Residents could be herded into "rest and reception areas"

Sat Sep 06 2003 22:32:11 ET

Plans have been drawn up by the Government for a mass evacuation of London in the event of a terrorist attack, it was reported tonight.

Leaked documents are said to detail how residents could be herded into "rest and reception areas" in the Home Counties in the event of an actual or imminent attack.

The confidential plan, codenamed Operation Sassoon, was presented to the London Resilience Forum at the Cabinet Office in July, according to The Sunday Times.

It lists Canary Wharf, Heathrow, Westminster, Whitehall and the City as possible targets.

The report came as emergency services prepared for a massive counter-terrorism exercise on the London Underground tomorrow.

According to the newspaper, "high-level intelligence" showing an attack was imminent could spark a mass evacuation of large parts of the capital, while there are plans for "mediumlong term rehousing" if an area became uninhabitable from a terrorist strike.

Under the heading "how it will be done", Londoners would be directed to safe areas on foot before being transferred to special camps outside the M25 by rail, Tube, buses and cars.

With a population of more than seven million, a mass evacuation of London would result in panic and gridlock.

A rush-hour power cut lasting less than an hour last month left a quarter of a million people trapped on the Underground and resulted in hours of transport chaos.

Asked about the report, a Home Office spokesman said: "We do not comment on leaked documents. Obviously there are contingency plans in place. People should be alert but not alarmed."