Met chief defends deputy over Westminster terror attack response

Scotland Yard’s most senior police officer has said criticism of her deputy’s decision to stay in his car as an unarmed Pc was stabbed to death in the Westminster terror attack is “simply wrong”.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick defended Sir Craig Mackey after an inquest jury found Khalid Masood, 52, was lawfully killed when he was shot dead by a Cabinet minister’s bodyguard.

Her comments echoed those made by Chief Coroner Mark Lucraft QC and the Met’s counter-terror chief Neil Basu, who both spoke out in support of Sir Craig’s actions on March 22 last year.

Masood mowed down pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in a hired SUV, killing four and seriously injuring 29, before storming through gates near the Houses of Parliament armed with two knives.

Sir Craig, then acting commissioner, told an inquest into his death he had just left a ministerial meeting as Muslim convert Masood attacked Pc Keith Palmer, 48.

Khalid Masood
Westminster terrorist Khalid Masood (Met Police)

He faced calls to resign and severe criticism on social media after telling the Old Bailey jury he remained in the vehicle with two civilian colleagues because they had no personal protective equipment or a radio.

Masood’s 82-second rampage was brought to an end when he was shot three times by a bodyguard just yards away.

CCTV footage showed Sir Craig, who is due to retire in December, then opened the door to get out of the car but was advised by an officer on guard at the site to leave.

Sir Craig Mackey
Sir Craig Mackey (Victoria Jones/PA)

Speaking after the inquest Ms Dick addressed “the extraordinary amount of confused, unpleasant, personalised and ignorant commentary” about the actions of Sir Craig.

“These criticisms are simply not supported by the evidence,” she said.

“The attack in New Palace Yard occurred and was stopped in seconds. Sir Craig had absolutely no opportunity to stop the killer or save Pc Palmer. Anyone who suggests otherwise is simply wrong.

“The actions he was able to and did take were to protect the unarmed police staff colleagues who were in the car with him. He went on to lead the Met’s response to the attack with distinction.”

Westminster attack
(PA Graphics)

Speaking outside the Old Bailey, Mr Basu, who headed the investigation into Masood, also blasted the “abhorrent remarks” levelled at Sir Craig.

“Both I and the investigators both know there is nothing that Craig could have done to have stopped Masood or to have saved Pc Palmer or any others from being injured,” he said.

The coroner has earlier defended Sir Craig’s actions as “sensible and proper and intended to protect others in the car”, pointing out that he “did not flee the scene”.

“It is clear from the evidence of Sir Craig there was nothing he could have done to stop Masood,” he said.

“Pc Palmer was under attack practically as soon as Sir Craig saw the attacker.

“None of them had any means of protecting themselves or resisting an attack, and even if he had got out of the car, it is clear from the CCTV evidence he would not have reached Pc Palmer before Masood inflicted his fatal wounds.”

A jury of seven men and four women took two hours and 22 minutes to find that Masood was lawfully killed.

In a short narrative of the events leading to his death, they found that Masood intended to “inflict serious harm, and/or take a life” as he continued without stopping or changing direction.

He had been issued with verbal warnings but “continued to move toward the close protection officers at speed” before he was shot, the jury said.

Palace of Westminster incident
Westminster terrorist Khalid Masood driving along Westminster Bridge (Metropolitan Police/PA)

The inquest heard dramatic accounts of how unarmed police officers and members of the public fled after Masood killed Pc Palmer and continued to advance, clutching bloodied foot-long knives, intent on targeting more officers.

His rampage was stopped by a close protection officer identified only as SA74, on site to act as bodyguard to a Government minister.

The officer shot him three times with a Glock pistol after Masood continued to run forward at him, despite shouted warnings to “get back”.

SA74 gave an emotional account of how the drama unfolded, pausing during his evidence and his voice wavering as he recalled: “I was certain that something terrible was happening.”

“I saw a large black male running purposefully towards me. He was carrying two large knives and I could clearly see that they were covered in blood,” he told the Old Bailey.

“He was going to kill me.”

Jurors were shown dramatic footage of the bodyguard and his colleague SB73 confronting the heavily built attacker, who slumped to the ground after he was shot.

Amid fears he was wearing a suicide belt, Masood was handcuffed and given first aid by the marksman and his colleague.

Masood, who had sent a “Jihadi” document moments before launching his attack, was later pronounced dead.

At the time it was not known whether it was part of a wider co-ordinated attack, although investigations later confirmed Masood acted alone.

Palace of Westminster incident
Victims of the attack (left to right) Pc Keith Palmer, Aysha Frade, Leslie Rhodes, Andreea Cristea and Kurt Cochran (Met Police)

Masood’s five victims were Pc Palmer, American tourist Kurt Cochran, 54, retired window cleaner Leslie Rhodes, 75, mother-of-two Aysha Frade, 44, and Romanian designer Andreea Cristea, 31.

Following an earlier inquest, Mr Lucraft concluded they were unlawfully killed by Masood.

The coroner found there were “shortcomings” in Palace security and it was possible that Pc Palmer may not have died if armed officers had been posted near the Carriage Gates.

The Met has apologised over the possibility that the force lost the chance to prevent the murder of one of its officers and Ms Dick said: “We have already fully accepted the Chief Coroner’s findings of shortcomings in the security system at New Palace Yard in March 2017.

“We have made substantial improvements since the attack. Once we receive the detailed findings from the Chief Coroner we will respond to any recommendations that are made.”

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