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Shoppers and retailers asked to help counter Christmas terror threat

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It may still be November, but as high streets start to fill up with festive shoppers and Christmas events, senior counter-terrorism bosses are calling on the public and retail staff to be extra vigilant.

Police say there’s no specific intelligence of an increased threat over the Christmas season, but they’ll be deploying both visible security patrols and specially trained plain clothes officers in busy town and city centres – and want all of us to help them.

“Out of any given venue at any time there will be hundreds of thousands of extra pairs of eyes and ears who are really useful to us,” Chief Superintendent Nick Aldworth told Sky News.



Alistair Bunkall was granted access to GCHQ's headquarters




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Inside GCHQ: the agency responsible for keeping the UK safe

The National Coordinator for the police Protect and Prepare Strategy, he’s also reassuring people they should still get out and about.

“We want people to feel empowered about what they report to us, we don’t want them to be worried, we want them to look at things.

“If they feel uncomfortable about it, however insignificant please do come and talk to us and we’ll worry about what it is.

“We’ll take the worry out of Christmas for you on this respect – and we’ll deal with those matters.”

The message comes as the Counter Terrorism Policing Network is launching its largest ever winter advertising campaign, reminding the public of how they can help tackle the terrorist threat.

The security messaging will be on display at key shopping locations and Christmas events.

When Sky News spoke to shoppers at Kingston-upon-Thames Christmas market, they found many who said they wouldn’t know what to do in the event of an attack.

“I haven’t been trained in any emergency response thing, so I wouldn’t really know,” said stallholder Tessa.

Others agreed that they’d welcome more advice: “People need to be a lot more aware of how to deal with a situation,” said one customer.

“Because most people would probably think just run but you don’t know where you’re meant to run to and who you’re meant to tell.”

There was confusion about what had happened amid rumours of gunshots
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There was confusion about what had happened in Oxford Street last November amid rumours of gunshots

That’s why police want retailers and businesses in crowded areas to draw up a “60 Second Security Plan” – a checklist of questions for staff, such as where people can hide, how the store can be locked down, and where the exits are.

David Ward is Regional Chair of Cross Sector Safety and Security Communications, which works to disseminate news and security messages to businesses.

“From the larger organisations, [it might mean] carrying out desktop exercises and actually carrying out a mock attack to understand how to react,” he says.

“For smaller businesses, being aware how they can escape from their premises, how they can look after each other, how they can shut their shop down or their office down very quickly.

“Things we wouldn’t have thought about 20 years ago but unfortunately we now have to be far more aware of.”

Armed police at the scene in Oxford Street
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Armed police were sent the scene in Oxford Street

Officers say retailers being prepared could help prevent unnecessary concern – and help customers know what to do.

“Last year on Oxford Street we saw a fight at a Tube station cause panic when people believed that a terrorist attack had occurred,” says Nick Aldworth.

Officers eventually found no evidence of any shots fired.

“In the rush to keep themselves safe, some people suffered serious injuries and businesses were severely disrupted. By working alongside those businesses, we have learnt from that experience and I believe our sixty second check will better prepare us to deal with something similar in the future.”

Police say if something does happen, getting away is the key priority.

“Some people stop to take photographs, videos and upload it onto social media videos and such like.

“We don’t advocate that you do that. We want you to get away from potential danger,” adds Chief Superintendent Aldworth.

“If we don’t know what it is then you probably don’t either. Get away from it, run, hide and tell. The quicker we know about it the quicker we can get there and deal with it.”

Police and MI5 are running more than 700 live terrorism investigations as they confront a threat that is seen as unprecedented in scale, with Britain hit by five attacks last year and another 17 having been foiled since March 2017.

Any suspicious activity or behaviour can be reported by calling 0800 789 321 or visiting gov.uk/ACT.

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