AN EMERGENCY debate into the Reading Terrorist Attack saw Reading East MP Matt Rodda praise the work of the emergency services while sharing his sorrow at the tragic events.
The debate opened with an update from Home Secretary Priti Patel, where she recounted her visit to Reading earlier in the day where she met the officers who caught the suspect.
“These officers are heroes. They showed courage, bravery and selflessness way beyond their years,” she said. “They are the very best of us.”
Labour MP Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) said: “The incident was one of senseless violence, and, as always, we are indebted to our outstanding police officers and other emergency services personnel for their swift response.”
Wokingham MP Sir John Redwood said: “I invite the House to join me in sending our deepest sympathy to the friends and family of James Furlong, and to the staff and pupils at The Holt School, Wokingham, where he taught.
“He was by all accounts an inspirational teacher who always went the extra distance for his pupils. He was a very kind man and he will be sorely missed.
“The community is very shaken today by the news.
“Will the Home Secretary intensify the efforts of the intelligence services, the police, the border forces and the others?
“We have had too many mass murders in recent years. We want some reassurance that we can get on top of this and save the lives of others for the future.”
Responding, Ms Patel said that the work was being intensified.
SNP MP Kenny MacAskill (East Lothian) added his party’s sorrow for “the lives that have tragically been lost” and called for a calm response.
“What we can be clear about is that terrorist acts are not perpetrated by communities, but are carried out by individuals. They do not represent any faith, constituency or cause other than their own misguided, malevolent and wicked views, and we need to take that into account.”
A visibly shaken Matt Rodda began his speech by saying “it has been a very difficult few days”.
The Reading East MP said: “I wish to thank the Home Secretary for meeting me today. I very much thought that the tone of our discussion was helpful and positive. I look forward to working with her and I appreciate her offer of support for Reading.
“Like many other people, I was shocked and deeply upset by the dreadful attack in Forbury Gardens. I offer my deepest condolences to the families of the three people who died—my thoughts are with them. It is impossible to imagine what they are going through at this time, and I am sure all our hearts go out to them.
“I am also thinking about the injured and their loved ones, and all those who have been affected by this dreadful attack, which, I should emphasise to people, took place in a park when people were trying to enjoy a peaceful weekend.
“Most of all, I would like to thank the emergency services and the police for their swift and immediate response, and indeed for the incredible bravery shown by the officers who, as was said earlier, rugby-tackled an armed offender and took that person to the ground.
“Reading is a friendly and peaceful town with a diverse and tolerant community. This kind of incident is completely unknown to us. It is something that has never occurred before in our community and as such is deeply upsetting. That community solidarity was demonstrated again today, when a wide range of different faith and community groups came together to lay flowers at the scene of the dreadful incident.
“Local people also observed a minute’s silence.
“I am very proud of the way in which our community is pulling together at this difficult time and the way in which local people have been supporting one another.
“We can and we will come through this difficult time.”
Responding, Ms Patel confirmed Mr Rodda’s comments, saying that the way in which the community had come together was “absolutely outstanding”.
“Like him, I pay tribute to the friends and family members of those hurt or killed and, as ever, the police officers and emergency services, who responded with such swiftness and bravery. We will continue our discussions about the support that he needs for his constituents at this very difficult time.”
Newbury MP Laura Farris, who was elected last December, sent her deepest sympathy to the affected families, and wanted to know what can be done about ‘lone wolf’ attacks, where the perpetuator acts as a single entity.
“What reassurances can my right hon. Friend give that the counter-terrorism services have sufficiently robust surveillance powers to monitor this most unpredictable of threats?”
Ms Patel said that the services have the resources that they need.
“There is always more work to do, and I am sure there is more that can be done in the future,” she added.
Yvette Cooper, Labour MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, also asked about attacks by lone individuals “which are harder for the police and security services to anticipate”.
She asked: “That emphasises the importance of tackling some of the vile extremism and radicalisation that can lead to attacks, including online, in the community and in prison.
“Can she confirm that each of those will be included in the Government’s new counter-extremism strategy and tell us when she expects to publish that?”
Ms Patel said that there was a great deal of work being done to tackle this issue.
Chris Loder, the Conservative MP for West Dorset, said: “In the face of great adversity, we often witness the very best of public spirit, selflessness and bravery from our fellow citizens—those who sacrifice concern of their own safety in the interest of others—and none more so than the first responders during the terrorist attack in Reading, to whom I pay tribute.”
He added: “A member of our parliamentary family was, by chance, at Forbury Gardens on Saturday and, in the same way that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) did in March 2017, ran courageously towards danger; his only focus was to help the injured. I would like to pay particular tribute to James Antell, a member of my own staff who not only used his own shirt to stem the bleeding of one victim but continued resuscitation on a second victim until the paramedics arrived.
“This was indeed a remarkable and extraordinary effort from a young man who has been with us in Parliament for a little over four months and whom I am extremely proud—I hope the whole House is—to have as part of the West Dorset parliamentary team.”
DUP MP Jim Shannon, who represents Strangford, wanted to offer the party’s sincere condolences.
“We understand your loss and will be praying for you in the days ahead,” he said.
Bracknell MP James Sunderland was the next speaker.
“As a Berkshire MP, I place on record my personal sympathies to all those affected so gravely in neighbouring Reading,” he said.
“In the past 24 hours we have seen media speculation about the immigration status of the alleged perpetrator. Will the Home Secretary please reassure me that it remains her priority to return people who come to the UK and are proven to commit crime?”
In reply, Ms Patel said: “I will not get into any speculation or commentary, but I could not be any clearer about the Government’s position on foreign national offenders. Our policy is as stated: we will do everything in our power to remove those who abuse our hospitality and commit crimes in the UK.”
She also pledged to speed up this process.
Alistair Carmichael, speaking for the Liberal Democrats, added his voice to the house’s condolences.
He said: As the Home Secretary considers the formulation of a new counter-terror and counter-extremism strategy, we need the involvement of people who do not have any skin in the game—who, in the nicest way possible, have not been part of the failure that has taken us to this place. In particular, can that strategy be informed by an honest assessment of what it will do to end the radicalisation of those in prison?”
Ms Patel said: “Deradicalisation is a complicated issue. In terms of not only what happened in Reading over the weekend but more broadly, it is right that we look at the whole approach, understand the failures of the past and what has worked in the past, and ensure that we have a comprehensive approach which builds on constructive insights and learnings.”