Hogmanay celebrations in Edinburgh “tick all the boxes” for a terror attack, a security advisor to Police Scotland has warned.
High-profile events offering potential mass casualties fit the remit of Manchester Arena or London Bridge-style lone wolf or organised group assaults.
Counter-terrorism security adviser Neil Philip said there was no specific threat but stressed the nationwide alert remained severe, meaning a UK attack is highly likely.
“George Street is already crammed with people,” said Mr Philip.
“Hogmanay with 80,000 people on Princes Street with the castle as a backdrop ticks all these boxes.”
The Edinburgh police adviser warned shopkeepers, hotel staff and taxi drivers at Usher Hall to be on their guard over Christmas and New Year during a routine security briefing.
“It takes a lot of planning,” said Mr Philip of large-scale attacks. “If there’s a lot of people involved in the planning process, there’s a chance some of the information leaks out and the security services can disrupt and stop the attack.”
Evacuation drills and emergency procedures need to be practised, otherwise they were “just ink on paper”, he added.
Mr Phillip warned that attackers might appear “perfectly normal” and advised business owners and staff to trust their instincts on anything abnormal or suspicious.
“We would rather know about any suspicious activity and investigate it than not know about it at all,” said Mr Philip. “It might be part of a pattern of behaviour.”
But he also sought to reassure the audience.
“There is no known threat to Edinburgh as it stands – if there was, we would tell you,” he said.
In October, security services staged a three-day drill at the Royal Bank of Scotland HQ at Gogar which simulated an attack being underway in the capital.
Armed police, tactical units, medics and other first responders simulated how they would respond in a live situation.
Councillor Donald Wilson, culture and communities convener at the City of Edinburgh Council, said: “Hogmanay is one of the busiest nights of the year in Edinburgh. Appropriate measures have, of course, been put in place this winter, as they are every year, to ensure the security of our popular winter festival destinations.”
A spokesperson for Underbelly, organisers of Edinburgh’s Christmas and Hogmanay, said: “The safety and security of staff and visitors to Edinburgh’s Christmas and Hogmanay is our number one priority.”