Earlier this week British Transport Police declined to confirm how many firearms officers it has in London, claiming that revealing the number might lead to questions about its capability in other parts of the country and allow potential terrorists to map deployments:
“It should be noted that, when the Metropolitan Police publish figures on the number of Firearms Officers they have in London, they are doing so for their whole force area.
“If British Transport Police were to publish figures relating to AFOs based in the same area, that would have the effect of breaking down the numbers to divisional level and enable members of the criminal fraternity or individuals or groups intending to carry out acts of terrorism to map resources available.
“If coupled with further requests relating to other areas, the effect of this would be multiplied.”
But this defence is even flakier than I’d originally thought because in January the force itself told the Commons Transport select committee that it had no firearms officers outside the capital.
The force’s Deputy Chief Constable, Adrian Hanstock, told MPs: “While BTP has some firearms capability, that is purely in London at the moment”
Later committee member Iain Stewart asked: “the firearms point, I think I heard you say earlier that your firearms capability is limited to London.
“I am a little concerned about what would happen if we had on a UK intercity train the same sort of incident as happened on the Thalys train between Brussels and Paris. Could you say a little more about that?”
to which DCC Hanstock replied: “Our London focus at the moment is based purely on DFT categorisation of stations.”
So, to be clear, just a few weeks ago BTP itself confirmed in absolute terms that it had no firearms officers stationed outside the capital.
Two important things to note.
First, this information is more specific than my FOI request which asked for “London and the southeast” numbers specifically to ensure that it didn’t reveal any geographic weak spot.
Secondly the BTP revealing its firearms capability in London means it would be publishing the information on the same criteria as the Met because its London capability is also – in its own words – its whole force area capability.
Even if, in the few weeks since that evidence was given, BTP had recruited a few officers outside the city, revealing that would not aid terrorists any more than telling everyone in open session that it had none at all outside London.
As you’d expect, I’ve gone back and asked for a review of BTP’s refusal because the justification for it simply doesn’t stack up when you read the force’s own evidence to Parliament.