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Terror attack: might businesses be liable?

After a London Bridge-style terror attack, might businesses that had not done enough security beforehand be held liable, even under corporate manslaughter law, Lord Toby Harris asked at a seminar on crime and policing in London.

He was among the speakers at a Policy Forum for London event at Sixty One Whitehall in SW1A on Thursday, October 19. He was responding to a question from the floor after his talk on terror preparedness and resilience in the capital, arising from his review for Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, on London’s preparedness to respond to a major terrorist incident, published last year.

The question about ‘community resilience’ asked how to get through to businesses or people that don’t feel that such counter-terror preparedness is their responsibility. While he hoped that people were not like that, he added that some may try and get by, on the basis that others will get involved. Besides the duty of care to staff and customers, Lord Harris of Haringey spoke of a ‘wider civic, social responsibility, that they should be taking these things seriously. I do wonder whether these organisations that have failed to take sensible measures or to ensure staff know what to do in the event of a serious incident might have liability, or even corporate manslaughter, in the event of something dreadful happening.” He likened it to the crime of ‘locking and bolting and putting chains on a fire door’ in the event of fire at a premises.

Another question from the floor raised the question of London’s worsening traffic and how that might hold up an armed police response to a terror attack. Lord Harris recalled the recent attacks at Westminster Bridge, London Bridge, Finsbury Park and Parsons Green; and despite sometimes ‘horrendous traffic’, ‘actually the response is quite fast’. He added that he had spoken to some of the officers involved, and it was pleasing how traffic somehow manages to part for police to pass with sirens.

Other speakers at the seminar, attended by private security managers for London business improvement districts, central government civil servants, interested members of the public and London politicians, and chaired by London Assembly members Steve O’Connell and Unmesh Desai, included Sophie Linden, the deputy mayor for policing and crime; Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Craig Mackey; and on cyber security, Det Chief Supt Glenn Maleary of City of London Police.

Gangs, violence against women and crimes against vulnerable people such as ‘modern slavery’ were also covered; as was how the Met Police are to manage all those priorities, and still-emerging crimes such as cyber, having made £600m-plus in cuts this decade and being due to make £400m more, the event heard.

More in the December 2017 print issue of Professional Security magazine. Picture by Mark Rowe; barriers on the pavement of London Bridge, looking east towards Tower Bridge, sited after the Borough Market terror knife attack of summer 2017 that began with a van driving at people on the bridge.

To view the Harris report, visit:

Separately, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has set out six ‘red lines‘ to hold to in Brexit negotiations, that he called crucial for continued cooperation on security and counter-terrorism. He said: “The safety and protection of our capital city is my number-one priority – and the threat to London is becoming more international than ever. Measures like Europol, the European Arrest Warrant and EU Passenger Name Records have played a huge part in helping our hard-working police and security services foil many plots. They also help to stop criminals passing from border to border and disrupt serious organised crime, as well as the trafficking of deadly weapons.”


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