The government’s anti-terrorism ardour was endorsed again last week, as Section 76 of the new Counter Terrorism Act came into force on the 15th February. Section 76 in itself, seems to highlight the laudable extremes the government are willing to go to to ensure our safety. Although I understand that the government need something to show for the £3 Billion a year they invest in counter-terrorism, a part of me can’t help but wonder how much time and effort is spent on preventing terrorism, and what they are compromising as a result.
Although homicide has dropped in the UK since 2005, it is still very high compared to previous decades. In 2007 alone an average of over two homicides took place every day in Britain, leading to nearly one thousand deaths. In 2008, a total of 945 people were suspected of homicide. Firearms were used in 17,343 reported crimes, of which 42% were handguns and 172,989 violent offences were reported in London alone. For once I’m not going to slam the British judicial system’s lenient and ultimately devolutionary policies when it comes to crime. However, what does concern me is that in 2007 the government spent about £5.6 Billion on fighting crime and around £2 Billion on counter-terrorism, yet only one person was killed in a terrorist attack in the UK, Kafeel Ahmed, who, ironically, was one of the terrorists involved in the Glasgow International Airport Attack. In fact, since the beginning of the millennium, a grand total of 57 people have been killed as the result of terrorist attacks in the UK, compared to thousands of murders on the British streets by ‘non-terrorists’. So why is it, that when terrorism is so low (considerably lower that it was 10 years ago), the Home Office is investing more and more money in counter-terrorism, so much so that the cost is expected to rise to £3.5 Billion in 2010?
I think that most British citizens are under the impression from watching the news and reading the papers that they are under constant threat from terrorism, just from reading about the lengths the British government go to, and the amount of money they spend! And although a total of 57 deaths in nine years might justify a conservative estimate of around £10 Billion, let’s not forget the July 7th bombings which killed 56 of those 57 people.
The government would of course argue that the reason only 57 people have died as a result of terrorist attacks, is as a result of the massive investments they have made in counter-terrorism. This is something I would dearly like to believe and if it were true, would put my mind at rest when I consider what my taxes are being spent on. Unfortunately, though, a mere look at failed terrorist attacks over the past nine years proves it’s not the case.
On the 1st of June 2000, the Real IRA planted two bombs on Hammersmith Bridge set to detonate in the early hours of the morning. Funding in counter-terrorism was miniscule back then compared to the behemoth amounts thrown at it today, and the police had no knowledge of what was going to happen at all. A man named Maurice Childs found one of the bombs and hastily threw it over the bridge, it exploded, creating a 60ft column of water. The other bomb blew up a short while later, without achieving the desired effect nevertheless. Mr Childs, a hairdresser, was awarded an MBE for his courage.
On July 21st, 14 days after the 7/7 bombings, another attempt was made on London’s public transport system. At a time when you’d expect authorities to be at their most vigilant, the only thing which stopped the terrorists from blowing up trains at Shepherd’s Bush, Oval and Warren Street tube stations, and a bus on Hackney road, was shabby bomb making, not good police work. The police, having been caught off guard twice in two weeks and publicly humiliated, quickly stepped into action the following day, they accumulated their ‘intelligence’ and proceed in killing an innocent man: Jean Charles de Menezes.
On the 29th June 2007 two car bombs were discovered and deactivated in Haymarket and Cockspur Street. A year in which around £2 Billion was spent on counter-terrorism, the police had no intelligence whatsoever prior to the bombs being found. The first bomb, in Haymarket, was discovered by an ambulance crew attending a minor incident at a nightclub near where the car was parked, and the second one was transported to a pound at Park Lane for illegal parking! The staff at the pound noticed a strong smell of petrol coming from the car, and reported it to the police having heard about the first car bomb.
There have been two planned terrorists attacks publicly thwarted by the authorities, both in February 2007. The 2007 Plot to Behead a Muslim Soldier which entailed a six month investigation under codename: Operation Gamble and lead to five men being sentenced. And later that month, Police reportedly thwarted a plot to kill Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, after intercepting $330,000 from a courier at an Airport. It is suspected the money was going to be distributed around the UK based Saudi dissidents. It’s worth mentioning however, that nobody was arrested, including the courier, according to the Israel News “Detectives said there was insufficient evidence to bring charges against the cash smuggler.”
So, my question to Mrs Smith is simple: What are the billions of pounds allocated to counter-terrorism being spent on? When the police have yet to publicly foil a terrorist bombing in the UK, and a mere two innocent lives have been saved by the police (assuming the $330,000 was going to be spent on the murder of Abdullah of Saudi Arabia), and one taken away, how can the government justify such a huge ‘investment’?
Surely the real terror can be found in underpasses and subways, at train stations after dark, not from religious extremists, but hoodies with knives looking for a buck for their next fix. Real terror can be found on your high street, on your doorstep even. Isn’t this the terror we should be focusing on?
And surely, before spending billions upon billions of pounds on intelligence, equipment and training in counter-terrorism, shouldn’t we first train our government officials to stop leaving private data on trains?