A car crashed into the gates of Downing Street in central London, home to the British prime minister’s home and office, on Thursday, prompting a swift, intense security response in one of London’s most fortified areas. No one was injured and police said the incident is not being treated as terrorism-related.
Police arrested a man on suspicion of criminal damage and dangerous driving and local officers, rather than counter-terrorism detectives, were leading the investigation.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was in his office at the time of the crash, which brought back memories of the attacks on London’s government quarters.
It was not immediately clear whether the crash was intentional. A video posted on social media shows the silver hatchback driving at low speed straight for the gates through Whitehall, the main thoroughfare in London’s government district.
“I heard an explosion, looked up and saw a lot of police shouting at the man,” said witness Simon Parry, 44. “A lot of police cars came very quickly and evacuated the area very quickly.”
The BBC showed a photo of officers taking away a man with his hands in handcuffs behind his back.
Soon after, the footage shows the car with the boot open towards tall metal gates. Several police officers searched the car thoroughly, removing items from the trunk and inside the car and placing them in evidence bags.
About two hours after the accident, a tow truck towed the car away.
Officers cordoned off a large area of London’s government district but removed the barriers two hours after the clash, allowing people to return to Whitehall. The street is usually filled with government officials and tourists who want to see the nearby Parliament Buildings and other historic buildings.
“A small cordon remains outside Downing Street after a car crashed into the gates early this morning,” the Metropolitan Police said in a statement. “The incident is being dealt with by local officers in Westminster and is not currently being treated as terrorism-related.”
Downing Street is a narrow street with a row of Georgian houses that includes the Prime Minister’s official residence at number 10.
Public access to the street is restricted and heavy steel gates are guarded at all times by armed police. Money and metal crowd barriers also help keep out threats.
The gates were installed in 1989 in response to threats from Irish Republican Army militants. In 1991, the IRA fired three mortars into the street, one of which exploded in the backyard of No. 10 while Prime Minister John Major was holding a cabinet meeting inside. Three police officers and one civil servant received minor injuries.
The area was targeted in 2017 when an extremist inspired by the Islamic State group killed four people in a car on Westminster Bridge before stabbing a police officer to death outside Parliament.
Around the world, seats of power are often magnets for protest and sometimes violent attack.
The incident came three days after a man drove a rental truck into a security barrier near the White House in Washington, got out and started waving a Nazi flag. Sai Varshit Kandula, 19, was charged with damaging US property.