Major anti-terror exercise in Edinburgh simulates attack at RBS

Police responded to a vehicle attack within the grounds of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s Edinburgh headquarters as part of a major three-day counter-terrorism exercise.

Police Scotland, the NHS and the Ministry of Defence are among the agencies involved in the planned scenario, which is being held across central and eastern Scotland and the north east of England.

Police officers taking part in a counter-terrorism exercise responding to a scenario simulating a vehicle attack held in the grounds of the Royal Bank of Scotland headquarters at Gogarburn. Picture: PA

Police officers taking part in a counter-terrorism exercise responding to a scenario simulating a vehicle attack held in the grounds of the Royal Bank of Scotland headquarters at Gogarburn. Picture: PA

Code named Exercise Border Reiver, it was announced by Prime Minister Theresa May in March and follows a series of high-profile attacks in London and Manchester.

It began yesterday at the Gogarburn headquarters of RBS and will continue at smaller sites and individual properties across Scotland and the north east of England until Thursday.

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Police said the “live-play scenario” is not in response to any specific threat but the result of more than a year of planning.

Police officers and ambulance personnel taking part in a counter-terrorism exercise in the grounds of the Royal Bank of Scotland headquarters at Gogarburn. Pictures: PA

Police officers and ambulance personnel taking part in a counter-terrorism exercise in the grounds of the Royal Bank of Scotland headquarters at Gogarburn. Pictures: PA

It tested armed response teams, paramedics and firefighters as well as police control room and organisational staff as observers watched the action unfold.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd chaired a Cobra meeting involving ministers from both the UK and Scottish Governments as part of the exercise.

She said: “The events of this year have shown why it is vital that the emergency services, government and agencies prepare and rehearse our response to potential terrorist attacks. The professionalism with which front line services dealt with the atrocities in London and Manchester is in part due to the planning and practice that goes into exercises like this.

“I will chair a meeting of COBR (Cabinet Office Briefing Room) as part of the exercise and working with colleagues in both the UK and Scottish Governments as we test our plans to keep families and communities across the UK safe.”

The Home Office said no members of the public are involved in the exercise, with affected areas cordoned off and tightly controlled to minimise disruption.

Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins, of Police Scotland, said: “We’ve seen a number of terrorist incidents within the UK which sadly led to a lot of fatalities. We’ve moved to a threat level of critical on two occasions.

“As these things have occurred so have our plans evolved to try and recreate the threat that we believe exists within the UK.

“In previous exercises the attacks were more coordinated, so you have had two or three different cells attacking different venues at different times.

“What we’ve seen in recent times - particularly in the UK - it’s low sophistication, it’s small numbers of people, often lone actors. They’re using vehicles, they’re using knives and bladed weapons, but the impact is high and the casualties are high.

“So it’s trying to recreate what we believe will be a likely scenario, should it occur.”

He added: “This is an exercise – it’s not because we know something is going to happen or we believe something is going to happen. There is absolutely no intelligence to suggest that Scotland is going to be a specific target of terrorism at any point in the future.

“People in the Edinburgh area today and over the next few days, please don’t be alarmed if you see lots of blue lights and sirens or if you hear gunshots.

“It is blank cartridges we’re using, but it’s trying to recreate the pressure and the tension that the first responders will be feeling at the scene and the senior officers and staff will be feeling back in the operations room.”

Other bodies involved in the three-day exercise include Northumbria Police, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Scottish Ambulance Service, North East Ambulance Service, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue services and Transport Scotland.

City of Edinburgh, Angus and Northumberland County councils are also testing their responses to a terrorist incident.

Justice secretary Michael Matheson said: “Scotland has a key role to play in hosting this exercise, alongside the UK Government and other agencies.

“It provides an opportunity to test our response in Scotland and the readiness of our emergency services to deal with this kind of incident.

“The Scottish Government shares the commitment of our partners to taking all necessary steps to assess and strengthen our preparedness to deal effectively with terrorism.

“While fortunately such real life incidents are rare, the public can be assured that government, our blue-light services and other agencies are continuously testing and reviewing how we are best able to respond to an attack should it happen.”

David Mundell, the Secretary of State for Scotland, added: “The UK Government is responsible for counter-terrorism planning across Great Britain, and organises a series of exercises to help the emergency services prepare for a terrorist incident.

“This latest exercise will help the UK and Scottish Governments, and agencies including the Ministry of Defence and emergency services north and south of the border, prepare for a possible terrorist attack in Scotland.

“The current threat level for international terrorism in the UK is severe, meaning that an attack is highly likely. We know from recent incidents in London and Manchester that there are those who seek to destroy lives and communities in our country, tearing at the heart of what we hold dear.

“Our police and security service work tirelessly to detect and prevent atrocities, but we must be prepared to respond effectively to an attack. Exercises like this will ensure that our public services are as well prepared as they can possibly be, to ensure public safety and bring the perpetrators to justice swiftly.”