Westminster security system 'completely failed' PC Keith Palmer
PUBLISHED: 12:56 20 September 2018
The Palace of Westminster's security system had not "functioned for years" and "completely failed" Pc Keith Palmer on the day he was stabbed to death by a terrorist, an inquest has heard.
Khalid Masood, 52, murdered the former Bromley police officer after fatally striking Kurt Cochran, 54, Leslie Rhodes, 75, Aysha Frade, 44, and Andreea Cristea, 31, as he ploughed through pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in a rented car.
Pc Lee Ashby, one of two authorised firearms officers (AFOs) who was on duty in New Palace Yard when Masood struck, said he would have taken the shot if he had been on a fixed post at Carriage Gates.
He and colleague Pc Nicholas Sanders were instead positioned at the other side of the yard where they could not see or hear the carnage unfolding, and no AFOs had been near the gates for almost an hour.
Pc Ashby said he was responsible for patrolling “sector three”, including the Members’ Entrance, Carriage Gates and College Green.
The experienced marksman accepted it was not possible to provide effective cover for the gates on his patrol and agreed the system left unarmed officers unprotected at the entrance “more often than not”.
Dominic Adamson, representing Pc Palmer’s widow Michelle, said: “The system of security at the Palace of Westminster completely failed to protect Pc Palmer on that day?”
Pc Ashby replied: “It would seem so, sir.”
The barrister continued: “Because it had not functioned for years?”
“Based on the sector three map, which I was responsible for, yes,” the officer replied.
The Old Bailey heard that guidelines outlined in “post notes” - which said officers were to focus on Carriage Gates when they were open - had not been followed since they were produced in 2015.
An email chain including Nick Aldworth, chief inspector of operations at the Palace of Westminster, showed concerns had been raised over the positioning of armed officers as early as February 2015.
Pc Ashby said he was unaware of the guidance and instead followed instructions given by his sergeants in daily briefings.
He was never challenged by his seniors over the six years he held a permanent post at the Palace of Westminster, the inquest heard.
Pc Ashby and Pc Sanders faced a misconduct investigation after the March 22 terror attack, but no formal action was taken.
The disciplinary process highlighted “poor practice” arising from a “misjudged interpretation” of what they were allowed to do on patrol, but said “this practice was not unique to these officers”.
Mr Adamson said: “It was probably not confined to Pc rank but went further up the chain, and so this poor practice had persisted for years, and even now, you, as an AFO, have not had it explained to you what you were doing wrong.”
Pc Ashby replied: “No.”
Mr Adamson suggested it was an “extraordinary situation” where armed officers “had no idea what they were supposed to be doing” and that “lax” security arrangements had persisted for years.
“The sector area, sector three, was too big, too large for two officers,” Pc Ashby replied.
He said he thought there should have been four sets of armed officers at fixed points on the gates.
Asked if he would have fired his weapon at Masood if he had a clear shot from a fixed post at the gates, Pc Ashby said: “I would have taken the shot, yes sir.”
He said an opportunity to save Pc Palmer’s life had “possibly” been lost.
Pc Ashby was armed with a G36 carbine assault rifle and a Glock pistol and said his weapons would have put him in a better position to shoot Masood than the plainclothed personal protection officer who shot him three times.
Susannah Stevens, representing Pc Palmer’s family but not his widow, asked: “You were prevented from doing that because of the system that was in place, weren’t you?”
Pc Ashby replied: “Yes ma’am.”