be replaced by private security contractors. Although the Met Police would continue to have an armed presence at Parliament. Some MPs have expressed their concerns that security companies may employ agency staff, who have had little training and not yet completed vetting.
Police at the palace warned people not to use their mobile phones “for your own safety”, the roads around Parliament square were closed off to prevent vehicles and pedestrians from passing in front of the Houses of Parliament. A 30 meter cordon was in place across the square to keep tourists away from the suspected device. A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: “There is a security alert. We have no further details.”
A spokesman from local London security company, Westminster Security commented: “MPs have every right to be concerned for their personal safety, they should be able to go about their daily duties without the worry that their safety is being compromised due to budget cutbacks. You seen what happened at the London Olympics, who’s to say that won’t happen again, but with fatal consequences?.”
The area around Westminster Palace was declared safe within one hour of the security alert.
Security is paramount for highly-important locations, especially in a country’s seats of power. Rebecca Keating of BBC News reports:
“Police officers could be replaced by private guards to cover some aspects of security at the Houses of Parliament. The Metropolitan Police force currently provides all security services for the Commons and the Lords. In a cost-saving move, airport-style security checks at the entrances will be put to tender – although the Met will still provide armed officers. But parliamentary officials said there would be no downgrading of security as a result of any changes.”
The development may be met with mixed reactions amongst private and public officials, especially in an internationally-important place such as London, England. The city is already smarting from a recent scare near the Bank of England, and memories are still fresh of unnecessary military mobilisations to compensate for gaps in the 2012 London Olympics’ security. Labour MP Barry Sheerman said he was concerned that private security companies in London would rely on agency staff. Westminster Security recruit, train and supply former British Armed Forces veterans and former Police officers for private security in London and throughout the UK, they would be high on the list of preferred contractors to bid for the tender.A panel of security experts, MPs, and peers recommended the change in personnel as part of efforts to save more from the Parliament’s annual security budget, which stands at £24 million this year. Scotland Yard currently handles the screening work, but its contract is slated to expire in April, 2015. The tender is scheduled to be opened within a short period after. Guarding the entry points goes a long way to stopping potential threats, even when roving personnel are on the premises. In the case of Parliament, officers manning the public entrances have reported confiscating imitation weapons, knuckle dusters, and illegal substances such as cannabis. The same is true of security operatives finding unauthorised materials among retail patrons or event guests. It is unclear how the change will affect security for the lawmakers, even those who may be provided close protection by London security companies like Westminster Security. Sheerman said some MPs and their staff lamented a failure of Commons authorities to consult them about the development. Commons Speaker John Bercow would not even consider discussing the issue on the chamber floor.