Heavily-armed police officers patrolled the Aintree racecourse today
Following last month’s Islamic State-inspired attack in Westminster, Merseyside Police installed a ‘ring of steel’ to protect the 160,000 racegoers heading to the three-day Grand National Festival.
Today – for the first time in the history of the world’s greatest steeplechase – punters arriving at the track were greeted by specialist armed response teams.
British-born terrorist Khalid Masood, 52, drove a 4X4 at more than 70mph along Westminster Bridge, killing three pedestrians before stabbing to death PC Keith Palmer, 48.
Now Aintree has seen its security ramped up after Merseyside Police decided in the wake of the attack to reassure racegoers.
After passing armed patrols outside the track, visitors were treated to multiple security teams looking under cars, metal detectors, body searches and bag checks.
Police installed a 'ring of steel' to protect racegoers in the wake of last month's terror attack Grand National runners 2017 Thu, April 6, 2017
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Motorists also had security teams search under their bonnets, in their boots, footwells and used extendable mirrors to look under their chassis for possible bombs.
What the public will see this year, which is different, is the visible presence of armed officers
Chief Superintendent Claire Richards
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One course worker said: “We are checking under bonnets, under the cars themselves, bags and using metal detectors. It’s important to reassure the public.”
Over the years, armed police have always been available to react to any incident at the race meeting – with undercover armed officers mingling with the grandstand crowds.
Merseyside Police decided the security of Aintree had to be ramped up to reassure visitors
But today for the first time punters saw uniformed officers brandishing weapons in full view, in a dramatic show of force.
The move comes 20 years after the iconic race was postponed by two days after an IRA bomb threat forced the evacuation of the course.
Racecourse chiefs stressed they worked “in tandem” with Merseyside Police and confirmed that “racegoers’ safety is paramount.”
Chief Superintendent Claire Richards said: “We have always had the capacity to deploy armed officers should we require them.
“But what the public will see this year, which is different, is the visible presence of armed officers.
Visitors were treated to multiple security teams, metal detectors, body searchers and bag checks
"You would expect us to have reviewed plans in the light of Westminster, and we have.
“The armed officers will provide reassurance to the public.”
She stressed that they had no intelligence yet to suggest the racecourse is a specific target for terrorists.
But police have pleaded with race fans to cooperate with the security teams and be patient.
Chief Supt Richards added: “The Aintree festival is a great opportunity to show off what Merseyside has to offer. The security checks are there for everyone’s benefit.”