Met chief calls for European body to combat terrorism

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Britain's most senior police officer called for the creation of an anti-terrorist body in Europe yesterday to combat the growing threat of attack.

Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, admitted that Europe had been slow to react to the threat of terrorism and said it was essential for intelligence to be shared between countries.

His comments came only days after he warned that an attack in the UK was "inevitable" after the suspected al-Qa'ida train bombings in Madrid that killed more than 200 people.

And, his was speaking only 24 hours after a security scare when two Greenpeace activists scaled Big Ben to protest against the Iraqi conflict.

Sir John said he believed it was essential to create a structure for processing information, as a potential terrorist counterpart to Europol, the Hague-based centre that handles criminal intelligence.

"When we deal with organised crime, we have the Europol structure," he told the BBC's Breakfast With Frost. "In relation to terrorism there needs to be a similar structure.

"There needs to be a structure which is useful, which analyses on a pan-European way some of the information we get, and the forensics."

Sir John said lessons should be learnt from the bombings in Madrid to help prevent further terrorist atrocities in Europe.

"There is a large amount of work going on obviously in Madrid, we have officers there," he said. "It is the nature of these inquiries that it takes a long time to bottom out all the evidence that is there."

The head of Britain's leading emergency planning group yesterday said this country would not cope with attacks on the scale of the Madrid bombings. Patrick Cunningham, chairman of the Emergency Planning Society, told the Independent on Sunday that authority planners would be little more than a "token gesture of support" in the aftermath of a major disaster.

Amid rising security fears, justice and home affairs ministers in the European Union agreed last Friday to appoint a new anti-terror supremo to lead the war against terrorism.

The proposal, to be formally approved by EU leaders this week, aims to improve Europe's effort to tighten security.

The first step for Britain will be an investigation into its Parliamentary security after activists scaled the Big Ben clock tower. Peter Hain, the leader of the House of Commons, demanded an urgent report into how the protesters breached security.

"It is a huge embarrassment, both to the House authorities and the policing arrangements," he told the BBC. "Twenty or 30 years ago an audacious protest like that by Greenpeace would have been seen for exactly that. But what if these had been suicide bombers?"

The incident also highlighted concerns about Parliamentary security. "I have been very concerned since I took over the job eight months ago about security in the Commons and have met the director general of MI5 on a number of occasions, as has the Speaker.

Harry Westaway, 28, and his brother Simon, 23, both from Lewes, East Sussex, were arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage and have been released on bail.

Mr Westaway said that he was motivated by his opposition to the Iraqi conflict. "People say the police are embarrassed but they shouldn?t be," he said. "They knew we were Greenpeace and were very sensible. Personally I just hope people recognised that we wanted to make a statement about the war and not about security."