Reid attacks judges who hamper 'life and death' terrorism battle

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John Reid accused some politicians, judges and liberal commentators of hindering the "life and death" fight with al-Qa'ida as he signalled he was ready to push for new anti-terrorism laws. The Home Secretary said terrorists espousing the same ideology as those active in Iraq and Afghanistan represented the greatest threat to Britain since the Second World War.

And he spelt out his frustration that the nation was using legislation dating back half a century to combat a 21st-century breed of "unconstrained" terrorists driven by a perverse morality.

Mr Reid has overhauled the structure of the Home Office and the immigration services, as well as "rebalanced" the criminal justice system in his first three months in the job. He said yesterday that he wanted to turn to the "overarching challenges" facing Britain as he delivered a bleak assessment of the determination of "fascist individuals" to wreak havoc in this country.

He warned they "can network courtesy of new technology and can access modern chemical, biological and other means of mass destruction and they have therefore unconstrained capability". They were part of the "seamless web" that includes the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan. He said: "On this home front, we face the same threat from the same type of terrorists with the same set of values."

Mr Reid said: "We need to understand the depth and magnitude of that threat - all of us, each of us across the whole political, media, judicial and public spectrum."

He criticised some MPs and peers for opposing anti-terror legislation, judges for weighing terrorists' rights over public safety and commentators for giving "more prominence to the views of Islamist terrorists than democratically elected Muslim politicians".

Mr Reid said: "When I see and hear all of these things, then I sometimes feel that so many people who should be foremost in recognising the threat facing us... I can't help feeling they just don't get it. They just don't get it."

The Home Secretary added: "This isn't an abstract discussion - it's a matter of life and death."

He protested that terrorists who could cause "irreparable damage on a hitherto unknown scale" evade prosecution because admissible court evidence cannot be gathered, or avoid deportation because they could be in danger in their home countries.

He was speaking a week after the Court of Appeal said that control orders, which are used to restrain the movements of six terror suspects, violated their human rights. Mr Reid warned: "Sometimes we may have to modify some of our freedoms in the short term in order to prevent their use and abuse by those who oppose our fundamental values and would destroy all of our freedoms in the long term." Speaking in London to the Demos think-tank, he hailed a "step change" in the co-operation between the security services and said at least four major terrorist plots had been broken up since last year's July 7 attacks. Almost 1,000 people had been arrested on terror charges, of whom 154 had been charged and 60 awaited trial. "Yet, in spite of these successes, we remain unable to adapt our institutions and legal orthodoxy as fast as I believe we need to. This is the area that puts us at risk in national security terms."

The Home Secretary also argued that the end of the Cold War and globalisation had brought mass migration "on a hitherto unprecedented scale", with huge potential economic benefits but also the risk of insecurity. He said managing immigration was the greatest challenge facing European governmentsand reiterated his call for a mature discussion on the issue to stop it becoming a political football.

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said Mr Reid was right not to underestimate "the grave threat" from terrorism, which was why the Tories had helped implement measures against it. He said the Government should answer Tory calls for a UK border police force and appoint a dedicated minister for counter-terrorism.