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BTP History Week - Terrorism


History Terrorism

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The threat of terrorism is never far from our minds as we see tragic events unfold at home and around the world. The railway network and the London Underground have been a particular focus of counter-terrorism activity, especially since the 7/7 bombings of 2005. However, terrorism on the railway is not a modern phenomenon. In fact, it’s something that we’ve have had to respond to for hundreds of years.
One of the earliest terrorist incidents on the underground happened on the night of 30 October 1883, when explosions occurred minutes apart on the track between Charing Cross and Westminster Bridge stations and at Paddington station.

Glass was blown out of nearby buildings, lamps in carriages went out, and the platforms and stations were plunged into darkness, leaving 38 people injured.

Police officers joined railway officials and engineers to examine the track and find a possible cause for the explosions. The conclusion of the police investigation into the two incidents was that both explosions were committed by “a group of unknown malicious people, intent on making some point or another, and seeking to instil fear into the public who used the Underground system to make their way around London.” The case remains unsolved to this day.

Other incidents were linked to political groups, for example the Fenian dynamite campaign between 1881 and 1885 by the Irish republicans, and many years later the IRA bombings of the West Ham Tube train in 1976, which resulted in a train driver being fatally shot, the attempted murder of two police officers and injuries to eight passengers in an explosion in the carriage.

In 1897, nine people were injured and one person was killed in the Aldersgate Station explosion. There was concern that it had been caused to create a scare to coincide with the forthcoming celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The police opened a murder investigation but the case was never solved.

Fortunately, investigative techniques and technology have improved since then.

We have a Specialist Response Unit, which is made up of highly skilled officers who deal with reports of suspicious and unusual items on the railway whilst minimising disruption to passengers. They have a wealth of technology available to them to assist in this challenging and sometimes dangerous job in the unique railway environment.

There are some counter-terrorism techniques, however, which have stood the test of time, including good old fashioned police observation.

In 1958, an IRA member was sentenced to six years in prison thanks to the excellent work of eagle-eyed BTP officers. The two officers were on duty at Liverpool Lime Street Station when they noticed a man walking across the concourse carrying a brand new suitcase. They thought something wasn't quite right about him, so they followed him into the station café and sat down opposite to watch him.

The man was spooked and left the café without finishing his cup of tea. The detectives stopped him, questioned him and when their suspicions were further aroused, they took him to the police station to search the suitcase, which was locked. The personal belongings that the man claimed to have been carrying turned out to be 500 rounds of revolver ammunition wrapped in newspaper.

The vigilance of police officers, rail staff and passengers is vital to the ongoing fight against terrorism.

This was reflected recently in an incident in London when a passenger on the Jubilee line noticed a bag that had been left unattended on the Tube and reported it to staff. It transpired to be a bomb which had been left by a 20-year-old man. He was found guilty in May this year of unlawfully and maliciously making or having in his possession an explosive substance with intent to endanger life or cause serious injury.

Fortunately, the device had failed to activate and no one was injured.

Terrorism is not new to British Transport Police, but over the years we have honed our specialist skills in responding to and preventing it. There have always been, and probably always will be, ‘malicious people’ seeking to ‘instil fear’ in people using the railway network, but together, we can defeat terrorism.

You can help too.

Information on how to report suspicious behaviour or an unattended bag, and how to keep yourself safe 

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