Wednesday saw a "security incident" in the Parliament, at about 6pm, where a protestor threw some "white powder" onto the floor of the Central Lobby of the Palace of Westminster.
Apparently, according to some Sky News interviewees:
"A bald man about 40 years of age"
"Complaining about something that happened in court today"
"The whole world is corrupt "
"The High Court system is dreadful"
At which point the visiting British public gave him a short round of applause, and he then "opened up a package" and threw some white powder.
Sky News are reporting that the protestor claimed that this "white powder" was "anthrax", which means that he is now likely to be facing up to 7 years in prison and / or a fine under Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 section 114: Hoaxes involving noxious substances or things.
However, it is also possible that someone else simply jumped to that conclusion, given the current hype and "Climate of Fear" following last week's chemical / biological / radiological hysteria in Forest Gate, East London.
Unlike the incident 2 years ago ( see "Security procedures not followed by the Speaker of the House of Commons") which hit Tony Blair and the Governmet Front Bench with some "purple powder" (dyed flour) in the Chamber of the House of Commons, at least the security authorities acted properly this time, and closed all the main internal and external doors in the building, until the substance was checked.
Importantly, the people speaking in the Commons Chamber and the Lords, continued as normal.
If it had been a biological weapon, then letting the infection be spread by hysterical or publicity seeking politicans or journalists or the public is the wrong thing to do. Even so, given the Victorian ventilation system of the building, shutting the doors alone would only reduce, but not entirely stop, the spread of any infectious substance.
The Police in protective clothing and gas masks arrived quickly and the substance was pronounced as "wheat flour", and the incident was over in under an hour.
Whether this conclusion was from rapid biological or chemical analysis or, more liklely just from questionaing the arrested protestor, is unclear.
It is unclear how anyone could really be sure that there were no biological agents mixed with the "wheat flour".
What happens if a protestor or a terrorist uses neither a harmless substance, nor an immediately deadly one in their publicity stunt / protest / terrorist hoax/attack, but something like "white asbestos", or insecticide or even low level radioactive waste i.e. a "dirty" bomb or device ? Do the authorities shut down and deny service or access to the busy public building target for several weeks or months whilst de-contamination proceeds ?
Will this latest security incident result in even longer delays for the public, as they are searched more thoroughly, or more intrusively, as they enter the Palace of Westminster ?
As an aside, if the Police who stormed the house in Forest Gate, east London, last week, which they were led to believe was some sort of bomb / chemical / biological / radiological weapons "factory", were also wearing similar protective suits and, presumably gas masks. How could they possibly have shouted a clear warning before shooting one of the terrorist suspects ?