Friday, 24 March 2017

Westminster atrocity

My computer has been "down" for the past 48 hours so I have been unable to give immediate responses to the atrocities committed at Westminster.

On reflection I still find my feelings are a combination of sympathy, admiration and embarrassment.

Sympathy, obviously, for the relatives of those who have died, for those who must live with life-diminishing injuries, and those with minor injuries or who are traumatised by the shock of what they have witnessed.

Admiration for those, and especially PC  Keith Palmer, who did their duty and ran towards the danger in order to help, rather than ran away.

But embarrassment  and some disquiet at much of the  political and media reaction.

Most disconcerting was the prime-minister's statement,  in which. she claimed that the attack was on "the world's oldest parliament."

Westminster is not the world's oldest parliament.  For what it's worth, that honour is usually accorded to the Icelandic parliament, the Athling, which dates back to 930.  Britain's  parliament is usually thought to have its origins in Simon de Montfort's Parliament of 1265, or maybe the Model Parliament of 1295 - either way, some three hundred years behind the Icelandics.  This may seem a small niggle, but there is far too much exaggeration of Britain's role in and contrition to the world,  much of which seems to fuel the ardour of the Brexiteers

Then Mrs May went on to speak of how no attack would  divert us from our devotion to democracy and the rule of law.  That's a bit rich coming from a prime minister who  refuses to give parliament a "meaningful vote" on the result of her Brexit negotiations, and did her level best to prevent the courts from ruling on whether or not parliament should have any say of triggering  Article 50. (Her supportive press went so far as to claim that the judges of our Supreme Court were "enemies of the people.")

So there's a clear case of our government talking the talk rather than walking the walk.

I noticed how quickly the attack was attributed to Islam.  This, said a policemen only hours after the incident, was their "working assumption." Given the delicacy of inter-faith and inter-racial relations at the moment, this was at the very least  tactless.  In these circumstances the police and media should wait until there is real evidence  rather than mouthing populist knee-jerk assumptions.

I'm in no position to make an informed  judgement, but do I wonder why the killer was shot dead?  Surely, with trained marksmen, it should have been possible to wound him sufficiently to disable him rather than to kill him outright.    Then not only could he have had a proper trial and received the justice which we hold so dear, but  the authorities would be able to question him to discover his motivation and contacts.  Instead they have to  mount the massive and expensive investigations which appear to be necessary now that he is no longer available to speak for himself.

So far, happily, the calls for further surveillance powers for the government have been subdued, but I'm sure they will soon increase in volume.  The fact that the killer was already known to both the police and the intelligence services, and yet they were not aware of his plans, shows the futility of collecting an indiscriminate mass of information.  Those who wish preserve our liberties, which Mrs May says she is keen to do, and so  limit, or even negate, the scope of the Snoopers' Charter, should contact:

It's perhaps inevitable that media coverage, like charity, begins at home, but is is disquieting that  my newspaper devoted its first five-and-a-half pages to this atrocity, and the killing of "at least" 33 by a coalition air-strike on a Syrian school received just half of page 23.


  1. Surely, with trained marksmen, it should have been possible to wound him sufficiently to disable him rather than to kill him outright

    Despite what you might have learnt from Hollywood, no, this is not plausible. Guns do not in fact work the way they do in films, where John Wayne can shoot the knife form a baddy's hand at fifty yards and leave him otherwise untouched.

    If a armed police officer, even a trained marksman, were to try to 'shoot to wound', they would be most likely to simply miss entirely — which would leave a bullet flying through the air ready to hit a civilian who happened to be in the vicinity (real bullets, until Hollywood bullets, do not magically cease to exist if they miss their target). Even if they did hit, the likelihood is either that the wound would not be enough to instantly disable the murderer (someone with a wound that is not quickly fatal in the arm or leg is still a dangerous adversary) or would in fact kill him anyway (if the bullet happened to hit one of the major arteries in the leg, for example).

    However, that doesn't mean that the police 'shoot to kill', either: they do not (if they were trying to kill instantly, they would shoot for the head). They are trained to shoot at the centre of mass, it, the torso, as that has the greatest change (a) of actually hitting, therefore not having a bullet flying around to potentially strike a bystander, and (b) of causing a wound while will make the murderer no longer a danger. This does not necessarily mean a fatal wound, and indeed often times it is not fatal.

    As soon as the attacker was on the ground, and no longer a danger, medical crews went to work trying their absolute best to save his life (at the same time as, yards away, another crew was attempting to do the same thing for his victim). See this:

    So no, he was not 'shot dead'. He was shot in order to stop him killing anyone else; it so happens that the wound was fatal, but that was not the intent of the officer who shot him, who was trying simply to stop him killing anyone else, and who I'm sure would have much preferred it if the paramedics had been able to save him and he had stood trial for his crimes.

    But the first duty of the police is to protect the public, and that means aiming at the centre of an attacker's body in order to stop them as quickly as possible, with the least chance of missing and possibly hitting an innocent bystander instead.

    A police officer who tried a 'trick shot', like John Wayne, would quite rightly be disciplined harshly. They are not there to show off their gun skills: the are there to put themselves between us and danger.

    1. My apologies for taking so long to respond but my computer has been "down" for another week (and by an unfortunate co-incidence, so has the telephone line of the chap who mends it - says something about the state of British technology).

      Well, you certainly seem to know more about marksmanship than I do, but I'm not convinced. It seems to me that it ought to be possible to shoot to disable rather than to kill. Given that in this case the assailant was armed with a knife rather that a machine gun or repeater pistol, that should have been worth a try. Even a decent rugby tackle could have done the job.

      Then the police would have been able to ask him about his motives rather than spend a fortune arresting and then releasing others, and fuelling speculation about his connections with Islam

  2. It seems to me that it ought to be possible to shoot to disable rather than to kill

    Clearly it is possible. But can you not see that it would be far more dangerous, for all the reasons I outlined, to try such trick shooting?

    Imagine if the police officer had acted as you suggest, but had missed and hit a bystander instead, killing them. How could you possibly defend that decision?

    Imagine if they had done as you suggest, and had in fact hit the attacker, wounding him in the arm which wasn't holding the knife, and the attacker had then managed to kill someone else, possibly several people. How could you possibly defend that decision?

    Even a decent rugby tackle could have done the job

    Rugby-tackle someone with a knife?! Even if he doesn't have a gun, surely even you can see that anyone who tries that is likely to be stabbed in the back!

    Given that in this case the assailant was armed with a knife rather that a machine gun or repeater pistol

    We know that now. But how would it have been possible to know that at the time? How could anyone have known at the time that he didn't have a pistol hidden under his jacket, and was just about to whip it out and start firing?

    Once he showed that he had a deadly weapon and the intent to use it, the police had to act on the assumption that he did have a firearm, because the alternative — assume he doesn't have a firearm until he actually produces one — would be far too dangerous. The time between a pistol becoming visible and a dead civilian, MP or police officer could be quite literally under a second.

    Police officers have to take the safest course of action, which means assuming he had a firearm and rendering him harmless as quickly as possible (not: not killing him, rendering him harmless, and as soon as he was harmless, the emergency crews began the battle, ultimately unsuccessful but, I am sure, fought as hard as they could, to save his life).

    Then the police would have been able to ask him about his motives rather than spend a fortune arresting and then releasing others

    Those others would have had to be arrested anyway, of course, even if he had lived, because (a) he may well not have been co-operative and answered the police's questions, and (b) even if he had answered the police's questions, they could hardly have taken anything he said on trust: someone willing to drive through a crowd of civilians and then stab a police officer is not someone who has demonstrated that their honesty is beyond question.

    While clearly it would have been preferable for him to be alive primarily in order that he could be brought to justice, and secondarily because he might have provided useful intelligence (though I doubt it, as I suspect he would simply have refused to answer the police's questions), the investigation would have proceeded much as it has done either way.