Security fears for Northern Ireland venues in wake of London attacks
The owner of a crowd management company has warned that security at venues across Northern Ireland must "dramatically improve" in response to the terrorist threat following the Manchester bomb.
Andrew McQuillan, whose father Alan is a former Assistant Chief Constable, also criticised the PSNI for not sharing enough information with security companies about potential threats at events.
He said that, in his experience of working in Britain and the US, the PSNI's approach was markedly different to that of other police forces, who shared more information about specific threats and advised companies on where to improve their focus.
In a statement last night, Assistant Chief Constable, Alan Todd, denied the claim. "The PSNI engages appropriately and extensively with partners in the public and private sector when planning for all major events and would reject any suggestion we do not share enough information," he said
Mr McQuillan also said that while the public in Northern Ireland were vigilant, they were "dangerously complacent" when asked to evacuate premises and tended to automatically believe that a bomb warning would be a hoax.
The businessman, who runs Crowded Space Drones, said that security in Northern Ireland at big international events like the G8 or the Irish Open, where outside experts were involved, was generally first-class.
"But when it comes to our own local events, we're bronze medal at best," he said. "We're good at bog standard security measures like searching people going into a venue, but beyond that we have major weaknesses.
"We certainly aren't as good at security as the rest of the UK or the US, and that is perhaps surprising given the significant paramilitary threat on our streets in the not so distant past."
Mr McQuillan claimed that the PSNI didn't always adopt the "most interactive approach" with event management companies.
"If you're working with the Metropolitan Police, they will tell you that A, B and C might happen based on their own information and intelligence. They're very specific," he said.
"It's the same in the US - the FBI share a lot with you and advise you to narrow your focus down to certain areas that they perceive are your weaknesses.
"The PSNI just don't go that extra mile. They stick to general advice. They have a culture of not working with anybody but themselves.
"The only way that you will know that there is a specific threat to the event you are protecting is if you see a heavy police presence outside it on the night."
Rejecting the claim, Assistant Chief Constable Todd said that the situation in Northern Ireland was unique within the UK, as police here operated in an environment where the threat from dissident republican paramilitaries was severe.
"This means the role of private security companies is subtly different than that experienced in Britain and internationally," he added.
Mr Todd said that the PSNI had "worked very effectively with many partners and have benefited from the assistance of private security firms to successfully deliver many major events over the years, including the Irish Open Golf Championship, G8, World Police and Fire Games, Giro D'Italia and the MTV Awards".
He described the PSNI's track record in delivering such events as "second to none". The Assistant Chief Constable said: "Mr McQuillan should be assured that he and other partners within the private security industry will be informed of any relevant information in the course of planning for events.
"I trust that we will continue to have the support of the security industry and that organisers and patrons alike are able to enjoy safe and secure events."
Mr McQuillan said that he found the public in Northern Ireland to be "more vigilant" than elsewhere in the UK.
"They are good at noticing suspect devices, but they are far too complacent," he explained.
"They have been desensitised by the Troubles. It takes much longer to evacuate an event in Northern Ireland than one in England. People tend not to take it seriously and not do as they're instructed as quickly as they should."
Mr McQuillan said that the Manchester bombing showed that the "most vulnerable and hardest area to protect" was just outside an event. The attack two weeks ago happened near an exit to the 21,000-seat Manchester Arena, just minutes after the concert ended.
"Metal detectors and CCTV work well inside facilities, but the weakest area is just outside what we call the hard perimeter as people are leaving the event," he said.
"In my experience CCTV doesn't work as well there. The quality of the footage isn't always good, there are blind spots, and it's impossible to dynamically track a suspicious person or vehicle for any distance."
Mr McQuillan said that his company uses drones. "They can go much higher than CCTV cameras and so they can see more for longer," he explained.
"They can move with the crowd or an individual. And drones never stop recording.
"I think event organisers have to think outside the box these days in order to deal with the changing face of the terrorist problem."