Leading article: Stop this careless talk

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The Independent Online

Those who live and work in London are still on edge too. While a single atrocity could be regarded as a terrible one-off, the possibility of a continuing bombing campaign is deeply unsettling. It is difficult to see life returning to normal when the public is at daily risk - however statistically tiny - of being caught up in a terrorist attack.

In this uncertain atmosphere, the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, has made some ill-judged remarks. Mr Clarke yesterday articulated his belief that the terror attacks of 7 July and 21 July were linked. Yet, strangely, he went on to admit that he had seen no evidence to support this view. The idea of a connection is, at this stage, pure speculation.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, was just as vague yesterday when he asserted: "The fact that there's been two attacks makes it more, rather than less, likely that there will be further attacks." Yet he too cited no evidence for this belief.

Of course, it is natural to speculate. And, as most Londoners know, it is almost impossible not to do so under these circumstances. But surely the public has a right to expect that the Home Secretary and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner will refrain from doing so in public. These figures have privileged access to intelligence. If they predict a new attack, it is bound to heighten public fears. Of course, if this has the effect of making people more alert and - crucially - if the warning is based on specific intelligence, it can be justified. But it is wholly counterproductive if done on the basis of no new information or intelligence. And it raises questions of trust if, as our report last week outlined, other sources within the intelligence and police community are painting a quite different picture.

It should be noted that if politicians and police chiefs predict the worst, they cannot be accused of complacency after the event. And, cynical though it may be even to consider this, the Government has a point of interest in perpetuating a general atmosphere of fear. It would, for instance, make it easier for the Prime Minister to pass his contentious anti-terror legislation. The best way for the Government to dispel the suspicion that it is scaremongering is for ministers such as Charles Clarke to choose their public statements much more carefully.