WMD absence 'makes public doubt terror threat'

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The Independent Online

The failure to uncover weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has undermined government attempts to convince the public of the terrorist threat to Britain, Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, said yesterday.

The failure to uncover weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has undermined government attempts to convince the public of the terrorist threat to Britain, Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, said yesterday.

As he raised the prospect of judge-only trials of terrorism suspects, he told MPs that deadly attacks had been thwarted and anyone who believed this country was immune from al-Qa'ida was living in a "dream world". But he conceded: "Events around the weapons of mass destruction issue in Iraq have led to a scepticism about the quality of intelligence on important matters.

"I don't think that is fair. But there's no doubt that the great range of issues around that have given rise to scepticism and doubt, in its genuine sense, not necessarily disbelief, about what we can and cannot believe about security assessments."

Mr Clarke signalled that the Government was preparing to counter public complacency by highlighting the terrorist organisations plotting outrages in this country. "Those who say there is no threat are living in a dream world in which there's no reality," he told the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee.

The Home Secretary defended his controversial plans to bring in "control orders", which could see British terrorist suspects put under house arrest without a trial. He said it was "very unlikely" that more than 100 people would be detained at home under his plans.

But he hinted at flexibility over his refusal to permit surveillance material in terrorism prosecutions, a decision that has put him at odds with senior police officers and much of the legal profession.

Mr Clarke, who said he was considering fresh anti-terror legislation, even signalled support for trials of suspects being conducted by security-cleared judges, rather than being considered by juries. He said he was not "an absolute fan" of the adversarial system of justice, but he conceded that such a change to the legal system would be "immense and would require a massive, massive shift".

Charles Kennedy yesterday accused ministers of exploiting the "climate of fear" which followed the attacks of 11 September 2001 to introduce a raft of "authoritarian" measures.

Launching a manifesto to protect civil liberties, the Liberal Democrat leader said the Government was becoming "more presidential, less transparent and less accountable to Parliament and to the people". He said the Government had rushed in a raft of "bad laws" and called for more safeguards to protect personal freedom. As well as the house arrest plan, Mr Kennedy singled out plans for a national identity card. He said: "These authoritarian measures demonstrate that the balance this government is seeking to achieve has tipped too far."

Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said Labour and the Tories were deliberately ignoring "the language of tolerance".

More than 1,000 criminal offences have been created - one every three days - since Labour formed a government in 1997.