Let’s stop playing politics and start really clamping down on terrorism

NOT even the sadness and solemnity of a terrorist attack can escape Britain’s raging culture war.

As soon as we discovered the hero who apprehended Usman Khan was a Polish chef called Lukasz, liberals celebrated: “Bloody EU migrants, coming over here battling our terrorists.”

 Usman Khan waves an al-Qaeda flag while spreading hate in Stoke in 2010

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Usman Khan waves an al-Qaeda flag while spreading hate in Stoke in 2010Credit: BPM Media

Others argued that Britain had had little problem with Islamist violence before the days of mass migration. In the heat of an election campaign, the politics of the tragedy soon became fierce.

Shortly after the attack, Labour’s Rebecca Long-Bailey singled out the Tories for cutting police spending. “We’ve got to invest in counter-terrorism measures,” she insisted, not mentioning that counter-terrorism budgets have increased every year since 2010.

About 24 hours had passed when Yvette Cooper, a “moderate” Labour MP campaigning for Jeremy Corbyn, ignited a row about sentencing policy.

She pointed out that Khan’s sentence had been changed from one that blocked his release from prison until he was no longer a threat to public safety, to one that meant he would be released automatically after eight years.

Showing little understanding of the criminal justice system, she appeared to claim that Khan’s amended sentence was thanks to a change in Government policy, rather than a legal judgment made in 2013 by the Court of Appeal.

Yet as soon as Boris Johnson argued that we should end the automatic release of prisoners, terrorists should receive tougher sentences and some should never be released from prison at all, he was attacked for “politicising” the attack.

Never mind that he had already proposed tougher sentences and an end to automatic release in August, shortly after becoming Prime Minister. The liberal Left was united in calling his response “cynical” and “a ploy” to deflect from criticism.

LIBERAL LEFT

In fact, it is the liberal Left who are busily deflecting from the failure of their favoured policies. Take a look at the editorial in Sunday’s Observer. “Any politician who implies that there is a simple way to eliminate the risk of terrorism should be treated with the contempt they deserve,” it pronounced, shortly after arguing that the attack was, “a tragedy that has grown out of Tory cuts”.

There is actually no evidence that cuts had anything to do with Friday’s attack. Khan’s prison sentence was changed because of a successful court appeal. He was released halfway through his term because that is what the law mandated.

He made it to London — despite the terms of his release under licence — because he had fooled the authorities that he was a changed character.

When he launched his attack, the police responded rapidly and superbly. This is not to say that police, prison and probation policies — and budgets — should not be scrutinised. This latest attack shows the severity of the threat we face, and the limitations of our response.

MI5 has thwarted 25 attacks since 2017. It has more than 20,000 “subjects of interest” on its databases, some of whom, experience teaches us, are likely to turn to violence without much warning.

It has more than 3,000 people on its watch lists, which means it cannot keep eyes on every suspect every hour of the day. It is handling a record number of cases — more than 700 investigations — and the threat is evolving and mutating all the time.

Around 400 British fighters have returned from the war in Syria, a “significant proportion” of whom the authorities have assessed as safe and not prosecuted. Fifty-one convicted terrorists — most of whom served lengthy sentences — have been released from prison in the past year.

And as the PM told us, 74 convicted terrorists have been freed — like Khan — as part of the early release programme. In the fight against terrorism, prisons and probation services are curiously neglected. Ian Acheson, a former prison governor who reviewed Islamist extremism in prisons, probation and youth justice, said this weekend that his recommendations, made in 2016, have been largely ignored.

‘JAW-DROPPING NAIVETY’

Acheson says prisons lack, “the leadership, competence or will to deal with terrorist offenders”, and there is, “jaw-dropping naivety and bureaucratic obfuscation”.

The Acheson review — and its proposals for proper end-to-end management of terrorist offenders, with a clear command chain and officers with proper expertise — needs to be implemented in full.

The probation service, which was subject to a botched reorganisation in 2014, needs to be strengthened, and released terrorists must no longer be treated like ordinary criminals but the ideologically motivated extremists they are.

The PM’s proposed changes should put more terrorists out of action for longer. A modern treason law might also allow us to make treasonous actions an aggravated offence, increasing prison sentences.

With more terrorists coming to the end of their sentences, and more returning from Syria, we should restore some of the preventive powers made possible by control orders, which were weakened gradually by the courts until the coalition government removed them altogether.

We should improve our powers to block dangerous foreign nationals from coming to Britain, and deport those already here.

These changes will require not only a significant improvement in systems and operational capabilities, but quite probably derogations from the European Convention on Human Rights.

And, of course, we need to do much more to tackle the extremism that lies behind the threat. We know Khan was influenced by the hate preacher Anjem Choudary and the terrorist Anwar al-

Awlaki, whose sermons imploring jihad were available for years on YouTube.

We need greater powers to shut up the likes of Choudary and Awlaki. And we need to do far more to stand up to cultural extremism — think about the recent homophobic protests outside

Birmingham schools, not to mention the notorious Trojan Horse plot — if we are to stop young people growing up hating British values.

Sceptics are right to caution against knee-jerk reactions to Friday’s attack. But after nearly two decades of Islamist terror and violence, we should know what needs to be done.

  • Nick Timothy was joint chief of staff to Theresa May. ©Telegraph Media Group.
 The London Bridge terror attack saw Usman Khan stab two people to death

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The London Bridge terror attack saw Usman Khan stab two people to deathCredit: PA:Press Association
Corbyn appears to blame Donald Trump for London Bridge terror attack just hours before President arrives for Nato summit



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