By Frankie Hatton
After the atrocities in London, the Gibraltar Government and the Royal Gibraltar Police (RGP) have stepped up the visible campaign as well as security for locals and visitors alike. A walk down Main Street will see police vehicles parked at both ends and concrete bollards along the street, particularly at road crossing points such as those either side of Parliament. I think we all welcome this, except of course delivery drivers who have already apparently complained it’s inconvenient. If nothing else, history has taught us that from Northern Ireland through South America, the Middle East and now Europe, vehicles are often used in terrorist attacks. My previous life as a Bomb Disposal (B.D.) Officer gave me more insight to the historical, scientific and up to the minute security thinking way beyond that of any delivery company, and I can assure you the best way to get from ‘a’ to ‘b’ without being seen is in a vehicle. The easiest way to cause chaos and injury is with a vehicle. A vehicle can deliver more than bananas, I assure you.
Several years ago during another ‘heightened’ security state, I spent a lot of time ‘under cover’ casually walking around our streets getting to know the various twists and turns. Checking building locations, buildings more likely to be targets like No.6 or The Convent. Schools, churches, synagogues and public buildings like Parliament. They were and are high risk. However, I believe the terrorist has moved on because governments have beefed up their security quite nicely. UK politicians seem to have spared no expense in barricading and arming an army around them, so the attacks now focus on people as opposed to state infrastructure. “Shock and awe”, an American once called it.
The Westminster attack demonstrates too that killing innocent tourists next to a high profile building gets the oxygen of publicity these Islamic extremists need. At the same time, we must be calm and remember the majority of incidents are false. ‘Flute man’ for instance, just the other day. By the time I heard about it an hour later, he was a sword brandishing madman.
Vigilance is always good though, if inconvenient. I got a call when on duty in London one Friday night around 7pm. The police had evacuated a whole street or two, so we were on our way. The general information was about a hand grenade seen in a garage by the new owner who correctly called the Met police. I remember ‘blue lighting’ as fast as we could around the M25 to get to the other side of London. The policeman was very pleased to see us, as were residents stuck in neighbours’ houses waiting patiently. Armed with all the information, a visit to the garage itself located the offending item and disarmed it. I quickly saw it was very realistic, but also very safe. It was a dummy grenade of the kind often used when learning how to throw them without blowing yourself up. Quite how it ended up in a garage in Bromley I’ll never know.
Here in Gibraltar too I’ve had my share of those calls. People leaving bags in the wrong place and me turning them into dust. People at the old airport taking a gift from a largish box to put in their suitcase for travel but leaving the box closed outside the doors of the air terminal. That one almost led to me delaying an aircraft taking off for a couple of hours, again dust. Finally I also heard of a report of a man seen fiddling inside his jacket a lot around 10 years ago in the Midlands. This suspected suicide bomber saw he was being observed panicked and ran, locking himself in a toilet. The poor B.D. officer who had to deal with it, as you can imagine, wasn’t best pleased having to walk alone towards a bomber with no way out. He eventually talked the man into opening the door and it turned out he was an outpatient from a psychiatric hospital. The suicide vest was no more than a bag on a strap containing a bunch of bananas.
I praise the Government and the RGP for clearly putting our safety ahead of convenience. It’s about time Main Street is, as intended, pedestrianised. Surely deliveries should be prohibited between 10am and 5pm? Cyclists too are now routinely seen riding up Main Street and Irish Town and not challenged. Just yesterday I saw a guy on one of those bikes with a motor attached to the wheel. He was standing on the pedal pretending he wasn’t riding but he was zipping along Main Street. I guarantee a child will be hurt soon enough, if they haven’t been already.
Safety and security are community issues. We are fortunate here to be close together and know each other more than many places around the world. Helping the police, not obstructing them doing their job AND coming to their aid if needed is something Gibraltarians naturally do as a community. The likelihood is nothing will happen, so I for one will continue as normal. Every time I see a police van or bollard, I’ll be happy knowing that while I enjoy the summer, our security forces are ensuring we do exactly that. Give them a smile of thanks for looking after us.
One last thought: Can I also agree with a point made by Stephen Ignacio on Facebook the other day? Why not colour these bollards, use graffiti or other art to make them into something we like to see, rather than an inconvenience to walk around?
Frankie Hatton is a former Royal Air Force bomb disposal officer. He now works as a media consultant at FH Media.