With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the senseless terror attack that took place in Reading on Saturday evening. That appalling attack is now subject to an ongoing police investigation, and as such there are limits to what I can say. However, I want to share as much detail as I can with the House this afternoon, on behalf of the police, following my conversations with them over the weekend and my visit to Reading this morning.
Around 7 pm on Saturday evening, a 25-year-old male entered Forbury Gardens in the centre of Reading, and began to viciously attack several groups of people. The outstanding police officers from Thames Valley police responded with great courage and great speed. The armed suspect was tackled to the ground by an unarmed officer and was immediately arrested at the scene. The suspect remains in custody.
After initial investigations, Counter Terrorism Policing declared the attack a terrorist incident and is now leading the investigation. The police have confirmed that the threat is contained, but that, sadly, three innocent members of the public were killed, murdered by a sudden and savage knife attacker as they enjoyed a summer evening with friends. Another three victims were injured and received hospital treatment.
My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of everyone who was hurt or killed as a result of this sickening attack. The victims of terrorism unit at the Home Office and family liaison officers are supporting them, and I know Members from across the House will join me in sending our heartfelt condolences.
It was truly humbling to visit Thames Valley police this morning. I had the privilege of meeting the officers who first responded to the incident and who were responsible for apprehending the suspect, as well as trying to prevent the loss of further life. Those officers—a few of whom were student officers—ran towards danger to help those in need without a second thought. A young unarmed police officer took down the suspect without hesitation while another performed emergency first aid on those who were injured. These officers are heroes. They showed courage, bravery and selflessness way beyond their years. They are the very best of us. I would also like to pay tribute to the response of every emergency service that attended the scene, as well as members of the public who stepped in to prevent further loss of life.
The United Kingdom has the best security services and police in the world. Since 2017, they have foiled 25 terrorist plots, including eight driven by right-wing ideologies. They serve the country with professionalism and courage, embodying what the British public rightly expect from those on the frontline of the battle against violent extremists and terrorists.
The UK’s counter-terrorism strategy remains one of the most comprehensive approaches to countering terrorism in the world, but over recent decades we have all too often seen the results of poisonous extremist ideology. The terrorist threat that we face is complex, diverse and rapidly changing. It is clear that the threat posed by lone actors is growing. These terrorists are united by the same vile hate that rejects the values our country holds dear: decency, tolerance and respect.
We are united in our mission to tackle terrorism in all its forms. Since day one, the Government have backed our police and security services, who work around the clock to take down terrorists and violent extremists. On any given day, they make a series of calculated judgments and decisions on how best to protect our citizens and country based upon the intelligence that they gather.
In light of the many complexities across the security, intelligence and policing communities, in January this year I announced increased resources for counter-terrorism policing, resulting in a £90 million increase this year alone. That has taken counter-terrorism policing funding to more than £900 million—the highest ever. That is because we live in a complex world and is against a backdrop of evolving threats and dynamic threats—threats that when they do materialise are worse than shocking when they result, as we have seen again this weekend, in the tragic loss of life.
Bolstering our security and policing network and frontline capability is part of our ambitious programme to strengthen the joint working between the police and security services to leave terrorists with no place to hide. It is also why we are committed to developing a new “protect duty”, so that businesses and owners of public places must take into account the threat of terrorism. It is also why, following the shocking attacks at Fishmongers’ Hall and in Streatham, we took strong and decisive action. That action included the introduction of the Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Act 2020, the emergency legislation that retrospectively ended the automatic early release of terrorist offenders serving standard determinate sentences, forcing them to spend a minimum of two thirds of their time behind bars before being considered for release by the Parole Board. Through our Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill, which goes into Committee in this House this week, we are introducing much tougher penalties for terrorists to keep the public safe. This is the biggest overhaul of terrorist sentencing and monitoring in decades, strengthening every stage of the process, from introducing a 14-year minimum jail term for the most dangerous offenders to stricter monitoring measures. Jonathan Hall QC is also looking at how different agencies—including the police, probation services and security services—investigate, monitor and manage terrorist offenders.
I totally understand the desire for details and information to enter the public domain, particularly at this time, as people ask what happened and why. However, as you pointed out, Mr Speaker, I would ask everyone, including the media, to be cautious at this stage about reporting on individuals who have not been charged. We must not do anything that could put at risk the victims or their loved ones achieving justice.
The first duty of any Government is to protect the people they serve, so we continue to pursue every option available to tackle the terrorist threat and take dangerous people off our streets. As the Prime Minister reiterated yesterday, the police and security services will continue in their investigations to better understand the circumstances of this tragic incident, and if further action is needed, we will not hesitate. Our world-class CT police and security services have my unequivocal backing as they hunt down hate-filled terrorists and extremists. My message today is clear, simple and strong: swift justice will be done; victims will be supported; and if further action is needed to stop terrorists in their tracks, this Government will not hesitate to act. I commend this statement to the House.