Police praised for stopping London Bridge attack in minutes

Number of armed response vehicles was increased and tactics reviewed after attack on Paris in 2015

London Bridge attacks – live updates

Armed police officers in the London Bridge area after the attack.




Armed police officers in the London Bridge area after the attack.
Photograph: Niklas Halle’N/AFP/Getty Images

Police praised for stopping London Bridge attack in minutes

Number of armed response vehicles was increased and tactics reviewed after attack on Paris in 2015

London Bridge attacks – live updates

The terrorists who struck in London on Saturday night would have killed more people if police had not managed to find and stop them within minutes of the violence beginning.

Sources described the police response time as “fantastic”. The number of armed officers always on duty has been increased after previous terrorist atrocities.

The officers who shot dead the terrorists were in police armed response vehicles (ARVs), which regularly patrol big cities and other areas across Britain. ARVs usually carry three officers apiece and they are the first armed responders to incidents. The number of ARVs was increased in the UK after the November 2015 attacks in Paris revealed the vulnerability of cities to marauding terrorist attacks.

The eight officers who opened fire, in the London Bridge area, discharged an estimated and “unprecedented” 50 rounds at what they feared to be suicide bombers on the rampage. The officers were believed to be in the Met and City of London forces.

The officers would have been equipped with side arms and heavier weapons. The G36 semi-automatic rifle was the traditional gun of choice but increasing numbers of officers are opting for SIG 516 weapons.

The first calls, which were about a van hitting pedestrians on London Bridge, would have triggered a major response and a set of challenges. The first aim would have been to find out what was going on, possibly immensely difficult amid the intense chaos and conflicting reports.

CCTV cameras belonging to police and others are plugged directly into Scotland Yard’s control room and displayed on a phalanx of giant screens so commanders can see multiple scenes. As officers raced towards the scene they would have been receiving information from the control room, based on what commanders could see, and reports from the public.

Armed police on London Bridge on Saturday night.


Armed police on London Bridge on Saturday night. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

“Everything is based on the information coming to you en route,” said one source. They would have been equipped with earpieces to continue the updates as they left their vehicles and started the search for the suspects on foot.

The Borough Market area of this part of London is popular for evenings out. It has narrow passages and windy streets, and a warren of pubs and restaurants. Officers here had to identify members of the public, frightened at being caught up in the attack, and the attackers.

The police, having found the suspects, saw they had canisters strapped to their bodies, resembling of suicide bomb vests. People by then had already been stabbed.

If time allowed, officers would have issued a shouted challenge to suspects, identifying themselves as armed police. Officers have been briefed to shoot to the head if necessary, in what is known as a “critical shot”. Armed officers are traditionally trained to shoot towards the centre of the chest, and pictures of the dead suspects suggest that happened in this case. “Without the luxury of time you would aim for the central body mass,” said a source.

The firearms are equipped with laser sights, producing a so-called “red dot” on the suspect, showing the officer where the bullet will go. “It’s very accurate. It’s point and shoot,” said a police firearms expert.

The Met police’s assistant commissioner, Mark Rowley, said the officers, seeing the suspects wearing what looked like suicide bomb vests, would have seen the situation as “critical”. That term means they may have decided to keep shooting until they were sure the suspect could not try to trigger a bomb vest.

Rowley said: “The situation these officers were confronted with was critical – a matter of life and death. Three armed men, wearing what appeared to be suicide belts, had already attacked and killed members of the public and had to be stopped immediately.

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“Indeed I am not surprised that faced with what they must have feared were three suicide bombers, the firearms officers fired an unprecedented number of rounds to be completely confident they had neutralised those threats. I am humbled by the bravery of an officer who will rush towards a potential suicide bomber thinking only of protecting others.”

Officers have to account for every shot fired, and shoot to incapacitate the suspect, police chiefs say.

One passerby, wholly innocent, was caught in the hail of bullets and wounded.

Normal post-shooting investigative steps were suspended and officers who had opened fire continued with colleagues in an “active search” for any other terrorist attackers. Usually they would have stopped their armed duties and started making statements on why the use of force had been necessary. The officers were beginning post-incident procedures on Sunday.

The increase in armed police began after the 2015 attacks on Paris by marauding gunmen. British police chiefs got money to train more armed officers and developed new tactics.

In the Met area the number of ARV officers on duty at any time is to increase by 50%. These officers train in mounting armed operations with the City of London force and British Transport police.

Informally, Met chiefs believe armed officers can reach attacks in minutes. But among police there is concern about other areas of Britain. “It was very lucky it was in an area with the highest number of armed officers around,” said a source.

The improved police response is shown by the fact that it took 12 minutes to get 50 armed officers to the scene of the Westminster attack on 22 March, and 11 minutes to get armed officers to the Woolwich terror attack in 2013.

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