Machine Guns at Heathrow : Controversial Action Aimed at Terrorism
Police began patrolling London’s Heathrow Airport armed with submachine guns today in an anti-terrorist measure that provoked criticism because British police are traditionally unarmed.
The Heathrow policemen, drawn from Scotland Yard’s elite D11 squad, were armed with German-made 9-millimeter Heckler & Koch submachine guns to strengthen security at Heathrow after terrorist attacks that left 15 travelers dead last month at the Rome and Vienna airports.
Most British policemen, or bobbies, work unarmed, with firearms being issued only for specific operations.
“Of course it is a matter to be deplored that we have to deploy police in this way, but terminal security is a matter of great importance,” Aviation Minister Michael Spicer said.
He said “it is very much the government’s intention” to respond to the new tactics of terrorism with new tactics of defense.
The action was criticized by the Police Federation, which acts as a police union.
“It means people arriving in this country, who have always believed that the British have an unarmed police force, are going to be confronted with people wearing normal police uniforms but with submachine guns slung across their shoulders,” federation spokesman Tony Judge said.
Passengers also voiced opinions about the armed police officers.
“It is an indictment of the society we live in,” English traveler Ingrid Seabrook said. “It is very sad to see.”
But John Holland, of Baltimore, Md., said, “The British police are now living in the real world.”