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Archdeacon of London warns of ‘unintended consequences’ of terrorism legislation

21 May 2021

Churches invited to respond to the Government’s Protect Duty consultation

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A bag is checked outside Westminster Abbey in 2013. Bag-checking would be one response to the Protect Duty legislation

A bag is checked outside Westminster Abbey in 2013. Bag-checking would be one response to the Protect Duty legislation

PROPOSED government legislation on public security connected with terrorism could have unintended consequences for churches, the Archdeacon of London, the Ven. Luke Miller, has warned.

Archdeacon Miller chairs the faith-sector panel of the London Resilience Forum.

Places of worship are among venues invited to respond to the Government’s Protect Duty consultation, which, in the wake of the Manchester Arena attack in particular, is considering how public bodies can work together to improve public security.

The consultation document says that publicly accessible locations are a potential target, and that it is therefore “essential that the owners and operators of all such locations understand the risks they face and consider appropriate mitigation”. It describes the terrorist threat currently faced by the country as “multifaceted, diverse and continually evolving”.

A campaign by the mother of Martyn Hett, who was killed in the Manchester Arena attack on 22 May 2017 (News, 26 May 2017), is calling for “Martyn’s Law”, that is, for legislation imposing a duty on those who own or manage publicly accessible places to take actions to reduce the threat of terrorism.

The Archdeacon suggested in a blog post that imposing a duty on churches would be disproportionate.

Anti-terrorism insurance cover was not appropriate for most churches, and, he suggested, insurers “will start to require that we have maximised responses against a worst-case scenario for every event. If legislation is to apply to churches, it needs to be framed to prevent this drift.”

Many smaller churches that were left open and unattended would feel that their only option was to close, Archdeacon Miller said. “If just one church which would otherwise have opened for individual prayer or visiting were to close as a result of this, the terrorist would have had a major success.”

Organisations that depended on volunteers would be given yet more burdens, he continued. The proposals were unclear about the limits of those who would require training. Archdeacon Miller urged individual places of worship, and people from the faith communities, to consider and respond to the government consultation.

Bag-checking would be one response to the legislation, but the time factor could be something of an obstacle: the Westminster Abbey security team says that it takes, on average, between 25 and 30 minutes to check 100 bags.

But that is only an average, it emphasises. Much would depend on the intensity and depth of the search taking place on the day: were large bags being checked; was every bag checked, or one in three; was it accompanied by a check of the person’s clothing with a metal-detecting wand? Was it coupled with an accreditation ticket check, or was it a mixture of all options on different days? All these would have a huge bearing on the time taken, the team said.

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