British churches have been urged to review their security following recent terrorist attacks in France, as the Home Office announces £2.4m of funding to bolster security in places of worship.
Specific advice has been issued by the police to the estimated 47,000 churches in the country on security measures, following the killing of a priest in France.
While there are no specific threats to the UK’s Christian community, churchgoers should be alert, according to the police advice which was sent out on Tuesday.
Neil Basu, the Metropolitan police’s deputy assistant commissioner, said: “As we have seen, Daesh and other terrorist groups have targeted Christian as well as Jewish and other faith groups in the west and beyond. Following recent events in France, we are reiterating our protective security advice to Christian places of worship and have circulated specific advice today. We are also taking this opportunity to remind them to review their security arrangements as a precaution.
“While the threat from terrorism remains unchanged at severe, we urge the public to be vigilant,” Basu said. “Be alert and not alarmed and report any suspicious activity. The UK police service is working tirelessly with our partners to confront the threat and protect all our communities.”
The advice from police chiefs urged vigilance, and they have sent specific advice to churches. It is believed they have been advised to review when doors the public can use to enter places of worship need to be secured and when left accessible.
Churches and other places of worship are classed as soft targets as they are usually unguarded, with little chance of having a police presence because there are so many of them.
Church officials need Christian places of worship to be open to the public to fulfil their religious purpose and essential mission, which conversely makes them vulnerable.
The Home Office also announced a £2.4m security fund for religious institutions. Churches, mosques and other places of worship will be able to apply for a share of the money to fund doors, bollards, locks, alarms, floodlights and CCTV.
This follows a rise in the number of faith-based attacks. Police received 3,254 reports of religious hate crime in 2014-15, up 43% from 2,269 the year before, a spokesperson for the hate crime action plan said. Only Jewish institutions will be exempt because they already receive separate funding through the Community Security Trust.
After French prosecutors revealed that one of the two church attackers was wearing an electronic tag, Chris Phillips, former head of the national counter-terrorism security office, said the incident showed how ineffective tags and control orders were at preventing attacks from terrorist suspects.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “We have had control orders and we have had Tpims [terrorism prevention and investigation measures], neither of which really have worked … We have had people leaving the country. We have had people disappearing into the ether never to be seen again. So clearly we cannot keep those people under tight surveillance.
“[As] we have seen in France, that is ridiculous, because someone can have a tag on and go and commit an offence and the tag is not even being monitored. It just goes to show the difficulty of this subject, where people have not yet committed offences but are of concern to the authorities.”
When he was advising the Home Office two years ago, Phillips said, there were “2,000 people on the radar of terrorism”, a number that had since increased significantly. “How on earth could you ever monitor 2,000 people, let alone the number we have got now?” he said.
Phillips also said suspects could only be controlled by locking them up, adding: “We don’t want to go down that route, because if we do we are just going to make the whole situation worse. But events could drag us in that direction.
“The way we stop these terrorist attacks from happening is actually community policing. It’s making sure that communities are willing to put forward those people who are looking as though they are going to do something ridiculous like this.”