A terrorism expert tells us the threat level for this year’s Notting Hill Carnival

‘This is not made up stuff – there are people in our country who want to attack and kill us’

If you read the news, you’re probably worried about going to Notting Hill Carnival this year.

The celebrations, which attract around a million people every year, have been foregrounded as a high-risk event. Police are on “high alert,” and SAS snipers are allegedly being deployed to combat fears of a Nice-style attack.

With incidents happening all over Europe and a growing sense of unease in the capital, we asked Chris Phillips, former Head of the National Counter Terrorism Security Office, how wary we should be of the Notting Hill terror threat.

Hi Chris. How worried should we be about a terrorist attack at Notting Hill Carnival?

There’s not necessarily an increased risk for the carnival itself, but there’s a very severe risk of a terrorist attack happening in the UK at some point.

You have to look at it as a matter of criteria. Notting Hill Carnival fulfils a number of the criteria that terrorists would like to hit. But then again, so does every cricket match at Lord’s and every football match at Wembley – there’s a level of threat at every major event in Central London.

Well, you have to bear in mind that we’ve been at this “severe” threat level of terrorism for years now, and the police have done a fantastic job at stopping attacks from happening. Therefore there’s no reason to think there’s more risk of a terrorist attack at Notting Hill this year than there was last year.

So you don’t think there’s an increased risk at a big event like this?

You’d think events like this would be the bigger targets, but history tells us something different. After all, the people who would carry out attacks would probably be put off by the amount of security there.

We have to be realistic: the terrorists want to hit crowded places in order to kill as many people as possible, and they want to do something on the world stage so everyone picks up on it. The Notting Hill Carnival fits into those criteria, but that doesn’t mean to say that there’s going to be attacks.

No-one was thinking about the Bastille Day celebrations in Nice. If we were sitting there before, we’d have said the Euros were the likely target. They hit something that was less big, but probably easier to attack.

Where do you think terrorists in the UK are more likely to target?

Places like shopping malls are open pretty much every day, so they can be hit whenever. A sports event, or a carnival like Notting Hill or Pride, only lasts for one or two days.

A lot of these people decide at short notice that they want to carry out an attack, so they’ll tend to go to places that they know are open at any given time.

Bear in mind Notting Hill has been a massive security event for probably 30-40 years, and they’ve run just after terrorist attacks have taken place in London. They’ve got experience in this.

If an attack does take place, what should people do to stay safe?

It’s all about having an escape plan for wherever you are. For example: what would you do if a vehicle started coming towards you? Don’t run away from it in the same direction, run to the side.

If you see someone with a gun, get as far away as possible; if you can’t get away, then hide. It’s far better to run – running will probably keep you alive.

The problem is with something like the Notting Hill Carnival, if an attack happens you probably won’t know what’s going on. It’s a very tricky thing to anticipate, but don’t forget – there’s probably going to be more police there than pretty much any other event in the UK.

The Met Police Commissioner recently said it’s a case of “when not if” for terror attacks in the UK. Do you agree?

What he means is if you have something that comes out of the blue, it’s very hard to stop. If someone’s intent on killing people, they can do it. The fact is, though, we’ve been saying “when, not if” since 2005, and every attempt since then has been stopped because of the work counter-terrorism police are doing.

You have to realise that this is not made up stuff: there are people in our country who want to attack and kill us. The best thing we can do is have our own communities step up to the plate and tell us if someone is acting suspiciously. If you see something you’re not happy about, report it to the police.

So what’s your response to warnings that people should avoid this year’s carnival?

I don’t think we should avoid anything. If your time’s up your time’s up, but the police and security services are doing their best to make that not happen.

The fact is, you could get knocked over on your way to Notting Hill Carnival – and it’s probably more likely for that to happen than a terrorist attack.