They came by boat, silently and under the cover of night. All the intruders were armed; all had undergone specialist weapons training.
Using only information available on the internet or other public sources, each had studied the external and internal layout of the Palace of Westminster. Now they intended to strike at the very heart of the British Establishment.
No one saw or heard their approach on the Thames during the summer recess of 2016. Being waterborne, the approach was similar to that of the devastating attack on Mumbai eight years earlier. Similarly no one knew they were coming.
But this was the ‘Mother of Parliaments’. In a time of heightened terror threats, surely the world-famous landmark would be among the most closely guarded of potential jihadist targets? Certainly there were, as always, armed officers from the Metropolitan Police’s Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection branch on duty inside the complex that night. To no avail.
Gaining entry from the river, the attackers moved quickly, stealthily, along the warren of corridors and passageways. They penetrated the defences without detection; indeed, so successfully that they were able to reach the chamber of the House of Commons itself, undisturbed.
Armed only with a baton and pepper spray, PC Kieth Palmer (left) was stabbed to death while guarding the main vehicle entrance — Carriage Gates — by terrorist Khalid Masood on March 22, 2017. He was awarded a posthumous George Medal for his bravery in confronting the killer (right, PC Keith Palmer pictured with his wife Michelle)
More than three years after the brutal attack, no one at Met HQ has been held to account for exposing an unarmed police officer to a long-feared murderous assault (pictured, the aftermath of the attack on PC Keith Palmer)
And that is when the exercise — for an exercise it was, thankfully — came to an end: total victory to the intruders who were, in fact, officers from CO19, the Met’s firearms squad.
They had been told by the exercise organisers to identify themselves only if seen and challenged by their unsuspecting Diplomatic Protection Group (DPG) colleagues. They weren’t.
The until now secret ‘Operation Kiri’, of which the armed break-in was a part, had been arranged to test the palace’s defences. The exercise took place amid growing fears among an outspoken few at New Scotland Yard that security at Parliament was unacceptably slack. Operation Kiri brutally confirmed this assessment. But little or nothing was done. Forty recommendations were made as a result of the embarrassingly easy infiltration. None were made public.
According to one of several sources who have spoken to the Mail, only a handful were ever acted upon. ‘The only ones implemented were that our shirt colour be changed from white to blue, as it is less noticeable, (the guards in the palace were seen by the intruders but not vice versa) and that the signpost which had been used as a foothold [for the intruders] to gain access from the Thames was removed,’ one source said. And that was that.
The source said at least one colleague had quit in disgust at the lack of improvement.
This is only one of several damning revelations uncovered by a Mail investigation into the security failures at the Palace of Westminster which contributed, little more than six months after Kiri, to the horrific murder of PC Keith Palmer.
Armed only with a baton and pepper spray, he was stabbed to death while guarding the main vehicle entrance — Carriage Gates — by terrorist Khalid Masood on March 22, 2017. He was awarded a posthumous George Medal for his bravery in confronting the killer.
Khalid Masood (pictured left) murdered five people (including PC Palmer, right) and injured 50 others when he drove his car into pedestrians outside the Houses of Parliament in March 2017
Seconds before, Masood, 52, had killed four pedestrians and injured around 40 on Westminster Bridge by ramming a car into them. It was the first of a number of fatal Islamist attacks carried out on or close to bridges over the Thames between 2017 and 2019.
At PC Palmer’s inquest in October 2018, Chief Coroner Mark Lucraft QC said had armed officers been stationed at the gates, ‘it is possible they may have been able to prevent PC Palmer suffering fatal injuries’. He added: ‘Due to shortcomings in the system . . . the armed officers were not aware of a requirement to remain in close proximity to the gates.
His analysis was born of several testimonies. But the inquest did not hear every useful account.
One eyewitness who, infamously, did not give evidence at the officer’s inquest — for which no explanation has been given — was Sir Craig Mackey, who was acting Met Commissioner at the time of the death. Sitting in a car inside the palace gates, Sir Craig watched as PC Palmer, 48, was stabbed to death only yards away. And he did not intervene. Later he would be accused of ‘cowardice’, prompting a string of senior colleagues to come out in his defence.
He did give evidence at the Masood inquest. PC Palmer’s widow was not represented so Sir Craig could not be questioned on her behalf. Nor did PC Palmer’s inquest hear what the Mail has been told by Scotland Yard and Police Federation sources, outraged at what else wasn’t done that day — or before — which might have prevented his death.
More than three years after the brutal attack, no one at Met HQ has been held to account for exposing an unarmed police officer to a long-feared murderous assault.
Then last week came a potentially game-changing development. It was revealed that the PC’s widow, Michelle, is suing the Met for having placed her husband in a situation of unnecessary danger.
The hardest part of her ordeal was having to tell the couple’s six-year-old daughter, Amy, that her ‘daddy was gone’, she said.
Her decision to pursue legal proceedings has encouraged multiple sources to reveal what they believe to be as yet unpublished salient facts behind the failure to adequately protect officers on guard at the gates of Parliament.
One of the abiding images of the aftermath was the Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood (pictured) trying to help revive the dying policeman
Blunders and uncertainty, complacency, power struggles and under-manning had informed their masters’ ‘strategy’, it is claimed.
After what we have learned, it is hard to see how the Met can defend itself against Mrs Palmer.
So what happened that fatal day? Masood was known to security services. Born Adrian Elms, he was brought up in East Sussex and schooled in Kent. A drug user with convictions for violence, he converted to Islam while in prison and was radicalised thereafter.
He had been known to MI5 for 13 years, after his phone number was found on a list belonging to a member of an Al Qaeda-linked plot to build a number of bombs using fertiliser. Five conspirators were given life sentences but Masood’s ties to them were not followed up.
Shortly before his attack, Masood sent a text claiming his actions were revenge for Western military intervention in Muslim