Terror, panic and an agonising dilemma
Should you intervene in terror attacks? Ignacio Echeverría died doing just that — he was honoured by the Queen yesterday. Meanwhile, a policeman is under fire for making the opposite decision.
On Saturday, June 3, Ignacio Echeverría and two friends were walking near the South Bank in London. Echeverría loved skateboarding, and was carrying his board — it was a warm, calm, summer’s evening.
But as the trio entered Borough Market, they were met with a horrific scene. A wounded man staggered towards them; a police officer was collapsed on the ground; and a woman was being attacked by a knife-wielding terrorist.
“I’m focusing on her and then, suddenly, I see that Ignacio’s there, starting to hit [the attackers] with his skateboard,” his friend, Guillermo Sánchez, later told reporters. “Then he falls to the ground — I don’t know [how]… but he falls.”
Echeverría was one of the eight people killed in the London Bridge terror attack. Yesterday he was posthumously awarded the George Medal — a civilian award for courage and bravery — for trying to save the woman’s life. His father, Joaquín, accepted the medal and praised his “good and generous” son.
Meanwhile, controversy has struck surrounding the events of the Westminster terror attack which happened three months earlier, specifically the actions of Deputy Commissioner Sir Craig Mackey.
Sir Craig saw Khalid Masood attack unarmed PC Keith Palmer from his car nearby. Unlike Echeverría, he did not intervene. Sir Craig told an inquest this week that he chose not to because he had “no protective equipment and no radio”.
The revelation sparked widespread anger, with some calling for his resignation. “A police officer's natural instinct is to get out and help. Always. That is what you do,” claimed Peter Bleksley, a former undercover detective. He labelled Sir Craig’s actions “utterly unforgivable.”
Earlier in the inquest, MP Tobias Ellwood (who ran to PC Palmer’s aid) claimed that even the public should “step forward” during attacks. “If more of us do… the message gets through that no terrorist is going to win,” he said.
The government’s official advice is to “run, hide and tell”.
Is it right to intervene in terror attacks?
Fight or flight
Not necessarily, some argue. Echeverría’s extraordinary courage should be praised, but we should be wary of doing the same. Intervening will likely get you killed, and make the situation worse. Sir Craig knew this and was right not to risk his life. That goes for the rest of us too: it is always better to remove yourself from harm and raise the alarm.
We have a duty to protect others, some respond. Not all interventions end in disaster, and there are examples of brave citizens foiling attacks and saving lives. The government’s advice to flee may be rational, but it ignores ancient and noble virtues like courage and self-sacrifice — virtues that we must hold onto.
- Was Sir Craig Mackey wrong to stay in his car?
- Tobias Ellwood says that the public should “step forward” during terror attacks. Is this good advice?
- Imagine you are faced with the same situations as Ignacio Echeverría and Sir Craig Mackey. How do you think you would react in either situation? Discuss in pairs or small groups and then report back to the class.
- Read the Daily Mail link in the Become An Expert section. It contains some strong criticism of Sir Craig Mackey and the decisions that he made during the Westminster attack. Do you think that this criticism is fair, or too harsh? Write a paragraph explaining why you think his actions were, or were not, justified.
Some People Say...
“Those who lack the courage will always find a philosophy to justify it.”Albert Camus
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Sir Craig Mackey was in Westminster for a ministerial meeting. He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt with no equipment and was accompanied by two colleagues who were not police officers. While the inquiry has stirred much public debate, the jury were told that “nobody is on trial” and there is “no question of attributing blame”.
- What do we not know?
- If Sir Craig would have made any substantial difference had he intervened. It is possible that he would have been killed. We do not know if any action will be taken against him. He is close to retirement, after which investigators would not be able to make him to participate in any misconduct investigation.
- Borough Market
- One of the largest and oldest food markets in South London.
- London Bridge terror attack
- A van was driven into pedestrians on London Bridge before crashing on the south bank of the Thames. Its three occupants then ran to the nearby Borough Market area and began stabbing people. The attackers were inspired by Islamic State. Eight people were killed and 48 injured.
- George Medal
- Created in September 1940 under the reign of King George VI, to reward acts of civilian courage during the Blitz.
- Westminster terror attack
- The attacker drove a car into pedestrians along Westminster Bridge, injuring over 50 people and killing five. He then crashed into the fence of the Palace grounds and fatally stabbed an unarmed policeman nearby.
- Deputy Commissioner
- Second-in-command of London’s Metropolitan Police Service.
- On August 21, 2015, a man opened fire on a train travelling between Amsterdam and Paris. However, he was subdued by passengers before anyone was fatally injured.