Friday, July 22, 2005

London Bombings

It's rather early to speculate on the most recent London bombings, although that doesn't stop the mainstream media doing so. But there are bound to be some questions about the shooting of a suspect at a tube station this morning.
If eyewitnesses are correct, the man was on the ground and not holding a weapon when police fired several shots into him. My concern is not from sympathy for suicide bombers, if that's what he was (let's hope to God that he was), but because it would surely have been of much greater value to the police to capture him alive.
As I write, the police have said that the dead man was not one of the four suspects they were hunting for the bombings. This is rather worrying.
Remember the innocent man yesterday who we saw lying on the pavement in Whitehall, surrounded by armed police? And remember the case of Stephen Waldorf many years ago who was shot by police while innocently driving through London in a case of mistaken identity? Or, more recently, the Scotsman carrying a table leg shot dead because police thought he was an Irishman carrying a gun?
It has also just emerged that the driver of the tube train on which the man was shot dead had left his cab and run into the tunnel for safety. The police decided he was a suspect, chased him and put a gun to his head.

One can understand the police being jittery in the present situation. But we need to remember the IRA terrorism of the seventies and eighties when innocent people rotted in jail for twenty or more years. That would be less likely today, now that we have the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and other safeguards. But we know from the many miscarriages of justice over the years how easy it is for a police force under pressure to pick up the wrong people. Today, with hundreds of armed police swarming around London there's a real possibility that an innocent person will be shot. It may have already happened. Let's hope not. And if it does happen, there will be those who will shrug and say it's a price worth paying. So long as it's not them or one of their family, presumably.

At least with this week's attacks there has been less self-congratulation about the stoicism of the British and Londoners. The media reported the hysteria and panic when people thought there was a bomb on their train and we were shown the piles of shoes and possessions that fleeing passengers left behind. This is a good thing. In some situations panic is a normal, natural and potentially life-saving response. If you think you are close to a bomb, running like hell is the only sensible response. Whether shouting 'women and children first' is sexist and ageist I'll leave others to judge.

The 'fight or flight' response is hard-wired within us for sound evolutionary reasons. And since you can't fight with a rucksack full of high explosive, flight is the only option.
The physiological changes that are triggered by the 'fight or flight' response are quite remarkable. Chemicals such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are pumped into the bloodstream. The respiratory rate increases. Blood is re-directed from the digestive tract to the muscles and limbs. The immune system goes to Red Alert. The pain threshold is raised. The pupils dilate. Peripheral vision improves dramatically so you can almost see behind your back.
Given this complex, sophisticated chemical and physiological response that has evolved for our own safety, isn't it a bit silly to say 'come on, chaps, we're British. Stiff upper lip and all that, don't you know?'

Hugh Lloyd: Are you a doctor?
Tony Hancock: No.....I never bothered.
- from The Blood Donor


At 10:27 PM, Blogger Herge Smith said...

Funny, I don't remember there being an annoncement that coppers will not be armed all the time...

Oh yes, these terrorists won't change the way we live - we're just gonna have people shot to bits on the tube for being suspected of being a bomber - or made to lie on the pavement at gunpoint for being 'off white' and carrying a 'mass murder device' - or 'rucksack' as most people call them.

Seems like the terrorist have won after all.

At 10:51 PM, Blogger Steve said...

Sorry about this trite comment in light of such eloquent analysis but.....

......Fuck me! Hugh Lloyd! You've just sent be back nearly 40 years. I can see him now - he must've died years ago. Surely.

Hugh Lloyd.......

*stares into the middle distance trying to remember if he was part of a double act with a young Terry Scott?*

At 4:48 AM, Blogger Lost said...

We had argument tonight about whether the "regular" police in England are armed all the time. I say no and BT says they all are. We did agree on one thing though, because police in North America are always armed that there are always police shootings over here. In the States, that tube shooting wouldn't have made headlines and here in Canada, while the shootings are still rare, it wouldn't have had the shock value it seems to have had in England.
If indeed your police are shooting people for no reason, then I guess things HAVE changed over there in jolly ol'.

At 1:45 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

herge, as someone pointed out yesterday the terrorists can easily change their tactics in the light of police behaviour, e.g, planting bombs in the rucksacks of innocent, young white women.

steve, I think Hugh Lloyd is still alive. I saw him interviewed not so very long ago. He must have been one of the most famous and successful straight men ever. Like Patricia Hayes he seemed to be in everything. Don't know if he was ever in an act with Terry Scott though.

lost, most policemen are not armed. I think most carry an extending stick called an 'asp' (which has replaced the truncheon) and possibly a kind of pepper spray. But armed response units do patrol most large cities and far more police are trained to use firearms than in the past and would be issued with a gun if it was thought they might be confronting someone who was armed.
The new 'secret' guidance for dealing with terrorists is to 'shoot to kill' rather than to disable. But it also seems to be 'shoot first and ask questions afterwards', which is more worrying.

At 3:11 PM, Blogger Lost said...

That is kind of worrying - it's hard to interrogate a corpse.

At 8:26 PM, Anonymous Rex said...

Hugh Lloyd was certainly alive at the end of December, as he got an MBE in the New Year Honours, which may have been why he was being interviewed.

And yes, in the Sixties he and Terry Scott were (for TV purposes) something of an item. I recall three series they did together - Hugh and I, Hugh and I Spy, and The Gnomes of Dulwich - all of which I found very amusing, being a mere foetus at the time, you understand.

At 8:05 AM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

rex, thanks for that. I certainly watched Hugh and I, although remember nothing about it apart from the title so it couldn't have been a classic. I probably saw the other two as well, while I was mewling and puking in my mother's arms.
As I remember, Hugh lloyd usually played a kind of 'Everyman', of indeterminate class, neither very clever nor very thick and faultlessly fed lines to every comic of the fifties and sixties.

At 4:34 PM, Anonymous Aaron Lam said...

OMG! Thank you for this.


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