🕒 Article read time: 15 minutes
In profile: Scott Gibbons
At last year’s series of Transport Manager conferences, there was one session which consistently scored above all others in delegates’ feedback. This was a presentation on the use of Vehicles as a Weapon (VAW), which was delivered by Scott Gibbons from National Counter Terrorism Policing Headquarters (NCTPHQ).
Gibbons delivered a similar presentation alongside a colleague at FTA’s Transport Manager conferences in 2017. “So much has happened [in the way of terrorist attacks] since 2017 that it was good to come back, offer reassurance and tell the industry via the conferences about the work that we’d been doing,” he said. “It’s not gone away, but there’s a lot of great work behind the scenes that you don’t always see. The fact that these plots are being foiled means that the work is carrying on and we’re doing our utmost to ensure they don’t morph into casualties. The conferences are very useful to us and I hope our contribution to them is very useful to industry.”
CAREER IN CRIME PREVENTION
Gibbons has now been a Metropolitan Police Officer for 26 years. Having spent his first decade in uniform patrolling the London Borough of Croydon, he later moved to a specialist operations department, SO18, looking after aviation policing, with responsibility for both Heathrow and London City Airport. “I spent a total of about 14 years there, dealing with everything from armed response vehicles through to air cargo. It was a very varied and enjoyable posting.”
COUNTER TERRORISM STRATEGY
In 2016, Gibbons successfully applied for a vacancy at the Office of the National Coordinator – Protect and Prepare, which is within NCTPHQ. “Initially my brief was to look after cyber,” he said, “then Nice happened.”
The strategy for counter terrorism policing can be summarised as the four ‘P’s: Prevent, Protect, Prepare and Pursue. Prevent can sometimes be controversial, Gibbons said, it is a Home Office-led partnership, with police and other agencies giving support to the vulnerable and diverting them away from radicalisation. Prepare is to mitigate the impact of a terrorist attack and Protect is to strengthen our protection against a terrorist attack. Pursue represents the investigative side of policing, making the actual arrests to stop terrorist attacks.
ENGAGING WITH INDUSTRY
Gibbons works within the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO), part of CT Policing, which has a public-facing website with guidance on increasing the protection of crowded places from a terrorist attack. “NaCTSO has a huge responsibility,” Gibbons said, “and one of the things it looked at when I joined was: how do we get messages out to business and communicate with them better?”
Traditionally, the police approach was to tell business what to do, but in recent years it has adopted a more consultative approach, Gibbons said. “Before I might have had to go out and look at a piece of work around the haulage sector and say we need to put in place these mitigations that we as police think are needed. However, I might turn around to speak to the CEO of a large logistics company who will say we physically can’t do that because of X, Y and Z. There’s no point me putting out guidance with colleagues around the policing table without seeking advice from the industry, because actually you’re the experts in that industry, not me.”
NICE CHANGES THE GAME
On the evening of 14 July 2016, a 19-tonne lorry ploughed into a large crowd watching a fireworks display, killing 87 people, including 10 children and teenagers, and injuring more than 434 others. “That was a wake-up call for policing as a whole,” Gibbons said. “International colleagues that I’ve spoken to talk about Nice as a game changer.”
VAW attacks are not a new concept, however. People forget that before soldier Lee Rigby’s murder in 2013, the attackers tried to kill him with a vehicle first. But because Nice led to such a huge loss of life, industry approached the police to ask what it could do to prevent future attacks. “We all want to do whatever we can to try and mitigate that kind of thing happening in the UK,” Gibbons said, “because ultimately we have to do all we can to try to protect UK citizens.”
While the police has long had officers embedded for aviation, maritime and rail, it did not have anyone specifically focusing on road haulage. Gibbons said, “The National Coordinator, along with colleagues from CPNI [Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure] and the security services, said he wanted somebody to look after road haulage, look at the strategy around it, engage with DfT, FCO and international colleagues and try and see what there is around guidance. So I was given the responsibility to lead on VAW prevention.”
CHANGING UK THREAT LEVELS
The national threat level indicates the likelihood of a terrorist attack in the UK and there are five categories: Low, Moderate, Substantial, Severe and Critical. Constantly under review, the threat level for Great Britain is currently Substantial, whereas for Northern Ireland it is Severe. “First of all, the ethos is be aware, not alarmed,” Gibbons said. “The threat level was increased to Severe on 29 August 2014 for the whole of the UK, which was driven by events in Syria and Iraq, but on 4 November 2019 the national threat level was downgraded to Substantial, which means an attack is likely.”
The threat level is set by JTAC (Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre) in consultation with all the security services (MI5, MI6 and GCHQ) and police both domestic and internationally, which gather information and make a decision based on the intelligence they have. Gibbons warns against any complacency at the recent change in threat level, however. “Just because the threat level is lowered, it doesn’t mean there is no chance of an attack,” he explained. “It means they look at the intelligence picture and assess at that point that whilst an attack is still likely there is not the information to assess it as highly likely.”
When assessing the specific likelihood of a VAW attack occurring, Gibbons said while it was extremely difficult to say whether one is likely to happen or not, it was a relatively low-sophistication method of attack. “It’s no secret,” he said, “that it’s relatively easy to rent or buy a vehicle, buy some knives and carry out an attack. And of course when we look at all of the different types of attacks across the world, it is assessed to be the most likely method of attack.” This contrasts with a nuclear attack, which while the risk to death would be very high, the actual threat is very low.
ACTION COUNTERS TERRORISM
The CT Policing front facing campaign is called ACT - Action Counters Terrorism, which has its own website – act.campaign.gov.uk. Not only does this help operators report suspicious activity, it tells them what to report. “It’s a one-stop shop really of anything to do with counter terrorism,” Gibbons said. “It tells you what happens when you contact the police, it explains the e-learning package, and summarises our Run, Hide, Tell advice.”
Gibbons continued: “There are products out there that companies can use and they can do that if they want to contact their Counter Terrorism Security Adviser (CTSA). They are highly trained police officers and staff that specifically look at all aspects that give advice around counter terrorism and mitigations for different scenarios around buildings, crowded places, vehicles and companies.”
Find out more about the ACT campaign and its award-winning counter terrorism training course: ★act.campaign.gov.uk
STEPS OPERATORS CAN TAKE
Gibbons urges companies to ensure that they have a good security and business continuity plan in place. He also encourages regular engagement and an open work culture. “If you’re not sure about something,” he said, “Create a culture within your company that makes your employees feel able to report something. They should be able, if they’re not happy about somebody for whatever reason, to tell their line manager or be confident enough to contact counter terrorism police.”
REPORTING SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITY
Businesses can also help the fight against terrorism by identifying and reporting unusual behaviour. “Say for instance you’ve got an employee who suddenly starts becoming more radical in their views,” he said, “maybe dresses a little bit differently, expresses views that they hadn’t shared before, mentions the dark web, things that would ordinarily ring alarm bells. Rather than just leave it, is it not worth reporting to the authorities?”
He also advises CEOs to report thefts of vehicles without delay: “If one of your lorries gets stolen, do you know straight away who to contact, who’s driving it? Have you got a robust plan that enables you to notify the police as quickly as possible?”
BE AWARE, NOT ALARMED
Gibbons advises transport operators to read the guidance, engage with their local Counter Terrorism Security Advisor and look at what ACT products are out there.
“Are you confident that you could let the police know as soon as possible that somebody’s got a truck that you’re not happy about? Are you confident that your staff have a reporting culture in place, where they feel able to let you know?
The key message is be aware, but not alarmed and use the products that are out there, keep yourself abreast of what’s going on. Have a training day and spend 20 minutes talking about counter terrorism. If you’re a big employer and you want somebody to come in, contact us. I or a colleague will happily come out and speak to your colleagues and inform them about the current threat.”
A wealth of advice and guidance on counter terrorism is available on GOV.UK.
Published On: 02/03/2020 10:59:21
THE ROLE OF LOGISTICS
For transport operators keen to play their part in preventing future attacks, Gibbons said their first port of call should be to visit the guidance freely available on GOV.UK. When CT Policing began its engagement with the industry a few years ago, it looked at all the different guidance available and found that while there was plenty available, there was not one definitive document.
NCTPHQ and DfT called in representatives from the industry to sit around a table and asked what guidance they wanted. “There is a specific VAW government working group, which is run by DfT, of which police and industry are a part,” Gibbons said. “As a result of that we published Countering vehicle as a weapon: best practice guidance for goods vehicle operators and drivers on the GOV.UK website, produced in August last year.”
As a living document, feedback on the guidance from business is encouraged and welcomed. “It’s a first version, if you like,” Gibbons said. “If companies look at it and think we should add this or take this out then please contact me. Because whilst we’ve done this with industry, things evolve, technology changes. If there’s something that companies think would be useful, just let me know and I’ll feed that back into the government working group.”
RESTRICTING ACCESS TO HGVS
The fact that HGVs are heavily regulated via the operator licensing regime makes it more difficult for would-be terrorists to gain possession of a truck, Gibbons believes. “In the first London Bridge attack, the terrorists ended up with a van because they weren’t able to get a bigger vehicle.” He urges those working in the commercial vehicle rental sector to remain vigilant by asking customers additional questions: “Why do you need a bigger vehicle? What’s the reason for it? Are you taking a bigger deposit?”
He also encourages those working in vehicle sales to be more vigilant: “Are you happy if you’re selling a bigger vehicle that you’ve got the correct details? Why not take a copy of someone’s driving licence and ask for proof of insurance? These could be conditions of sale.
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