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Large Events Could Be At Risk Of Being Overlooked In Anti-Terror Laws

Crowds at Wembley Stadium (alamy)

3 min read

Conservative MP Tim Loughton has accused the government of "under-legislating" to mitigate terror risks at large, commercial venues with its draft anti-terrorism bill, while punishing small venues which are at much lower risk from attacks.

The Terrorism (Protection of premises) draft bill is also known as 'Martyn’s Law' – named after Martyn Hett, who was killed in the Manchester arena bombing in 2017 – and has been introduced as a way to better prepare organisations for responding to terrorist threats.

The proposed measures include training staff at venues of all sizes to be able to lock down and evacuate premises, as well as using fire safety equipment and calling emergency services.

But alongside concern that proposals relating to village halls and small venues are “overblown” and could damage small businesses and community centres, there are now warnings that the legislation does not go far enough at the other end of the spectrum, and that large venues would still be at risk from attacks. 

Loughton, who sits on the Home Affairs Select Committee, told PoliticsHome that while he believed the bill "over-legislates" small venues, it is also "under-legislating" large ones. He said the threat of terror attacks are a “big problem” for large venues such as arenas, and that the obligations placed on venues should be proportionate to the risk. As it stands, Loughton does not believe the bill makes enough provision for specialised security at larger sites. 

At open air festivals like Glastonbury, that sees around 200,000 people attend, there are minimal checks on the people and bags they bring in through the gates. The MP said that there should be more of a focus on specialist training for such events, and on entrance security checks to mitigate risk. 

He also pointed out the risk at crowded open air events such as Christmas markets, where there are no ticketed barriers, making it difficult to legislate for checks.

He worried there were many holes in the draft legislation, and accused the government of rushing to introduce the bill as a “knee-jerk reaction” to placate the families of victims when there is only limited parliamentary time left.

“I suspect this will be kicked into the long grass,” he said, adding that he believes the Home Office knows there are many issues with the bill, and is relying on the Home Affairs Select Committee to pick it apart and offer alternative proposals. 

While the current draft bill does cover training, Loughton believes more specialist training should be proposed, as well as more legislation to cover the prevention of terrorist attacks in the first place rather than just how to react when they happen.  

With the legislation putting pressure on small village halls to put in place evacuation procedures, Loughton warned that the bill could lead to a slippery slope where venues might be forced to pay for the construction of safe rooms or escape routes – an obligation that would be highly expensive and therefore not feasible for many small, volunteer-led organisations. 

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The first duty of the government is to protect the public. That’s why we are changing the law to strengthening security at public venues to allow the public to live freely and with confidence.

“Most larger venues are already covered by the Bill, which means they will already be introducing further security requirements to ensure preparedness for, and protection from terrorist attacks.

"Those not covered by the Bill are encouraged to implement appropriate security measures, such as undertaking risk assessments and working with the police.”

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