The government’s planned large budget cuts to the police in the UK will make it easier for Islamic State to stage a terrorist attack, Britain’s former head of counter-terrorism has warned.
Former Scotland Yard chief Robert Quick told the Guardian that the supply of intelligence from communities that identifies suspects and stops violent extremists inflicting carnage also risks being choked off.
“It will make Britain more vulnerable to terrorism. It will damage the police’s ability to counter terrorism if neighbourhood policing is cut. It will lead to a loss of intelligence, a loss of confidence and trust,” Quick said.
As Scotland Yard’s Assistant Commissioner, Quick was head of counter-terrorism for the UK from 2008 to 2009.
His comments came as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called for cuts to the police budget to be limited to 5%, with police chiefs braced for the Conservatives to inflict cuts of at least 25%.
Since the Paris atrocities police chiefs have intensified their lobbying over the planned cuts, arguing that they would lead to a large loss of community officers, and the intelligence they generate from the public.
Next Wednesday the level of cuts to the Home Office, which largely funds the police, will be announced as part of the comprehensive spending review.
With less than one week to go, the Home Office and the Treasury are yet to reach agreement on cuts, Whitehall sources confirmed. The Home Office is one of the last government departments still holding out.
On Wednesday David Cameron tried to fend off the emerging challenge to his government at prime minister’s questions. The Labour leader asked: “Do you agree with the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, who said, ‘I genuinely worry about the safety of London if the cuts go through on this scale’?” Hogan-Howe had warned MPs on the home affairs select committee that cuts of £800m could mean the Met would lose 5,000 officers.
Responding, the prime minister claimed that the number of neighbourhood officers had increased despite the cuts: “Neighbourhood policing numbers have gone up by 3,800, in the capital city we have seen a 500% increase in neighbourhood policing. Because we have cut bureaucracy [we have] put the equivalent of an additional 2,000 police on the streets.”
Earlier in the day, Andy Burnham, the shadow home secretary, wrote to the home secretary, Theresa May, warning that cuts of more than 5% over the next five years would endanger the public.
Burnham wrote: “We know that significant intelligence is gathered through community policing, which aids the fight against extremism and terrorism. At a time when the threat of a terrorist attack in the UK is heightened, now is not the time to reduce the ability of the police to build important local relationships and gather that intelligence.”
Since the Paris attacks, police chiefs have watched as the government has announced more money for Britain’s counter-terrorism effort – but not yet for them. Extra money has been announced for the intelligence agencies, the electronic eavesdropping centre at GCHQ and for special forces.
Chiefs have voiced concerns for some time that intelligence from neighbourhood officers’ work in communities will be jeopardised by cuts of 25-40% between now and 2020.
Quick said: “For the last 20 years we have been briefing every officer in the country on counter-terrorism related issues. Every frontline police officer and PCSO [police community support officer] was part of the fight against terrorism.”
Quick said local officers fed valuable intelligence to counter-terrorism units across the country: “The only public agency that has a duty and focus on it are the police.”
Quick said emerging evidence after the Paris attacks showed the intelligence in local communities about some of the attackers and extremist views appears to have been missed. “Counter-terrorism is not just for counter-terrorism officers and the security services, it is an issue for the whole police service. It offers the ability to mobilise officers on street corners across the land.”
Last week Hogan-Howe warned that neighbourhood officers were vital in fighting terrorism and gaining information from communities: “It used to be that the majority of leads on counter-terrorism came from the security service or the foreign intelligence service.
“Now we are seeing a significant rise in that from local reporting, from people concerned about an individual’s behaviour and when we investigate we find they have got good reason for that.
“The main reason people tell police officers or PCSOs is because they know them, they have got a trusting relationship and they trust them to do something about it. So it is a vital component.”
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