Details were released after news of the discovery, made as a result of information obtained during recent anti-IRA-operations, leaked out. Scotland Yard sources said a surveillance operation conducted by anti-terrorist branch detectives and MI5 was already being scaled down.
Inside the garage in Friern Barnet detectives found a quantity of fertiliser and other equipment used for making large bombs of the type which devastated the City of London in April last year. A car was also found.
The garage was resealed and a surveillance operation mounted to capture any terrorists who might return to the site. Scotland Yard sources denied suggestions that evidence of the specific targeting of Buckingham Palace or Downing Street was found.
Labour's Northern Ireland spokesman, Kevin McNamara, last night claimed that the news was deliberately withheld until yesterday in order to influence the annual debate in the House of Commons on the renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. He said it was 'a cynical manipulation of information'.
'I believe it is incumbent on Scotland Yard and the Home Secretary to state which provision of the Prevention of Terrorism Act it was necessary to use in order to secure this cache. I am saying that the information was deliberately withheld until today.' Scotland Yard sources said the information was witheld for 'legal and operational' reasons and denied that it had been deliberately leaked.
The discovery is the latest in a series of police successes. In the past few months, officers have made seizures of arms, explosives, bomb-making equipment and documentation and have averted several bombing attempts.
Scotland Yard sources said last night that the seizures were due to 'good police work', together with information from the public and mistakes by the terrorists, rather than as a consequence of the involvement of MI5, which is now responsible for co-ordinating intelligence gathering against the IRA.
It is not clear whether the equipment discovered at Friern Barnet is a hangover from last year's attempts at deploying huge fertiliser bombs around London or whether it heralds a fresh wave. Police have warned that the IRA is now planning to mount what are termed 'spectaculars' - such as the mortar-bomb attack on Downing Street and the City of London bomb.
Last summer, police discovered a plot to dump five vans containing fertiliser bombs at strategic points around London; it was abandoned by the IRA when the police surveillance operation went wrong. During the autumn, fertiliser bomb attacks on the Lord Mayor's show, Canary Wharf and Oxford Street were averted. Police established armed road blocks and conducted spot checks to deter the terrorists.Reuse content