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Monday 19 March 2018

New Year's Eve: All leave cancelled for armed police in London amid unprecedented security operation

All 2,000 firearms officers called in amid intelligence reports that Islamist terrorists aim to attack festivities in a European capital

Fireworks over the London Eye in London
Fireworks over the London Eye in London

David Barrett

Every firearms officer in London will be on duty to protect the New Year celebrations in an unprecedented security operation, as revellers are urged to carry on as normal.

Scotland Yard cancelled all New Year leave for more than 2,000 armed officers – the first time it has taken such a step – as part of the largest-ever police mobilisation for December 31 festivities.

It comes after a “friendly” intelligence agency warned Islamist fanatics may be planning a terror attack in a European city – although there is no specific information to suggest London will be targeted.

Brussels has called off the city's traditional NYE fireworks display, citing fears of a terrorist attack.

Yesterday, federal prosecutors said two people suspected of plotting an attack in Brussels on New Year's Eve had been arrested during house searches in different parts of the country.

Read more: New Year's Eve celebrations cancelled in Brussels over terror attack fears

Boris Johnson MP, the Mayor of London, exhorted partygoers to “get out there” and “soak up” the atmosphere as the capital prepared for the chimes of Big Ben at midnight.

Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said all 2,000 firearms-trained officers will be on duty after leave was cancelled.

It is the first time leave has been cancelled for armed officers for New Year, although such steps have been taken for key events previously such as the London 2012 Olympics.

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Met Police Commissioner, has been forthright about the need for more armed officers on the streets in the wake of the Paris terror attacks which killed 130 in November.

Mr Johnson said: “It's business as usual.

“From our fantastic fireworks on the banks of the Thames to thousands of events in pubs, clubs and restaurants across the city I'd urge Londoners and visitors alike to get out there and soak up the best we have to offer.

"As with any other major event in the capital our policing response will be appropriate, but I'd stress we've seen nothing to suggest a specific threat to London.”

Mr Johnson added: “I've no doubt people will be out there enjoying themselves in their hundreds of thousands. And so they should be."

Mr Marsh, the leader of rank-and-file police in the capital, echoed the mayor’s comments and predicted Londoners would show their traditional resilience and enjoy the party as normal.

“All firearms officers will be on duty. There is no leave for firearms teams to provide greater cover,” he said.

“There is an awful lot of work going on behind the scenes.

“I think people will defy the terrorist threat.

“Londoners are very resilient and have a lot of faith in their police officers to keep them safe.”

A record 6,000 police officers will be on duty in the capital and other forces across the country will also deploy extra officers at New Year celebrations.

Earlier this week Russian authorities announced that Red Square would be closed to the public, despite being the traditional focus of the country’s festivities to ring the changes.

The London fireworks display, opposite the Houses of Parliament, is a ticket-only event for the second year running – and has already sold out - but the capital will also see large numbers of revellers gathering at other locations, including Trafalgar Square.

UK business groups also urged members of the public to carry on as normal.

A spokesman for the Confederation of British Industry said: “Ensuring the safety of employees and customers is a priority for firms.

"Businesses, especially large consumer-facing ones, have established security and resilience plans in place.

“They will be working closely with the police to ensure people have a safe and enjoyable New Year."

London Fire Brigade urged revellers to plan ahead.

Counter-terrorism officers in the UK are concerned how they will respond if terrorists launched an attack on a city other than London.

They have warned Mrs May that “dedicated armed assets” outside of the capital are sparse.

They are now in negotiation with the Home Office over setting up regional units to increase the response times of armed officers should fanatics attack.

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