LONDON • Scotland Yard has introduced the latest in anti-terrorism equipment designed to thwart vehicle attacks - a futuristic net bristling with tungsten steel spikes that security forces can quickly lay down like a carpet on a road.
London's Metropolitan Police deployed the spike net for the first time on Sunday to protect a parade by sailors and naval veterans in central London.
The net is named Talon after the claws of birds of prey. The concept of embedding the spikes into webbing may be familiar to anyone who has watched the Spider-Man films. The barbs are designed to puncture and grip a vehicle's tyres, while the plastic netting becomes entangled in the vehicle's front wheels, bringing it to an abrupt stop.
The police said the road-top mats can be deployed by just two officers in less than one minute and can effectively stop vehicles heavier than a London double-decker bus.
They said the barbed mats are "likely to become a familiar sight in future on roads leading to events that attract large crowds in London". "The speed and low manpower required for deployment means that the nets can be relocated very quickly if necessary," a police spokesman said.
The nets are designed as an improvement on traditional spike strips - known as "stingers" - that have been deployed by the military and police for years to end car chases and protect checkpoints by blowing out the tyres.
With Talon nets, a police statement said, "the vehicle skids in a straight line, significantly reducing risk to crowds and producing a well-controlled stop after which officers can engage with the driver".
The nets are designed to protect people from the kind of vehicle attacks that have plagued Europe in recent times. These attacks are easy to commit and need little more than a willingness to kill, the ability to drive and access to a car or lorry.
Vehicle-ramming attacks by terrorists have spread in Europe since an attacker rammed a lorry into a crowd in Nice, France, and killed 85 people during Bastille Day celebrations last year.
Three weeks ago, a 22-year-old man drove a van down the busy Las Ramblas boulevard in Barcelona, Spain, and killed 13 people.
In London, a lone terrorist driving a vehicle struck Westminster Bridge in March, killing four pedestrians and a police officer. In June, members of a terrorist cell rammed their rented van into crowds on London Bridge, before stabbing merrymakers at Borough Market. Eight people were killed. In the same month, a right-wing extremist ploughed his car into a group of Muslim worshippers, striking a sick elderly man, who later died.
Metropolitan Police Chief Inspector Nick Staley said: "This equipment undoubtedly has the potential to save lives and is just one of a number of measures being taken to provide protection to crowds attending major events in London and reassuring businesses, workers and visitors as they go about their daily lives."
Hostile vehicle mitigation barriers - barricades and bollards - have already been erected on nine London bridges and other soft targets.