Westminster inquest: Police constables being 'hung out to dry' over armed patrols

BBC News
Met Police/Social Media PC Keith Palmer was stationed outside Carriage Gates when he was attacked

Police constables are being "hung out to dry" to cover up failures by more senior officers over the Westminster terrorist attack, it has been claimed.

Four pedestrians and a police officer were killed during the attack launched by Khalid Masood in March 2017.

Armed officers were not near Carriage Gates, where PC Palmer was standing, an inquest into the deaths has heard.

Scotland Yard has denied trying to "pass the buck" over claims the area was not properly patrolled.

The inquest into the deaths of PC Palmer, 48, Kurt Cochran, 54, Leslie Rhodes, 75, Aysha Frade, 44, and Andreea Cristea, 31, is taking place at the Old Bailey in London.

The coroner has previously heard that PC Lee Ashby and PC Nicholas Sanders - the armed officers on patrol at the time of the attack on 22 March 2017 - had not been near Carriage Gates for nearly an hour before Masood launched his attack.

Official guidelines say that armed officers should be in "close proximity" to the gates when they are open.

But the two officers said they were unaware of that guidance.

They have said their presence elsewhere in New Palace Yard was in line with instructions they received on the ground.

Their patrol was intentionally unpredictable and other armed officers carried it out in the same way, they added.

Chief Superintendent Nick Aldworth - who is responsible for protective security in London, and who had been chief inspector of operations at the Palace of Westminster in 2014 and 2015 - appeared at the inquest on Tuesday.

Susannah Stevens, the lawyer representing PC Palmer's sister and parents, said senior officers were blaming more junior members of staff to "cover up the systematic failures".

"Police constables are being hung out to dry to protect you, the senior leadership team", she said.

Chief Supt Aldworth said he did not accept there had been a systematic failure.

He told the inquest that when he was at Westminster, he had tried to "anchor officers in close proximity to Carriage Gates".

On the day of the attack, the on-duty armed officers should have been at the gates, instead of near the MPs' entrance to the Palace of Westminster - which is located in an area that is already secure.

It was "completely unnecessary and not good tactical thinking" to have them near the members' entrance, he added.

'Pass the buck'

The same issue was addressed at the inquest on Monday, when Dominic Adamson - representing PC Palmer's widow - said the officer's murder had been "entirely predictable".

Cross-examining Commander Adrian Usher, who leads policing at the Palace of Westminster, Mr Adamson said: "The whole focus of the Metropolitan Police's attitude to this inquest has been to pass the buck and to assert that the responsibility for the non-compliance with the post instructions rests with Pc Ashby and Sanders.

"Do you accept that?"

Cdr Usher replied: "Absolutely not, sir. I'm sure you are aware of how offensive that is. I have no reason, nor has the Metropolitan Police, to take that course of action.

"For me there is no benefit in doing that. There is nothing that you could say that I would do to obstruct or not assist with this court's search for the truth of what happened and why it happened."

When Mr Adamson claimed the Met had failed "to identify the fact that its armed officers were not doing what they were supposed to do" and "to properly acknowledge the failings that it was responsible for", Cdr Usher denied that was the case.

An inquest into the death of Masood - who was shot dead by armed officers during the attack - will take place when the current inquest comes to an end.