The Church of England must step up security to protect staff and worshippers as they could be targeted as Britain faces a “severe” threat of terror from Islamist attackers, an expert in church security has said.
National Churchwatch director Nick Tolson, who advises churches and cathedrals on security, urged church leaders to prioritise security, warning the number of churches with effective security could be counted on one hand.
”Security has been incredibly neglected by places of worship over the past decade despite plenty of warning signs that they need to start taking it seriously and putting in place practical procedures to try and reduce the risk to people who work and attend churches in the UK,” he wrote in a piece for the Church of England newspaper.
On Tuesday, the former cathedral verger noted that “the chance of a cathedral or church being caught up in a terrorist problem is actually quite high” due to the overall terror threat in the UK.
As a result, Mr. Tolson strongly advised that places of worship should “start investing fairly large sums of money in appropriate security and that means getting the right advice and putting in security measures that are appropriate for churches”.
“Ultimately if you’re a public building and you have workers and staff and volunteers in the building – you need to keep them safe,” he told Premier’s News Hour.
The Church of England is currently working with the Metropolitan Police to formulate new detailed security advice, which is due to be published within weeks, The Telegraph revealed.
On Monday, the Church also published new security guidelines for church visitors and staff on its website, after a new raft of security advice published by the Home Office last week warned “crowded places and places of community significance are often the target” of “an increase in terrorist activity both at home and abroad”.
“It is possible that your place of worship could be the target of a terrorist incident,” the new government guidance tells church leaders.
“In the worst case scenario your staff and congregation could be killed or injured, and your premises destroyed or damaged in a ‘no warning’, multiple and coordinated terrorist attack.”
Becky Clark, the Church of England’s director of churches and cathedrals, said it took security “very seriously”.
She added: “Some cathedrals and larger churches do also provide specialist training for staff and volunteers to keep visitors safe.
“That includes counter-terrorism training which is provided through co-operation with police.”
An elderly priest was murdered in a Normandy church last year by two jihadis who gave “an Arabic sermon from the altar” before beheading Father Jacques Hamel.
A ‘hit list’ found on one of the attackers showed Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray was one of a number of Catholic churches that Islamists had singled out for attacks.