Ring of steel (London)
The ring of steel is the popular name for the security and surveillance cordon consisting of a few hundred CCTV cameras surrounding the City of London, installed in the 1990s to deter the Provisional IRA and other threats. The term was borrowed from an earlier stage of the Troubles when the centre of Belfast was fortified against attacks; this fortified perimeter was known as the "ring of steel".
Number of cameras
The number of surveillance cameras that are part of the ring of steel is often wrongly quoted as half a million. The figure of 500,000 comes from a study by Michael McCahill and Clive Norris of UrbanEye published in 2002. Based on a small sample in Putney High Street, McCahill and Norris extrapolate the number of surveillance cameras in London to be 500,000 and in the United Kingdom to be 4.2 million. It has been acknowledged for several years that the methodology behind this figure is flawed, but it has been widely quoted. Furthermore, this figure relates to Greater London, which has an area of 1,572 square km compared with the 3 square km of the City of London that the ring of steel covers. For comparison, more reliable estimates put the total number of private and local government surveillance cameras in the whole of the United Kingdom at around 1.85 million in 2011.
Following the September 11 attacks in the United States in 2001, and a reported increased terrorist threat to the United Kingdom, security was stepped up with occasional spot checks on vehicles entering the cordon, although not to previous levels. In December 2003, the ring of steel was widened to include more businesses in the City. This was as a direct result of a police report that categorised a terrorist attack on the City as "inevitable". Traffic entering the City is also monitored and recorded at the boundary of the London congestion charging zone, which covers a wider area.
History and purpose
The measures were introduced by Owen Kelly, then the City of London Police commissioner, following the IRA bombing campaign in London in the 1980s and early 1990s including attacks within the City such as the 1992 Baltic Exchange and 1993 Bishopsgate attacks.
Roads entering the City were narrowed and small chicanes were created to force drivers to slow down and be recorded by CCTV cameras. These roads typically had a concrete median with a sentry box where police could stand guard and monitor traffic. City planners call these types of precautions "fortress urbanism". Some roads were closed to traffic entirely. Despite the term "ring of steel", the roadblocks and chicanes were actually created with concrete blocks, sometimes plastic coated, that were wedged together.
Initially the sentry posts were staffed by armed police almost continuously. The ring of steel consisted of plastic cones and on-duty police officers which the locals described as the "ring of plastic". It served the purpose of providing a visible sign to the public that the City authorities were taking the threats of more attacks by the IRA seriously. This was replaced by more permanent structures consisting of concrete barriers, checkpoints and thousands of video cameras. Following IRA ceasefires the police presence was curtailed.
Attacks outside the ring
In 1996, the IRA attacked another area of central London by exploding a bomb at the Docklands, resulting in two deaths, 39 other casualties and £85 million worth of damage. The attack showed that while the ring of steel was able to hinder attacks inside the City itself, terrorists could instead target other high-value areas such as the Docklands or Westminster.
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- Lipton, Eric (2005-07-24). To Fight Terror, New York Tries London's 'Ring of Steel', New York Times, 24 July 2005