'We are as prepared as we can possibly be' - top cop joins armed police on patrol in Sunderland in aftermath of Manchester terror attack

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The region's top cop joined armed police on patrol in Sunderland today and told Wearsiders the force is as 'prepared as we can possibly be' to deal with any potential terror threat.

As Sunderland and the nation fell silent to remember those killed and injured in Monday's atrocity, Chief Constable Steve Ashman arrived in the city amidst a visibly increased police presence.

Chief Constable Steve Ashman

Chief Constable Steve Ashman

Earlier shoppers and businesses in The Bridges paused what they were doing to mark a minute's silence in tribute to victims and their families.

Armed officers were also present in the city as people went about their daily business.

Chief Constable Ashman said he was in Sunderland to ensure all resources at his disposal were being used, to both reassure the public and act as a deterrent.

Speaking to the Echo in Keel Square, he said: "Now the national threat level has been raised to critical, it is important that Northumbria Police maximises its visibility to reassure its communities and that includes armed officers.

"We've been doing this for some time now - deploying armed officers on regular patrols in areas of high footfall for the public.

"That's just to try and show the public that these are normal police officers - they just happen to carry a gun.

"You can stop them, you can talk to them, ask them why they are in a particular location, what their role is, what they are doing - and they will be happy to explain that.

"A lot of the public in recent days - in my experience at least - say they fell reassured by what we are trying to do. That is the intention.

"What I would say to people is be calm, vigilant, be alert, but please be reassured by the fact that we are doing everything that we possibly can to reassure you, to protect you and that we are as prepared as we can possibly be at this difficult time.

"This is the highest threat level we can be at and I think it's important that we are out there, visibly reassuring the public."

When asked what extra measures would be put in place to police major events, including the Sunderland Airshow, the Chief Constable said: "There are a number of events, including smaller events that are just as important, taking place over this bank holiday weekend.

"We'll sit down with the event organisers and look at what security arrangements they have in place.

"But of course, for something big like the airshow, we will talk to the organisers of that to see what more we can do to keep people safe and secure."

He added: "There has been a significant increase in the number of officers that we have on patrol and we have plans that will kick in at times like these to try and reassure the public.

"They will see a significant increase in the number of uniformed officers on patrol.

"It's not in response to a specific threat to the north east, but we have to reflect the fact that nationally the threat level has gone up to critical, which is the highest level it can be and it hasn't been at that level for 10 years or more.

"Obviously people will be felling vulnerable and apprehensive about what is happening in this city or at a particular event, but we will do everything we can to protect the public."

At Sunderland Royal Hospital, staff and patients also paid their respects.

A City Hospitals spokeswoman said: “Staff and patients across the Trust observed a minute’s silence as a mark of respect for all those affected by the Manchester bombing.

“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of those killed and injured in the attack and also with our colleagues across the Emergency Services who have worked round the clock to help.”