Martyn’s Law by Nick Aldworth

TPSO magazine is a massive supporter of this initiative to make public events and venues safer by making good practice and counter terrorism guidance, Law. We asked expert Nick Aldworth to explain:

Mobilising Society to Fight TerrorismChanging Terrorist Tactics Require a Changing Public Response

The British public are not strangers to terrorism and extremist beliefs. Over centuries, the United Kingdom has been at the vanguard of dealing with extremist views, be those of the Fenian Brotherhood who attacked London and Manchester in the late 1800s or the more recent attacks by followers of other extreme ideologies such as Daesh or Al Qaeda.

A Changing Orthodoxy

Prior to the emergence of Daesh, terrorist organizations commonly held purpose and structure. Attacks were initiated with an intent to achieve some greater “political” outcome. Sometimes dialogue was possible between terrorists and governments. Structure meant communication and networks, both of which become exploitable by police and security entities. Often, a terrorist group would aspire to supremacy by mounting “spectaculars” that required sophisticated planning, again creating opportunities for interception by the security services, as well as being much harder to achieve.

However, the goals of Daesh were much more driven by a desire to perpetuate its perverse interpretation of Islam through the creation of an Islamic Caliphate. In 2014 a Daesh spokesperson, sought to mobilise radical Muslims by calling for the destruction of non-believers through any means possible:

“Kill him in any manner or way however it may be. Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him.

In the early days of its existence, Daesh was able to call followers from around the world to travel to Iraq and Syria to fight for its cause. Many could not travel, so Daesh exploited global communications networks to remotely direct attacks. Daesh became masters of propaganda and were able to project their message across the Internet, having learned from Al Qaeda’s online publications .

Individuals no longer needed to be part of a terrorist network—they could sit in their own homes and self-radicalize. In short, many became inspired. The need for a central organizing brain ceased, and free-range terrorism was created.

People who once just held extreme views now have near, unfettered access to an avalanche of information that might harden those views into an intent to cause harm.

2017 – The Start of A New Normal

On March 22, 2017, a petty but violent criminal with extreme (but not unlawful) views, mounted the pavement of Westminster Bridge in a rented SUV. Eighty-two seconds later, he had murdered five people, including a police officer guarding the British Parliament. The terrorist was shot dead.

Something about the March 22 attack acted as a catalyst that emboldened others to conduct similarly inspired attacks. On May 22, a British-born son of Libyan refugees mounted a suicide bombing attack at a music concert in Manchester, murdering 22, mostly young, people.

Among those was a young man named Martyn Hett whose mother, Figen Murray, now campaigns in support of changing the law to make crowded places much more responsible for looking after themselves and their customers. In honour of Martyn and all victims of terrorism, we are calling this new proposed law, Martyn’s Law.

Sadly, more murders followed Martyn’s.  On June 3, 8 people were murdered on London Bridge in an attack that lasted only eight minutes and ended when all three attackers were shot dead by an armed response unit.  Sixteen days later a follower of the extreme right wing drove a vehicle into a crowd of Muslim worshippers, murdering one and leaving others injured.  Terrorism had shown itself to be the preserve of many ideologies not just radical Islam.

Along with the failed bombing of a train in September of that year, the British police and security services disrupted several other attacks, some at a very advanced stage of planning and, in at least one case, delivery. The tempo of attack planning and disruptions of attacks continued at a pace during 2018 and 2019 and then on 29 November this year another brutal, low-sophistication attack occurred on London Bridge, signalling loud and clear that the threat from such acts has not diminished.

At this point, Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a public declaration that he was supportive of reviewing the law, including the proposal put forward for Martyn’s Law.  With his re-election, we are now optimistic that Martyn’s Law has a good chance of becoming a reality.

The Need for a Change in Response

The spaces and places in which people live, work, and enjoy democratic freedoms are the very places that terrorists wish to attack. There are estimated to be about 650,000 crowded places in the United Kingdom, of which only about 0.2% are prioritized to receive direct support from the Government’s network of CT experts. The additional locations are not necessarily without security, it is just not provided through direct contact with British Police. 

Those who operate the places and spaces in which people live, work, and socialize must take greater steps to ensure the security of their users. It matters not whether these are private businesses or local government authorities, the obligation must be equal and comprehensive.

The Martyn’s Law proposal will not be onerous or cost-burdensome on British businesses; it’s as much about having a plan as it is about mitigating risk. It follows the simple principle that if the orthodoxy of terrorism has changed, so should the response to it.  So what is being called for?

Martyn’s Law

Part One: A requirement that certain sections of the community, spaces, and places engage with freely available counterterrorism advice and training.

The provision of high-quality advice is freely available through the NaCTSO. An award-winning online e-learning package has already been developed in collaboration with business. At its most basic, it is 45 minutes long. Martyn’s Law proposes that every venue that hosts any event to which the public have access on payment or otherwise, should have at least 25 percent of their staff trained in counterterrorism awareness. In addition, it proposes that every such venue should have at least one on-duty manager who has received the relevant Action Counters Terrorism (ACT) course.

Part Two: A requirement for those places to conduct vulnerability assessments of their operating places and spaces.

The proposal suggests that every such place should undertake a vulnerability assessment of the area in which their activity takes place and to which the public will have access or transit through. Online vulnerability assessments are available, and some British insurers offer a discount for those businesses that undertake such assessments and then manage any risks that are identified. For medium-sized enterprises, this is likely to offer a significant financial incentive.

Part Three: A requirement for those places to have a mitigation plan for the risks created by the vulnerabilities.

The mitigation of vulnerabilities will often be achieved at no or very low cost. Not every risk requires expensive infrastructure to be built. Good quality security is often good counterterrorism security. For every threat posed, a mitigation has usually been developed, and the advice to achieve mitigation is readily available from multiple public and private sources. The Counter Terrorism Police Information Sharing Platform, due to come online in 2020, will provide a portal to this free advice.

Part Four: A requirement for those places to have a counterterrorism plan.

The UK Government‘s public advice to individuals in the event of a terrorist attack is to run-hide-tell. A number of incidents have shown that when mass gatherings or dense pockets of pedestrians respond to an attack in this way, there is often additional danger and confusion created. Our proposal is that places and spaces should have a plan that reflects a responsibility toward large numbers of people, potentially panicking. This should reflect the principles of guide-shelter-communicate.

Guide—Direct people toward the most appropriate location (e.g., invacuation, evacuation, hide).

Shelter—Understand how the place or space might be able to be locked down and used to shelter people within it for several hours.

Communicate—Have a means of communicating effectively and promptly with users of the place or space and have staff capable of giving clear instructions.

Part Five: A requirement for local authorities to plan for the threat of terrorism.

The British Civil Contingencies Act created a requirement for local bodies to convene a multi-agency Local Resilience Forum (LRF). Only very recently has there been any guidance regarding what counterterrorism planning should look like for an LRF, but still no mandate exists to consider this theme. Martyn’s Law proposes that LRFs must consider terrorism as a risk and have a local response and recovery plan to a range of threat methodologies.

The Future–Balancing Freedom With Security

Those who have spent their lives trying to protect the public don’t want to see the United Kingdom become “Fortress Britain.” A United Kingdom smothered in bollards, gates, and compounds protected by armed police officers is a very different Britain to the generally open and liberal society that is currently valued. However, the world has changed and so must those protecting it. Finding the right balance will be a challenge for generations to come, but being given a strong steer by Martyn’s Law will help define how we go about that.  The private security industry needs to be at the heart of change and we believe that Martyn’s Law will help the industry ensure that their customers take security seriously.

Nick Aldworth: (former Counter Terrorism National Coordinator for Protective Security and Preparedness)