National Churchwatch is an independent organisation that provides advice on crime and security for places of worship. It offers specialised advice on a variety of issues, including personal safety and building security. It began in April 2000 after several church-watch schemes sprang up around the country and it was recognised that there was a need for some coordination and a forum for the exchange of ideas. It is coordinated by former police officer Nick Tolson, who has advised the Home Office on counter-terrorism measures since 2012.
On 30 August, National Churchwatch published a guidance note on Counter Terrorism Advice for Churches, the content of which is summarized below. It should be stressed that this is not advice from the Home Office itself; official government advice was issued in 2017, see below.
The National Churchwatch document suggests a series of practical measures:
- Every church should install good quality CCTV to cover both inside and outside the entrance.
- There should be one entrance through which people can enter and leave the building before, during and after services and when the building is open for visitors.
- The entrance door should be capable of being slammed shut should someone approach with obvious criminal intent.
- Every church should have a system which enables a church worker to call for assistance should someone come in and cause a disturbance (or worse).
- Everyone who attends the church regularly, whether to work or to worship, should be briefed on security awareness and what to do if they see something suspicious.
- There should be a robust system of reporting suspicious activity and suspicious items.
- Someone should be nominated to be responsible for security.
- People should be briefed to call 999 if they feel that there is an immediate risk to the church or to the people using it.
- People acting suspiciously should be challenged: this “does not have to be done in an aggressive way, it can be a genuine approach to see if they need any assistance.”
- Always have someone at the door welcoming people into the building during services who can close the front door in an emergency: the job of the doorkeeper is to delay any offenders (including those who are not terrorists) so that the police can arrive and deal with them.
The note also gives detailed advice on keeping safe during a terrorist or other violent incident.
The release of the advice provoked some rather sensationalist headlines in the media. “Vicars told churches should have ‘bouncers’ due to terror fears” reported the Telegraph. “British churches should have ‘BOUNCERS’ on doors to prevent terror attack, says expert” was the headline in the Daily Express. The Dail Mirror’s report was rather more general, if even more scary: “Experts fear ISIS terrorist knifemen will target Western church for their next attack”.
The potential for disorderly conduct in places of worship – not to say downright violence – is enormous; on the other hand, church services are normally public occasions rather than private ones, and safeguards may run the risk of becoming unwelcoming to the casual visitor. There is also an obvious issue of the age-profile of many congregations: how does a seventy-year-old doorkeeper-cum-welcomer cope with a rowdy twenty-year-old bent on causing havoc? Nevertheless, it’s all extremely sensible advice – and ‘bouncers’ are nowhere mentioned.
(1) Advice on security in churches &c is now contained in Counter Terrorism Protective Security Advice for Places of Worship, (2017), produced by the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO), on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Terrorism and Allied Matters (ACPO TAM) – update added 13th November 2018.
(2) Advice to help prevent and minimise the impact of attacks or hate crime from a number of publicly accessible resources is available on the ChurchCare web pages, Safety and security in church buildings – update added 15th March 2019.