Countering Terrorism - My Role in its Future

Photo of Post graduate Travis Frain

The instant that Travis Frain was thrown into the air by a car in a terrorist attack on Westminster Bridge in March 2017, his long-held plan to be a history teacher was shattered. But studying at Lancaster two years later, he clarified his need to dedicate his life to countering terrorism - and that nothing less would be enough.

Travis was a first year history and politics student at Edge Hill University on a field trip to the Houses Of Parliament when he was mown down by a driver in an 82-second attack that killed five people including PC Keith Palmer, and injured more than 50. He himself sustained serious physical injuries which required months of operations, two years of physiotherapy, and healing of deep psychological scars.

Recalling the aftermath, Travis says: “After the attack I couldn’t put my feelings into words. I’d been thrown in at the deep end having been injured and having to deal with these issues viscerally on a day to day basis. At the lowest level I wanted to understand what had happened to me and why, but also what role I could play in the future.

Now National chair of the UK Counter Terrorism Youth Advisory Group, he has recently started a new job (August 2023) teaching police recruits at Salford University, specialising in counter terrorism. He says: “My goal had always been to be a secondary school History Teacher, but the second the attack had happened, that totally disappeared. After what had happened, it would not be a big enough ambition.”

His path to a Master's at Lancaster, came after he’d completed his undergraduate studies alongside intensive medical treatment for his injuries, and had begun to work in counter terrorism - first giving talks and workshops, mainly in schools, about his experience, and then in a part-time position at Counter Terrorism Policing Headquarters in London. In a sense his traumatic experience had given him unique qualifications - but he soon realised education would let him make the biggest contribution in the fight against terrorism.

For him Lancaster was the perfect combination - proximity to his family in Darwen, a rural campus and a taught MA course in International and Military History that would put his own experience into a historical context going back to the ancient greeks, as well as to study modern day terrorism and conflict.

Talking to his lecturers, in particular Dr Mark Lacey and his dissertation tutor Dr Marco Wyss, was mutually useful. He says “It was really useful for me to see that what I had been through was part of history. I found it very interesting to see my experience contextualised over 2-3,000 years. It was also good to talk to about the attack academically, because often people who know about what you’ve gone through want to mollycoddle you.”

He completed his dissertation on attempts by terrorists to obtain weapons of mass destruction in the 1990s.“It gave me the opportunity to submit practical knowledge to academic rigour, and to put into words some of of what I feel can be of use to people to have been affected by serious crime.” he reflects.

The location and rural nature of the university was a key part of his recovery. On his arrival he had just completed his formal treatment and using his body was a therapy. One day he’d be running after lectures in the lanes near the campus, the next in Morecambe, and always a new outlet for his new passion.

Covid struck six months after his arrival, but since much of the teaching had been completed by that point, his experience was not as affected as some students on other courses. There was also industrial action by teaching staff.

“It is about giving people a chance to talk about their experience.” he explains. “It is the biggest thing I have learned from the attack. A lot of people would recover much faster if only they were given a proper chance to be acknowledged and heard.” He wants to encourage people to share their experiences of terrorism, so that others realise that it could have been them, and will be on the alert for themselves and their families: “Together we can do great things. Often we rely too much on elected officials, but it’s time we took it on ourselves to ‘be’ the change.”

His job lecturing police about terrorism excites him, because he feels that he has been given a real opportunity to make change. “It might seem macabre to be working in counterterrorism, having been affected by an attack,” he says . “But the effects don’t go away because of the passage of time. They stay with us. It’s about taking ownership of it and to embrace what has happened and to make sure that something good comes out of something horrific.”

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