22 June 2020

‘Country will want answers’ after string of terror attacks

22 June 2020

The country will want answers after a string of terror attacks took place in the UK within seven months, the shadow home secretary has said.

Labour’s Nick Thomas-Symonds told the House of Commons it was “vital” the Government answers questions after the latest incident in Reading at the weekend – the fourth atrocity since the terror threat level was lowered in November.

His comments came after Home Secretary Priti Patel warned the “threat posed by lone actors is growing”.

Mr Thomas-Symonds said it was “heartbreaking that we are having this conversation again so soon” after attacks at Fishmongers’ Hall near London Bridge in November and in Streatham in February.

Another attack took place at HMP Whitemoor in January.

He told MPs: “This is a live investigation so we have to ensure there is due process and that the police can do their job but the country will want answers about these incidents which have occurred in such quick succession.

“So whilst the priority today must be to ensure that there are no further related threats and that the victims and families are cared for, it is vital that questions are addressed.”

Ms Patel said the Government was carrying out the “biggest overhaul” of terrorist sentencing and monitoring “in decades” with new legislation, adding: “We continue to pursue every option available to tackle the terrorist threat and to take dangerous people off our streets.

“As the Prime Minister reiterated yesterday, the police and security services will continue in their investigations to better understand the circumstances of this tragic incident and if further action is needed we will not hesitate.”

DUP MP Jim Shannon spoke of the need to “see lessons learned within the MI5 system to see improvements made”.

Ms Patel described counter terrorism police and security services as “world-class” and said they had her “unequivocal backing” as they hunt down “hate-fuelled terrorists and extremists”, adding: “Swift justice will be done, victims will be supported and if further action is needed to stop terrorists in their tracks, this Government will not hesitate to act.”

Police forensics officers at work near Forbury Gardens in Reading (PA Wire)

But Mr Thomas-Symonds warned that “legislation alone is not enough”, adding: “We need a comprehensive look at de-radicalisation in our prisons, how people who pose a threat are risk-assessed and how different agencies can work together to safeguard against tragedies in the future.”

Ms Patel faced questions from MPs over when the promised review of the anti-terror Prevent programme would take place.

There were also calls for news on when the Serious Violence task force would next convene and whether this would take place regularly, having not met for a year, and when the security and intelligence committee would be operating again, which has not met for six months.

Referring to the Prevent programme, Ms Patel later said: “We do need to work harder at a community level to avoid any stigmatisation but actually to encourage people to engage and participate, but also understand the type of techniques and tactics that will make a difference.”

Tory MP Tom Hunt – who told the Commons the “legal system has become a roadblock” to protecting the “law-abiding majority” – was among those who pressed Ms Patel about Government policies on deporting foreign criminals and immigration rules.

She said there were “many challenges in the system” and the Government intended to reform it “in any way that we can”.

Since 2017, police and security services have foiled 25 terrorist plots, including eight driven by right-wing ideologies, and have about 650 live counter terrorism investigations concerning around 3,000 subjects of interest at any one time.

In January the Government vowed to raise counter-terrorism policing funding by £90 million year-on-year to £906 million.

It also pledged to do more to tackle radicalisation behind bars.

There are more than 200 terrorists in jail in Britain and most are thought to hold Islamist-extremist views.

Government officials previously insisted there is no evidence of large-scale radicalisation in prisons.

But earlier this year former prison governor Ian Acheson, who led an independent review of Islamist extremism behind bars in 2016, claimed violent extremism was “clearly not under control” in jails and there is an “institutional squeamishness” among officials to tackle the problem.

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