A senior Essex Police officer has praised the two “astoundingly brave” plain-clothes constables who tackled armed terrorist Ali Harbi Ali, saying: “There’s a thin line between bravery and foolishness.”
Chief Superintendent Simon Anslow, area commander for Southend, also said he was immediately “struck by how flimsy our equipment looked” when officers Scott James and Ryan Curtis came face to face with the homegrown jihadi armed with only incapacitant spray and a baton.
Ali was convicted of murdering veteran MP Sir David Amess at a constituency surgery on October 15 2021, after a trial at the Old Bailey during which jurors were shown extraordinary footage of the police confrontation with Ali, captured on body-worn cameras.
Mr Anslow told the PA news agency: “I think there’s a thin line between bravery and foolishness sometimes and it’s difficult for people to assess.
“What we’ve got is two astoundingly brave individuals who, under those circumstances on that day with what they had, decided that they wanted to go in, put their life on the line, to try and save a life.”
Pcs James and Curtis were in the area searching for a wanted person when they responded to the 999 call about the stabbing at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea.
They then took on and arrested Ali, who was waving a 12in (30.5cm) knife, despite their own limited equipment and with armed colleagues being at least two minutes away.
Sir David died at the scene, having been stabbed more than 20 times by Islamic State fanatic Ali, who tricked his way into an appointment with the parliamentary veteran and father-of-five.
Mr Anslow, who was on shift when the 999 call came in, said it was initially believed Sir David had simply intervened in an incident at the church, before the “hugely shocking” realisation that the Southend West MP had been fatally stabbed.
He said people “don’t join the police to stand by and do nothing when people are doing bad things”, but added that he was still taken aback by the officers’ bravery.
“What I thought was ‘Wow, how brave’,” he said.
“And I was struck by how flimsy our equipment looked in going into that situation.
“For me, the (police) baton has never looked less imposing than at that moment.
“They’ve basically gone in armed with a stick – something that appears smaller than a deodorant can – to deal with a man that has just committed an absolutely heinous act, still armed with that knife.
“I think it’s an astounding act of bravery.”
Mr Anslow said there was a “balance” to be struck between being sufficiently armed and presenting as “approachable and engaging” to the public.
He said the two officers’ desire to avoid the limelight over the incident underlined their “humility”, describing them as a “credit” to the force.
“They were just doing their job, in their mind,” he said.
“The rest of us can think that’s just outstanding.”
Asked whether the pair should receive bravery awards, he replied: “Any recognition that anyone chooses to give will be well deserved.”