Thursday, May 30

I’ll rip up human rights laws that impede new terror legislation: Theresa May



Theresa May has declared she is prepared to rip up human rights laws to impose new restrictions on terror suspects, as she sought to gain control over the security agenda just 36 hours before the polls open.

The prime minister said she was looking at how to make it easier to deport foreign terror suspects and how to increase controls on extremists where it is thought they present a threat but there is not enough evidence to prosecute them.

The last-ditch intervention comes after days of pressure on May over the policing cuts and questions over intelligence failures, following terror attacks on London Bridge, Manchester and Westminster.

She said: But I can tell you a few of the things I mean by that: I mean longer prison sentences for people convicted of terrorist offences. I mean making it easier for the authorities to deport foreign terror suspects to their own countries.

And I mean doing more to restrict the freedom and the movements of terrorist suspects when we have enough evidence to know they present a threat, but not enough evidence to prosecute them in full in court.

And if human rights laws stop us from doing it, we will change those laws so we can do it.

The proposed measures appear to be an attempt at strengthening terrorism prevention and investigation measures (Tpims) rather than a complete return to Labour’s control orders, which were repeatedly struck down by the courts and then scrapped by May in 2010 when she was home secretary.

Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May attends a press conference in London, Britain, June 30, 2016. They could involve further curfews, restrictions on association with other known extremists, controls on where they can travel and limits on access to communication devices.

The Conservatives have promised not to withdraw from the European convention on human rights during the next parliament but they could begin to try to replace or amend parts of the Human Rights Act after the UK leaves the EU.

It is possible May’s plans could involve seeking further derogations from the ECHR. This is the way the government is seeking to prevent human rights claims against soldiers in future military situations.

Earlier in the day, the prime minister tried to return her election campaign to the issues of Brexit and her leadership, as the Tories’ poll lead over Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour remained narrow.

But she continued to face a barrage of questions over the impact of cuts to policing. Sadiq Khan, the Labour mayor of London, said planned cuts of 10-40% in London over the next four years would make it harder to foil terrorist attacks on our city.

May was then repeatedly challenged about how the Home Office, police and intelligence services dealt with the information relating to the attackers, after Boris Johnson, her foreign secretary, said MI5 had questions to answer. One of the attackers, Khuram Butt, 27, had been reported to the anti-terror hotline in 2015 and a third attacker, Youssef Zaghba, 22, had been detained by Italian authorities in 2016.

Zaghba, named by police for the first time yesterday, was put on an international terrorism database for an attempt to travel to Syria in March 2016 which was thwarted after he allegedly told officials at Bologna: I am going to be a terrorist. But this does not seem to have been spotted by UK intelligence agencies.

His mother, Valeria Collina, told the Italian news magazine L’Espresso that her son was “friends” with the two other men and monitored by Italian officials after his failed journey to Syria.

May said she absolutely recognised people’s concerns and added that she expected the intelligence agencies to launch a review of the London Bridge attack.

We need to look at how the terror threat is evolving, the way that terrorism is breeding terrorism and the increased tempo of attacks. We have had three horrific attacks and we have foiled five others. The tempo is there in a way we haven’t seen before, she said.

We will look at how the processes were followed, what they did. They will want to be looking at that because they will want to learn lessons for the future, if there are those lessons to be learned.

She added: The police and security service have done a good job in foiling a number of plots – just five in the last three months, and a significant number in the last few years as well.

May declined to say whether Zaghba had been monitored or subject to an exclusion order when he returned to the UK after being stopped in Italy, and declined an opportunity to apologise for any failures by the intelligence agencies.

Despite having previously said she believed the police and security services had the resources they needed to deal with terrorism, she went on to announce details of a proposed crackdown on terrorism at a rally of Conservative activists in Slough.

Her remarks suggested that if she is re-elected her government could look to step up the use of orders that restrict the movement of terror suspects. She could even increase the period for which terror suspects can be held without trial, currently 14 days – a move that provoked clashes with civil liberties campaigners when Tony Blair attempted it after the 7 July 2005 attacks.

There are currently only seven terror suspects considered enough of a threat to be given Tpims, while there are about 23,000 people considered to have been subjects of interest by the security services. Tpims, which expire after two years, can include overnight curfews of up to 10 hours, electronic tagging, reporting regularly to the police, exclusion from certain zones, enforced relocation and some limitations on use of a mobile phone and the internet.

Elements of the orders could be strengthened but any attempt to return to the 18-hour-a-day curfews imposed by control orders would be likely to end up in the courts.

May’s proposals follow criticism from Labour and other parties about her cuts to policing and approach to tackling terrorism in the Home Office, which she led for six years. Corbyn accused the prime minister on Sunday night of trying to “protect the public on the cheap” by implementing 20,000 police cuts.

The prime minister has also been accused of politicising her response to the London Bridge terror attack when she addressed the nation outside Downing Street on Sunday. She declared “enough is enough” as she announced plans to introduce new anti-terror laws, without going into details about what she would do.

The London Bridge attack on Saturday night left seven people dead, and fifteen remain in hospital in critical condition. Raids and searches of properties in east London continue, but 12 others arrested as part of inquiries into whether anyone else helped the attackers have been released without charge.