‘On the scene and dealing’ – an exploratory study into the cognitive processing of the London Bridge 2017 terror attack on police first responders

Exploring the impact on first responders of the 2017 London Bridge terror attack.

Key details

Lead institution
Principal researcher(s)
Nichola Rew
Police region
South East
Level of research
Project start date
Date due for completion

Research context

Within policing, 2017 will be remembered as a year of intense terror activity within the UK. In response to the attacks, policing resources had been stretched nationally and an increase of officers having to attend the scene of a terrorist attack was evidenced. The threat to the UK from international terrorism continues to remain high and the prospect of police officers having to attend the scene of a terrorist attack remains a strong possibility. Research exploring the after effects of such an event on a police officer, is therefore invaluable, and can assist the development of policing in a number of ways.

The aim of this planned research is to gain a greater understanding of the first responders to the 2017 London Bridge Terror attack, including police, police staff and volunteers from the City of London Police (CoLP).

Specifically, the research aims to better understand:

  1. how the first responders sought support post event
  2. how the first responders processed the incident throughout the post-event enquiry
  3. the impact the attack has had on their professional roles since

The research will explore attitudes towards current support mechanisms both formal through the employer and informal, and whether these are sufficient for those witnessing terror incidents first hand. Views will be attained with regard to the value of formal support programmes now used within the policing environment, (that is, TRiM) and whether these were seen as adequate and whether any barriers currently exist with regard to seeking support.

An exploration as to how the incident has impacted on an individual’s day-to-day work as a police officer, member of police staff or volunteer post event and whether they had felt they were able to deal with their part in the post incident enquiry effectively will also be made.

A study will be conducted to assess whether officers and staff felt they were adequately supported in the post-event enquiry, from providing witness statements to attending debriefs and inquests. This will move away from the majority of current academic literature which explores the psychological consequences of attending a critical incident such as the onset of PTSD, but will extend to show the effect an incident has on an individual’s actual role as a police officer.

It is anticipated that this research will propose how effective and improved support can be designed and implemented in the future for police first responders who have attended a terrorist attack and will be of benefit to both forces within the UK and overseas who may find themselves policing a terrorist attack in the future.

Research methodology

A mixed methods approach has been adopted, with an online survey, initially distributed to first responders from the City of London Police who had attended the scene of the London Bridge attacks or supported the operation remotely from the force Control Room and Casualty Bureau.

The survey was distributed by appointed gatekeepers, the first identified within the CoLP and secondly through the Operations Manager within the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANYS), who helped deploy volunteers to staff the Casualty Bureau after the attack.

Semi structured interviews are then executed with individuals from both groups, who have voluntarily requested to participate in the study further, in order to obtain a greater understanding of the direct experiences of officers, staff and volunteers.

Interim reports or publications

N Rew; "Supporting the survivors: Experiences and perceptions of peer support offered to UK terrorist survivors"; International Review of Victimology 2021; Vol 27 (1) 63-79

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