Terrorism Threat to London (Supplementary) [7]

Session date: 
June 15, 2005
Question By: 
Valerie Shawcross
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
Sir Ian Blair, Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis


Chair, I think we should congratulate the police on the success that they have had in detection and prevention so far, and I think you mentioned a couple of the cases, and obviously prevention always happens; success is quiet in this context, and failure is very, very, very loud and public. Are you satisfied with both the current legislative context in which you have to work to do this prevention and detection, and what is your view of the Government's proposed control orders?

Supplementary To: 


Answer for Terrorism Threat to London (Supplementary) [7]

Answer for Terrorism Threat to London (Supplementary) [7]

Answered By: 
Sir Ian Blair, Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis

The missing piece of the jigsaw, legislatively, is one that again I think I raised on `Breakfast with Frost', and I think is now coming forward as Government legislation is likely to come forward, which is that the British legal system does not like conspiracy. In the last 30 to 40 years, and I am sure that Bob (Neill) and others would know this, the number of successful conspiracy prosecutions has diminished dramatically. They are described as inchoate offences. They do not like inchoate offences. Yet al-Qaeda and its associates operate in a way which is the exact opposite of the kind of classic Comintern cell, where you have a group of people all carrying out acts which are clearly connected, and the Government's legislation around acts preparatory to terrorism I think is the key. For us to be trying to prosecute people under common law for conspiracy to commit public nuisance is a 21st century counter-terrorism problem being shoehorned into 19th century common law, and it just does not make sense, so I am very clear on that.

In terms of the control orders, as I said on previous occasions in relation to the previous legislation, which involved detention in Belmarsh, the MPS's job is to carry out the law as it stands. The law in relation to control orders was a matter on which I and others were consulted as an alternative means, within the ruling laid down by the Law Lords, of containing people who are a threat to the well-being of the United Kingdom. My own view is that control orders are appropriate and we will continue to use them until we find some other legislative means.

The key issue remains that Belmarsh is a prison with only three walls. It is always possible, it is open to any of these people to leave the United Kingdom, and they leave as free men. The difficulty, of course, is they do not want to leave, to return to the countries from which they came, and that is a very, very exquisite issue for us, so we have to have something, and the control orders are the best available.

Len Duvall AM (Chair, Metropolitan Police Authority): Could I just also come in and say that I think, on Valerie's (Shawcross) question, and I think Bob Neill was indicating it as well, that really by our successes sometimes, it is hard to keep that alertness with the general public, because success is not newsworthy. Intervention by the MPS has disrupted terrorist activities. Our biggest enemy in this campaign is complacency. Whilst we have lived with a threat for some time, you know for a considerable number of years even prior to 9/11, London still will remain a principal target for those who want to give some airing of their views.

I also think it is important to raise ' I think this Assembly have raised it before ' that this is a major contribution of the MPS to the national police service and national security, and whilst we, constantly, in terms of the MPA and the MPS seek to get that funding from central Government for that, it is a piece of work that we should retain here in London, because the capital does gain by that work and holding that coordination role for the UK.

Secondly, I do think, and also this has been expressed again by this Assembly, and I think it is worth airing here, that we are dealing with a minority of people that clearly ' even from certain communities, they are a minority within that community ' want to cause mayhem and havoc. We must be conscious about the media's role in that, of people keeping alert - the communities of London do not want these people to succeed, and we should always remember that. I suppose finally, in terms of a policy direction, not operational, and the trends are there within all of our work in terms of policing, we do have a duty to explain our actions and interventions where we can without compromising operations, and there are some future trials coming ' obviously we do not want to talk about those ' which will explain the threat and the context of the threat that we still face. But I think, principally, on the point that Valerie (Shawcross) raised - success is not news - that I would not wish anybody, whether it is the Mayor, the general public, groupings across London, to think there is no threat, because there is a threat.