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Westminster Abbey opts for its own ‘police force’ to toughen security after terror attacks

16 June 2017

Anthony Chappel-Ross

Cathedral Constables: York Minster has installed a police team, who were attested on 24 May

Cathedral Constables: York Minster has installed a police team, who were attested on 24 May

THE Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey have decided against installing the high-security measures adopted around the neighbouring Houses of Parliament, Whitehall, and Buckingham Palace after the recent terror attacks, but it has expanded its own existing precautions.

In a blog on Monday, the Dean of Westminster, the Very Revd John Hall, said that they had decided that it would be wrong to turn the abbey “into a fortress”, and would rely instead on expanding numbers of uniformed beadles — its own “police force” — to carry out 24-hour patrols, searches of visitors, and to lock some entrances.

He wrote that, while the latest incidents had led to further thinking about security at the Abbey, it had already been high on the agenda for most of the past decade, and the Chapter had previously employed a security firm to search tourists.

A review some years ago by the Metropolitan Police had proposed “a whole host of measures, including a strong security barrier in the middle of the sanctuary, the provision of a security-type perimeter barrier, and the application of film to all abbey windows to prevent flying glass”.

After taking further professional advice, however, it concluded that it would be wrong to undertake measures such as those introduced near by. “Even so, we know that the abbey is not immune from attack,” the Dean said. “We need it to be open and welcoming, but also safe.”

Extra measures taken in recent years included appointing a “skilled and experienced security professional” as head of security, with a deputy, and increasing numbers of beadles to undertake bag searches, and sometimes wand searches, of all visitors to the abbey, whether they came as worshippers or tourists. “The visitors are content with the security. Indeed, they actively welcome it as a protection for themselves” he said.

“Getting it right when buildings around us all have airport-type security and large barriers is not easy. But the abbey is more professionally protected now than it was ten years ago, and still open and very welcoming: a house of God, representing faith at the heart of the nation.”

In Manchester, the Dean, the Very Revd Rogers Govender, said that, even before the Ariana Grande concert bombing, the cathedral had employed two security officers and started bag searches as a result of “recent threats”.

This week, the Church issued guidance on publicly available resources to aid safety and security in church buildings. “Whilst risks to church communities remain low,” it says, “the police have encouraged all places of worship to be vigilant”.

The advice ranges from publicising the police guidance for people caught up in an incident — Run, Hide, Tell, to keep themselves safe and the police informed — to promoting the initiative CitizenAID, which teaches basic first aid for the type of injuries experienced in a bomb or weapon attack.

The guidance encourages the reporting of potentially suspicious activity or online content, and the formation of links with the local police’s Counter Terrorism Security Adviser, who can provide tailored guidance and advice, for instance, when large events are planned.

Also provided are contact details for groups that offer advice on minimising threats to both congregations and their buildings, and for providing accurate information and guidance during an ongoing incident.


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