A car collided Thursday with the gates of Downing Street in central London, where the British prime minister’s home and offices are located, setting off a rapid, intense security response at one of London’s most-fortified sites. No one was injured and police said they were not treating the incident as terror-related.
Police arrested a man on suspicion of criminal damage and dangerous driving, and local officers, rather than counterterrorism detectives, were handling the investigation.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was in his office at the time of the crash, which revived memories of attacks on London‘s government district.
It was not immediately clear whether the crash was deliberate. Video footage posted on social media showed a silver hatchback car heading straight for the gates at low speed across Whitehall, the main thoroughfare in London’s government district.
“I heard a bang and looked up and saw loads of police with taser guns shouting at the man,” said witness Simon Parry, 44. “A lot of police vehicles came very quickly and were very quick to evacuate the area.”
The BBC showed a photo of officers leading away a man with handcuffed hands behind his back.
Footage shot soon after showed a car with its trunk open up against the tall metal gates. Several police officers minutely inspected the vehicle, removing items from the trunk and inside the car and placing them in evidence bags.
About two hours after the crash, a car transporter arrived to take the vehicle away.
Officers cordoned off a wide area of London’s government district, but lifted the barriers less than two hours after the collision took place, allowing people back into Whitehall. The street normally teems with civil servants and tourists keen to see the nearby Houses of Parliament and other historic buildings.
“A small cordon remains in place outside Downing Street after a car collided with the gates earlier this afternoon,” the Metropolitan Police said in a statement. “The incident is being dealt with by local officers in Westminster and isn’t currently being treated as terror-related.”
Downing Street is a narrow street with a row of Georgian houses that includes the prime minister’s official residence at No. 10.
Public access to the street is restricted and the heavy steel gates are protected at all times by armed police officers. Bollards and metal crowd barriers also help keep threats at bay.
The gates were erected in 1989 in response to threats from Irish Republican Army militants. In 1991 the IRA fired three mortars at the street, one of which exploded in the backyard of No. 10 while Prime Minister John Major was leading a Cabinet meeting inside. Three police officers and a civil servant suffered minor injuries.
The area was targeted in 2017, when an extremist inspired by the Islamic State group killed four people with a vehicle on Westminster Bridge before stabbing a police officer to death outside Parliament.
Seats of power around the world are often magnets for protest, and sometimes violent attack.
The incident came three days after a man crashed a rented truck into a security barrier outside the White House in Washington, got out and began waving around a Nazi flag. Sai Varshith Kandula, 19, has been charged with damaging U.S. property.