John Hemming's Web Log John's Reference Website
Sunday, July 10, 2005
  The police were right
It is important that no chances are taken with people's lives. I have not tried to find out exactly what the intelligence was that led the police to evacuate the City Centre last night. I do, however, support their decision to do what they did.

It meant that I missed the Steve Ajao Blues Jam session in Centenary Square - a slight inconvenience that does not matter. At least I have managed to have a session with Digby Fairweather this week. With a bit of luck we will reunite for the same number (Funny Valentine) on Tuesday week.

Three years ago was the last attempt (by the Real IRA) to bomb Birmingham. My wife passed through the area next to the bomb during the day.

We need to take any threat seriously. That does not mean, however, that it needs to undermine life in any other way.
 
Comments:
I entirely agree that missing a concert is minor compared to being on a bus that explodes. However, I am concerned that a threat which required the evacuation of the entire centre of a city - a move with few precedents - is sufficiently distributed that the rest of Birmingham may well have been in danger also. For example, nuclear, chemical or biological agents will tend distribute along weather patterns.

Also, a mass evacuation carries its own risks. On Saturday morning, I spoke with a psychiatric specialist who reported a significant upswing in medical crises amongst his existing patients. We have no way of knowing what physical and mental health problems have been caused to those evacuated, as luckily, no one seems to have died of a heart attack. But it is plausible at least that someone may have been driven to suicide.

There does need to be scrutiny of the balance of probabilities, and the risks associated with action as well as with in-action.
 
I accept entirely the points that you made. I do intend to check on much of this today when I am in B1.

There is, however, an important message to terrorists in the evacuation. That message is that we are not just going to sit there and take it.

One of the points about 9/11 is that noone should expect air passengers to be passive in future highjackings. Previously people were passive, because they expected to survive that way.

Similarly the London bombings will make people far more vigilant about unidentified packages.
 
I'd take issue with A C Baker's comment about any potential CBR threat. It is highly unlikely that any of these would be used - short of a fully-fledged nuclear device, they are not tremendously effective or easy to assemble and deploy. Even if it were to be used, it would be far easier to handle the problem with people in their own homes, as the concentration of people is that much lower in residential suburbs than it is in the centre of our city at the weekend.

I accept that there may be additional risks caused by news of this sort, but I would suspect that the upswing was at least as much due to the bombings in London on Thursday and you could trace a similar swing after 9/11. The police, rightly, have to worry about the 20,000 people whom they believe to be in imminent danger.

I've been a little worried at how much time the police have had to spend justifying their decision. For a variety of reasons, this wouldn't have been an easy choice to make, but the risk of attack was clearly felt to be exceptionally high. This is an occasion where we have to place our trust in the police and the intelligence services and rely on their judgement.
 
Politicalhack, I'm not suggesting that unconventional attacks are likely - instead, I'm trying to build plausible scenarios in which the evacuation of Birmingham city centre is reasonable. I take your point about remaining indoors in a wider contamination area - but in hot weather, many windows will be open unless we're warned to do otherwise!

I've put my concerns to my MP, rather than haranguing the police. (I _could_ say that I trust the _police_ more than the politicians :-) But I try to base my trust upon careful thought. It _is_ reasonable to ask in the _medium_ term for the rationale behind such an _unusual_ decision - this is proper democratic scrutiny.
 
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