London and Manchester have both been targets of terrorist attacks. Could it happen in Cumbria?
Caroline Neil and Ryan Swindale believe so. And they want us to be as prepared as possible.
She has a background in security, he has served more than 20 years in the Parachute Regiment in some of the worst trouble spots in the world.
Together they are business partners in security company RPS Partnership.
It is naive to think that terrorism will not come to the north. We are a soft target
Based to the west of Carlisle, the couple travel the world offering training advice and solutions to individuals, companies and organisations that face terrorism and security threats.
They specialise in training commercial businesses, non- governmental agencies, charity groups and journalists in how to avoid and deal with what they call challenging or crisis situations – other people would label them nightmare situations.
You might think that the recent attacks on Westminster Bridge, and Borough Market in London and the bomb attack on the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester would have sparked a rush for advice from the business.
Since the recent attacks, the Church of England has contacted the company but Caroline says there has only been a slight increase in interest.
She is concerned that not enough people have basic emergency first aid skills and know how to deal with wounds or can care for people who have traumatic injuries.
“We have been trying to get people to take the terrorist threat seriously in this country for over two years and have struggled.
“Everyone knows that the threat is there, but we have a huge trust that the police will sort everything.
“It is also partly denial, people don’t think it will happen to them.
“People think the police can perform miracles, but their job is not to help if you are bleeding, it is to deal with the terrorists.
“We are trying to get people to learn basic first aid. It could be 20 minutes or more before you receive attention, in which case you could bleed to death.”
“We are passionate about what we do. We set up the company to help people and make them self-reliant.
“We want to train people into ‘what if’ people – what if you are out when the terrorist attacks, could you do something constructive, rather than sit there like a rabbit in the headlights.
“There is nothing to say that they will come to Cumbria but there has been an attack in Manchester, where next?
“It is naive to think that terrorism will not come to the north.
“We are a soft target. If you remember back to the IRA, they went for the soft targets.”
She is petite with a ready smile, he is a bear of a man. Both weigh up questions before offering precise, analysed answers.
It’s a by-product of the job, of their life experiences.
Both have experienced the worst of conflict and aggression and want to protect others from it.
Caroline is the former head of high risk safety and security at the BBC, training reporters such as Kate Adie and Andrew Harding how to act and react when faced with violent or threatening situations.
“It was part security, part first aid, how to how to get through checkpoints safely, how to manage trauma if someone has been in an accident, how to manage conflict and what to do if kidnapped.”
As well as teaching the reporters, she was also responsible for security at BBC bureaux around the world and went out with any programmes filming in high risk areas, such as Iraq.
“It would involve things such as trying to get journalists not to touch things that have not exploded in piles of rubble.”
When her contract with the BBC ended, she worked for Control Risks, one of the biggest names in security and worked in Baghdad and Syria in the early 2,000’s.
She was responsible for organising the evacuation of of Britons from Lebanon in 2006 when fighting erupted between between Israeli and Hezbollah forces in the south of the country.
“I used to go in and out of Syria and drew up contingency plans for there, but Syrians kept saying ‘nothing will happen here’,” she smiles grimly.
She and Ryan set up RPS Partnership in 2010.
Ryan spent 24 years in the Parachute Regiment. Originally from Keswick, the former army cadet youngster joined the regiment straight from school.
“It was through a sense of adventure. I love Cumbria and I have come home now, but I just wanted to get out there and do something I believed in.”
He retired as a senior NCO after seeing action in many troubled areas of the world, including Northern Ireland, Africa,Iraq and Afghanistan.
It was there that he reached the low point of his career.
“A young Cumbrian lad I had recruited and mentored – Charles David Murray – I had to bury in Carlisle.
The 19-year-old, who grew up in Denton Holme, Carlisle, and attended Trinity School then Carlisle College, was serving with the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment when he and two other soldiers were killed when a bomb exploded as their routine foot patrol returned to base in Helmand Province.
The company was originally located in the south of England but relocated to Cumbria in 2011 because Ryan wanted to return home.
Caroline is managing director, he is chief operations officer.
The company has a training centre in Bracknell but Caroline and Ryan and their team of 21 consultants travel the world.
Police at a training exercise
Ryan said: “We are a security risk mitigation and crisis management provider. We train people how to recognise a threat and deal with it.
“It seemed like a natural progression to pursue our skills in the private industry.
“You could be anywhere in the world and being prepared for the ‘what ifs’ is key. ”
Last week, he was taking a group of Metropolitan police officers on a hostile environment awareness training course.
That was after he had travelled across the globe to provide a training and session in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro with journalists from Globo TV – Brazil’s version of the BBC.
RPS Partnership has run a training programme for Brazilian journalists for the past five years, as well as for reporters in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Pakistan.
Getting into dangerous situations is an all too regular part of the job.
She remembers drinking tea in Baghdad and suddenly hearing the whistle of a mortar shell.
“We didn’t have time to take cover, we just had to hope it did not land too close,” she recalls.
“Luckily, it landed 50 yards away in a car park.”
One of her worst experiences was working as a bodyguard for a journalist in Syria and getting into an argument with the Free Syrian Army.
“I checked that my tracking beacon was working and they thought I was signalling for government forces to bring jets in and bomb them.
“It took me a long time to convince them I wasn’t.”
Caroline explained : “A lot of security companies spread themselves quite thinly, offering businesses on the ground close protection and training.
“They try to do everything but we are both trained teachers and decided to go down the training route.
“We do carry out operations on the ground, managing security at mine or oil facilities, or being security managers, but we specialise in training people who then train others.”
She is due to travel to Pakistan, a regular destination, next month and has worked in trouble hot-spots around the world, but the only place where she has experienced trouble is Saudi Arabia.
“It is because I am a woman and single.
“It is difficult to work in Saudi Arabia if you are a woman.”
Ryan says that although some may think Cumbria is far removed from London and other big cities in terms of being a target for terrorists, we should still be more security conscious.
“Yes, we are in a sleepy location, but sometimes it is in these places that we need to be more alert.
“We don’t want to scaremonger but in Cumbria we have seen a massive increase in armed police patrols.
“I was at the Skelton Show where there were armed police officers.
“Some people might think it is too extreme, others say it gives them reassurance.
“It is just an sign of the times. We are going to have armed police in Keswick and at country shows in the Lakes. It gives people something to think about and I think in an area like ours, if people think there is a problem they should report it and let the experts make the call on whether or not it is of concern.”
“It is better to be suspicious, rather than dismissive of something.