There is “no specific threat” to Cop26 in Glasgow with regard to terrorist attacks but police are still planning to deploy the largest number of armed officers in Scottish history, the officer in charge of armed policing for Police Scotland has said.
Security forces believe Afghanistan's fall to the Taliban may have emboldened potential terrorists, with the head of MI5 warning of lone-wolf terror attacks.
The police numbers involved at Cop26 will eclipse those seen at previous high-profile events in Scotland, such as the 2005 G8 conference in Gleneagles and the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
The force is understood to have about 500 armed officers but will be assisted by a “significant” number of armed police from elsewhere in the UK.
The precise number of armed officers being deployed has not been disclosed for operational reasons. Previously, Police Scotland has said it will contribute around 45 per cent of overall policing numbers for Cop26. Several thousand officers will arrive each day in a phased approach, with about 10,000 involved in total.
Many of these officers have been taking part in training and role-playing for potential security breaches at Cop26 for several weeks.
Chief Superintendent Louise Skelton is head of specialist services at the force, which includes overseeing Police Scotland's armed response, involving armed response vehicles and officers with Glock handguns and semi-automatic G36 assault rifles.
“At the moment there's no specific threat to the event but armed police are very much deployed as a contingency and obviously to keep the world leaders, heads of state, delegates and the people of Scotland safe and respond to any threat should it arise,” she said.
120 heads of state to keep safe at Cop26
Queen Elizabeth II, Pope Francis and US President Joe Biden are among the high-profile figures expected to attend, and each member of the United Nations has been invited, meaning nearly 120 heads of state are expected to arrive, along with about 20,000 accredited delegates.
These numbers are contingent on factors pertaining to the coronavirus pandemic, however. Earlier this month, a global network of more than 1,500 climate organisations called on Britain to postpone Cop26, saying that a lack of Covid vaccines could sideline developing countries.
Speaking at a training event for Police Scotland armed officers at the Scottish Police College at Jackton, East Kilbride, Ms Skelton said Police Scotland would continue to monitor the terrorist threat level as the event approaches.
Armed officers demonstrated armed response vehicles stopping a car in a mocked up street scene where the driver is thought to present a threat.
They also showed how they would stop a pedestrian armed with an axe in the street.
Ms Skelton said: “It's one of the most complex events that's ever been held in the UK, particularly in Scotland, so there will be an increase in the visibility of armed officers, particularly in the Glasgow area where the event is being held.
“But, in terms of business as usual, we will have a 24/7 response throughout Scotland to respond to any serious threat to life or firearms incidents and that is always the case with us.
“We're an unarmed service, we always have an armed response so that will not differ during Cop26 but there will be officers dedicated to the actual event itself.
“We're getting help from throughout the UK, from England and Wales, in relation to firearms officers and different skills of firearms officers.
“The plans are still being developed clearly but there will be a significant mutual aid assistance from colleagues in armed policing because of the scale and size of the event.”
Shared Cop26 UN-UK security jurisdiction
Cop 26 negotiations are taking place at the Scottish Events Campus (SEC), which will be known as the Blue Zone and will be under UN control with its own security. It will come under Scotland's law if a crime takes place.
Ms Skelton stressed strict criteria govern the use of armed officers in Scotland.
“Any deployment of armed police in Police Scotland is very, very heavily scrutinised and ratified … there are very strict criteria in relation to that and the threat would need to justify the criteria for deployment.”