Police cuts: Budget reforms could leave officers unable to stop a massacre, warns Lord Blair

Former Met Police commissioner urges caution with the UK facing 'the most perilous terrorist threat in our history'

Lord Blair, who was commissioner of the Metropolitan Police at the time of the London bombings in 2005
Lord Blair, who was commissioner of the Metropolitan Police at the time of the London bombings in 2005

Cutting police force budgets by about 25 per cent while the UK faces “the most perilous terrorist threat in our history” could mean police are unable to stop a massacre of scores of people on Britain’s streets, a former Metropolitan Police commissioner has warned.

Lord Blair, who was in charge of Scotland Yard from 2005 to 2008, said the Government did not appear to understand that intelligence was obtained not only by using computers, but by “quiet, patient police work in communities” by local officers.

Writing in The Observer, he said the threat against Britain was “palpable” and the “chatter” among counter-terrorist agencies was “bad, very bad”.

“This is the most perilous terrorist threat in our history. With their long successful track record in counter-terrorism, police have adapted well to the changing circumstances and, at the last moment, the very best defences they have built, the neighbourhood teams and the fast and accurate response to multi-site concurrent attacks, are being degraded,” Lord Blair said.

“People die this way and governments fall. Remember Madrid in 2004 and think again.”

Bombings on the Madrid commuter train system in March 2004 killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,800.

The Government has stressed the need to cut its budget deficit but Lord Blair said the police needed officers on the ground to report intelligence that could help them prevent terrorist attacks.

“Somewhere in government, someone powerful does not understand that intelligence does not only emerge from the supercomputers of GCHQ but also from quiet, patient police work in communities, from the work of neighbourhood police teams – one of the triumphs of UK policing in the past 10 years – building confidence in troubled areas,” he said.

“After the failed bombings of 21 July 2005, it emerged that local authority workers had not known where to report finding an unusual number of empty peroxide bottles in the bins under a block of flats in north London. It was the bomb factory. It could have been found before the attack. It was not found because the London-wide role of neighbourhood policing had not reached that area by then.

“The teams are there now, though attenuated. Soon they will be gone.”

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