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The London helicopter crash reminds us how vulnerable London still is to terrorist attack

16 January 2013

To have a helicopter crash so near the site of the new American Embassy and the headquarters of MI6 raises obvious concerns for national security. I was on a train when I first heard the news, and my fellow commuters all hit their mobiles. Everyone’s first reaction seemed to be to ask if this was another terrorist attack.

It wasn’t. But for a lot of Londoners, the incident will have been a reminder of how vulnerable the capital city still is. We choose to have the headquarters of our spies in one of the most visible locations in the country. In Prime Minister’s Questions, we put the entire British government under the same roof at the same time each week — making us about the only country in the world to do this. What prevents someone renting a helicopter and doing their worst? Or renting a boat and launching an attack from the Thames?

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The answer is the ongoing work of our security services, who disrupt terror cells before they strike. Logistically, there isn’t much to stop serious terror attacks in London. When Rupert Murdoch was struck with a pie in the House of Commons, or a protester remonstrated face-to-face with Tony Blair in the Leveson Inquiry, it reminds everyone that security is far from impenetrable. We don’t run our capital city like a military base, we’re a open country and we choose not to live like we’re under siege. The low incidence of successful terrorist strikes here is not related to an ring of steel but to the incredible work that the security services do on our behalves. The mark of their success lies in what does not happen, not what does happen. The thwarting of the Heathrow Plot in 2006 was a remarkable story, which even now pretty much remains untold.

This morning’s crash was a scheduled helicopter flight from Surrey to Hertfordshire that tried to land at a Battersea heliport due to bad weather. Not many heliports have cranes so close to them. The accident claimed two lives, and as the Met say it’s miracle the death toll was not higher given that it happened at the rush hour. But it’s not a miracle that there has not been another 7/7 in London. It’s down to the hard work and professionalism of those whose job it is to disrupt the bad guys in time.

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Show comments
  • tuco

    Fraser Nelson writes like an American.

  • Seryn Owfriver

    Shall we just all wait to see the anti-aircraft battery that gets installed atop St George’s Tower to protect the New US Embassy at Nine-Elms? From Al Qaeda? Which doesn’t exist? Just going for a walk in the Scottish Highlands, see ya never.

  • JMckechnie

    I am utterly confused by this piece.

  • Eddie

    The only thing that surprises me is that anyone is surprised by this.
    Accidents will happen. If you have aircraft flying at volume into London, then sooner or later one will crash, or perhaps two will collide.

    I predicted this back in 1998 to a class I was teaching – but, as yet, there has been no collision between two planes coming in to Heathrow. It’s only a matter of time though. It’s really crowded and cluttered up there!

    And I can think of several helicopter pads I know of which are VERY close to schools and housing, and are surrounded by buildings. No idea why they allow planning permission for such rich show-offs’ toys anyway!

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Priorities priorities priorities…..Young Mr N leaps into print to speculate about the safety of politicians and spooks in central London.

    Meanwhile hundreds (thousands?) of young white girls have their lives ruined, are beaten senseless, or even murdered by Pakistani Muslims in this country with the connivance of the authorities so as to maintain public order.

    Mr N and his crew have always been somewhat tardy in their reactions to these stories which have far far more political and social importance than a bl00dy helicopter crashing in view of the Westminster terrace.

  • jazz6o6

    The London helicopter crash reminds us how vulnerable London still is to terrorist attack……….

    Time to build an airport elsewhere.
    The amount of air traffic flying over the capital inbound to LHR is a terrorist’ dream. The security services can’t field all the balls.

  • Tom Tom

    Why are helicopters permitted to fly over London ? Fixed wing aircraft are not allowed to do so

    • Airey Belvoir

      If they have an engine failure they have, on Scouts’ Honour, to ditch in the Thames, so barring cranes/fog, not much risk.

    • itdoesntaddup

      I take it you have never been to London to see the aircraft on flightpath for LHR or LCY.

      • Hexhamgeezer


        Try Walthamstow. A LHR plane every 2 minutes plus whatever LCY send up plus those you can see from Stanstead.

  • John D Traynor

    This is probably the dumbest pile of manure ever written! Mr.Nelson, why not go and live in your fortified bunker?

    • Wot?

      I think he should go back to Tel Aviv.

  • Russell Thompson

    I knew who had written this before even reading it. Predictable. But it’s Fraser Nelson who comes off as the conspiracy theorist here.

  • Daniel Maris

    I agree with Fraser’s comments on the security services. Since being properly resourced they have done a great job in stopping attacks (although that involves a lot of surveillance of certain groups of people, about whom Fraser otherwise claims to have “no concerns”).

    But I thought there was an unwritten convention we don’t discuss ways in which Jihadis can attack us for fear that they might be listening in (and given how unimaginative they are generally, one sees the danger of discussing these things). Given, this has now been mentioned…on the subject of helicopters, from the aerodromes on the outskirts of London, a fast one could be in the centre of London in five minutes and therefore must be v. difficult to deal with.

    I would ask the question: are we sure all helicopters are fully immobilised when not in use i.e. could not be stolen from an aerodrome?

    • Rhoda Klapp

      The fact that they are an asset worth six or seven figures means people tend to look after them. You also can’t just turn up and rent one to fly yourself. The helicopter community is small, everbody knows each other, you wouldn’t take a stranger on face value. And the salient fact that a white van can be rented with a drivers license tends to make this a more likely scenario. Do you think that hasn’t occurred to the terrorists, and Rhoda should keep it a secret?

      • Daniel Maris

        I would agree. I was thinking more of someone (who was perhaps trained abroad in somewhere like KSA) stealing a helicopter. I’ve certainly seen them at aerodromes where there are no people in view. I don’t know whether someone with the right knowledge could get one going if they broke in. I think it would be a sensible law to ensure helicopters have effective immobilisers.

    • Tom Tom

      “Since being properly resourced they have done a great job” and Gitmo and those Jordanian and Egyptian interrogators have done a very good job feeding them info

  • In2minds

    Perhaps the answer is a giant database of all helicopters and all tall

  • ScaryBiscuits

    I’m not sure the security services do keep us safe. That’s certainly what it says on the can but, as with cheap burgers, the contents may vary.

    On 9/11 it wasn’t the security services that prevented the 4th plane from killing people on the ground but ordinary people, who gave their lives to save others.
    Despite the massive increase in costs and inconvenience since, when the shoe bomber tried to kill his fellow passengers it was again ordinary people, not some vaunted ‘air marshall’ who stopped it. Ditto with the underpants bomber.

    Even with ground based terrorism such as the 7/11 attacks here. It is the failure or otherwise of ordinary people that stop terrorism; the security services generally just take the credit when it goes well and demand more powers when they fail.

    • Daniel Maris

      Do you want a very long list of serious Jihadi plots stop by security services on both sides of the Atlantic?

      • ScaryBiscuits

        That’s like giving us a list of all the workplace disputes solved by trade unions.
        And if we just laid-off all the security services what would happen? For a start further immigration would be stopped. And those that are already here would learn to live in peace with us pretty quickly.

        • Daniel Maris

          What? How on earth did you reach that non-conclusion.

    • Rob

      There were no planes the official story of 9/11 is nothing more than fantasy

      • Colonel Mustard

        The fact that you might seriously believe that is actually more terrifying than the threat of a terrorist attack.

        • Daniel Maris

          Absolutely. The unresolved JFK assassination may be one thing. The perpetrators of 9-11 and the way it unfolded, however, is probably the most documented event in the world. It was a conspiracy: a JIhadi conspiracy overseen by OBL. Anyone who believes otherwise is complete imbecile with no functioning cerebellum. To take just one example, if Rob is right then all those phone calls from the planes (from soon-to-be victims) to relatives were bogus, staged by actors who somehow accessed the mobile phone network.

      • Paul Read

        Here Here!

  • Jebediah

    This is not a thoughtful article, it is a reaction article. The white van stuffed full of explosives is always more likely than attack from river or air. This is just a tragic air accident, no more, no less.

    • Teacher

      Are we reading the same article? Isn’t Frazer Nelson saying that London is vulnerable but well served by good intelligence and that we choose not to live as if ‘in a military base’ but as free citizens in a free city?

    • Wot?

      You should be far more worried about white vans NOT carrying explosives but indigenous white-van-men. They are notoriously crap drivers and prone to talking on mobiles or picking their noses. I am fairly certain that they are also responsible for far more deaths and injuries, though not as many as doctors.

  • Swiss Bob

    There’s a compulsory reporting point for helicopters at Vauxhall Bridge. Pretty damn stupid as it’s the one place along the river where the pilot really needs his eyes open now they’ve built that monstrosity there.

  • UKIP for change

    Accidents happen.Any excuse for more police state rubbish.Give it a rest!

  • Wilhelm

    Not to worry, I don’t think any English people were involved, it’s London, after all.

  • Wilhelm

    Ask yourself this, if we’re fighting a war on ‘terror’, why is it then that the government is importing millions of muslims into this country ?

    Likewise, If we’re fighting a war on poverty, why are we importing millions of poor people from the Third World into this country ?

    Again, if we’re fighting a war on crime, why are we importing many criminals from abroad into this country ?

  • Wot?

    ??? No it doesn’t “remind us how vulnerable we are to terrorists!” It reminds us how much some people would like us to “feel vulnerable to terrorists” ! The truth is that you are by far more likely to be killed by a doctor than a “terrorist”.

    • Harold Angryperson

      Or as the incident at Glasgow Airport in 2007 showed, both…

    • HooksLaw

      I think you make a god point. Mr Nelson’s headline is preposterous – indeed he ‘terrorises’ us with it.
      If we all sit down and think about it we could dream up a million ways we could be ‘terrorised’. Any fool could hire a helicopter crash and fly it into anywhere. There is nothing other than the routine checks and observations you could do about it. Our defence is not to be influenced by threats – to make them counter productive.

      Demolishing the twin towers achieved absolutely zero for its perpetrators – except to create the myth of ‘Al Qaeda’.

      What will make us safer is the establishment of a strong democracy with secular leanings in Pakistan.

      • Tom Tom

        “Demolishing the twin towers achieved absolutely zero for its
        perpetrators – except to create the myth of ‘Al Qaeda’.”…………Not true. It achieved the objectives of Nihilists

      • Nigel Jones

        I think your great-great-great grandchildren will be very old people before that happens Hookie, you imbecile. Don’t you ever listen to the news?

      • Tom Tom

        Destroy Saudi Arabia if you want to make any progress

        • Wot?

          You’d be better off destroying Israel and making peace with the Muslim world.

          • Hexhamgeezer

            No chance dhimmi

        • Daniel Maris

          We should certainly have nothing to do with preserving Saudi Arabia – that much is clear. But the whole of our foreign policy seems to be built around the idea of preserving that ugly, West-hating, democracy-subverting, cruel, corrupt tyranny.

      • Daniel Maris

        So you are a “truther” nutter as well are you Hookslaw – talking about “whoever” “demolished” the Twin Towers. I am not altogether surprised.

    • EJ

      I agree up to a point but I think this century will see a intensification of terrorist activity both on the macro scale (ideologically extreme rogue states gaining nuclear capability) and on the “micro” scale (ideologically extreme organisations launching smaller scale attacks along the lines of 2005). These will be set against the backdrop of the radical demographic transformation we will be witnessing in Western countries due to the mass migration from the third world to the first and with it the mass importation of radical extremists whom our security services cannot hope to keep pace with.

      • Daniel Maris

        The use of the word “terrorist” is probably not that helpful. It’s not that one has to admit to being “terrorised” – it’s far more fundamental than that.

        The Islamic Jihadi attack on 9-11 was a huge scale attack: nearly 3000 people killed, thousands more seriously injured or suffering long term lung damage, hundreds of thousands severely traumatised, and millions of lives dislocated.

        Are we really supposed to ignore such a threat? Of course we can’t. And if we can’t ignore those large scale threats, you are into the security service game.

    • RisingSap

      Actually you are more likely to be killed in the UK by a police officer than by a terrorist. Since 2001 far more innocent people have died as a result of high speed road pursuits by the police than as a result of terrorism.

      When “fellow commuters all hit their mobiles” it tells us that we live in a neurotic and paranoid society. No more stoicism or stiff upper lip. Britain is becoming hysterical.

  • Colonel Mustard

    As the IRA once boasted, the security services have to get it right every time, the terrorists only once. A good reason for the security services to focus on real threats and not on what people are saying on Twitter and on football pitches.

  • tommy5dollar

    We’re all safe due to the continual incompetence of terrorists. Fortunately people who want to blow up civilians are generally quite dumb.

  • Swiss Bob

    With reference to the terrorist threat from helicopters, you have to acquire one first, with terrorist money, then you need something more than fuel for a large explosion and a well trained idiot to fly it.

    I don’t suppose a helicopter worth hundreds of thousands if not millions, capable of carrying a reasonable amount is that easy to acquire in Britain.


      You can get a 2nd hand helicopter for £250,000. Would it be so hard to fill it with explosives and crash it into the House of Commons? I am not sure there is a defence other than intelligence.

      • Rhoda Klapp

        What harm would it do, really?

      • Swiss Bob

        And where does the 250k come from, cash?

        How many companies sell helos or light aircraft? You think there are no controls or that one of these companies is going to sell one to some middle eastern gent with a recently acquired licence without questions being asked?

        • Tom Tom

          No point in using helicopters when Drones will soon be available from China


          Swiss Bob, don’t you think that there are a lot of Arab gents in London who have £250k in cash in their back pocket. Do you think that only Muslims with a recent licence are willing to be suicide bombers?

      • Tom Tom

        You have obviously looked into the possibility then. Clearly all you need is to hire Nigel Farage’s pilot

  • Swiss Bob

    It’s a bloody stupid place to build such a tall building. The Thames is the flight path for helicopters in and out of central London and having lived by the Thames for thirty years you could see them cut the curves everyday.

    The building is also close to Battersea where they land so you can expect them to be at a lower altitude than normal near Vauxhall.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Why is the helicopter/plane/boat threat more important or likely than the white transit van which absolutely anybody could hire and fill with obtainable materials and drive in to anywhere to detonate? There really is no defence at this level, it is by spying and other intelligence work that this sort of thing is prevented, but if it is done well prevention is not possible.

    • Austin Barry

      Well, it could also be prevented by curbing the number of our incoming guests who wish to build Waziristan in England’s green and pleasant land.

      And you’re right, in that case a white van is likely to be the updated version of a chariot of fire.

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