London has 100 false alarms each day, claim police

War on terrorism: Police
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The Independent Online

At least 100 anthrax false-alarms are being reported in London every day, police revealed.

A specialist squad of 100 officers equipped with protective clothing and masks has been formed to provide a rapid response to any potential biological terror attacks. But, despite the high number of calls from people reporting suspicious packages and substances in London and throughout the country, no anthrax has yet been discovered. Scotland Yard has also set up a unit to investigate suspected hoaxers who have been sending white powder in the post.

Assistant Commissioner David Veness, head of the Met's specialist operations, told a meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority that there had been at least 100 reports of possible anthrax packages every day since 9 October, when letters containing the deadly spores first started to appear in the United States.

As well as the rapid response squad of officers from the territorial support group, the anti-terrorist branch has set up a 24-hour advice line to help other forces who may be dealing with suspect packages. Mr Veness said: "There have been no incidents of chemical or biological attack within the UK and we have no specific intelligence that such a threat is present, but we must remain alert."

The anti-terrorist branch is expected to receive extra government funding in the near future. The squad is following up 350 terror-related lines of inquiry on behalf of the FBI. Sir John Stevens, the Met Commissioner, told the police authority that the extra workload in dealing with the aftermath of 11 September was placing a huge stress on his officers and staff as well as the force's finances. He said the force was "overstretched", with officers working 12-hour shifts and sleeping in police stations.

The MPA, which oversees the Met's budget, is using £17.5m of its reserves to help meet the unexpected extra costs, which include putting up to 1,500 extra officers on patrol in central London and paying overtime. The authority will have to wait until the Chancellor's pre-Budget statement next month to see if the Government will reimburse all or part of the current extra costs.