Keith Palmer was murdered in an “absolutely unique and bizarre” attack in the most heavily protected square half mile of the UK, a police leader has said.
The unarmed officer was stabbed near the Houses of Parliament as his colleagues, also without Tasers or guns, were forced to flee for their lives on March 22 last year.
No marksman had been near the open gate for nearly an hour before the horrific attack by Khalid Masood, and on Wednesday the chief coroner Mark Lucraft QC found shortcomings in security at the site meant armed officers were not aware of where they were supposed to patrol.
Had they been properly briefed, Mr Lucraft told the Old Bailey, the officer’s murder may have been prevented.
But chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation Ken Marsh questioned whether their presence could have saved Pc Palmer.
He said that at any time of day 70 armed officers are on duty within the area covering Portcullis House, 10 Downing Street and the Palace of Westminster.
This means there are more armed officers within that area than anywhere else in the UK, at any time of day.
Mr Marsh, who leads the organisation that represents all Met officers from the rank of constable to chief inspector, told the Press Association: “What played out in the scenario we’re talking about was absolutely unique and bizarre, and would never happen again in a million years.
“To then say ‘were they vulnerable, were they put at risk by not being armed?’, when you actually look at all the statistics and facts, within that triangle you have more armed officers than anywhere else in the UK. That’s a massive amount of armament.
“About 27,000 of my colleagues walk around the streets of London without any armed officer near them on a daily basis. There is nothing that says standing where they were, you have to have an armed officer there.
“There was no intelligence or any reason to believe that they were at greater risk by not being armed where they were standing.”
Experienced marksman Lee Ashby, who was on duty at the Palace of Westminster on the day of the attack, accepted during questioning by Dominic Adamson, representing Pc Palmer’s widow, that the security system on the site “completely failed” to protect the unarmed officer and “had not functioned for years”.
But Mr Marsh said there is a balance to be struck because Members of Parliament had insisted they did not want the first line of officers “armed to the teeth”.
“You have your static posts of non-armed officers because it’s what the MPs wanted, they didn’t want to see guns in their faces all the time,” he said.
“It’s a very difficult scenario because MPs and Lords want to whisk in and out and don’t want to stand around. You’ve got to balance all these things up. I don’t think it’s disproportionate for our unarmed colleagues to be standing in the position they’re in, and doing the jobs they’re doing.”
Even if Pc Palmer had a gun or a Taser it would not have saved him, the Federation chief believes. Masood stabbed him repeatedly with two knives five seconds after arriving at the gate where he was on guard.
“You have to put into context the speed of what happened, even if he’d had a firearm, would he have had the ability to draw, aim, shoot?
“If someone just comes running at you it’s not the first thing you do in London, just get your gun out and shoot them. An officer wouldn’t initially just pull a firearm or a Taser out and shoot someone.”
The inquest heard that police at the Palace of Westminster had explored the possibility of 24 hour Taser cover in 2015. At the time, firearms officers were not on site overnight or on Sundays.
For a total of 48 officers to be trained and equipped to cover the out-of-hours shifts would have cost £75,000; or for a total of 150 officers to cover the full 24-hour period would have cost £246,000.
The favoured option at the time was to use authorised firearms officers, who all carry Tasers, for greatest flexibility.
Armed officers are now permanently stationed at the Carriage Gates where Pc Palmer was murdered, behind their non-armed colleagues.
No body armour could have saved Pc Palmer, Mr Marsh believes, because of where the knife entered his body in his left side.
“The speed at which it was done and the way it was done, he was just blindsided and body armour would not have stopped that happening. I can’t attribute blame to the body armour,” he said.
The murdered officer’s family will never recover from the devastation of his death, but know he was a hero.
“It’s completely heartbreaking,” Mr Marsh said. “A very, very nice family traumatised to a level I think they’ll never recover from. But Keith’s widow is in a position where she knows her husband gave his life for his country and was a hero.
“There’s not any other word that encapsulates what he did for his country and the position he put himself in.”