Reading Terrorist Attack - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:47 pm on 23rd June 2020.

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Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 12:47 pm, 23rd June 2020

My Lords, this was a dreadful attack on innocent people, and we condemn it. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives, the injured, and the police officers, ambulance crews and members of the public affected by this terrible incident.

There has been much discussion in recent weeks about policing, in both this country and the United States. This incident, where unarmed officers ran towards, tackled and detained a dangerous and armed suspect, reminds us how police officers put their lives on the line to protect us every single day. It is right to ask probing questions, but it is also right to remember that we rely on the police for our safety. Our thanks should also go to the members of the public who supported the emergency services by administering first aid while waiting for paramedics to arrive.

The matter is under investigation, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said, and I know the Minister will not respond to questions about the suspect. So, despite any reservations I may have, I will continue on the basis that this was a terrorist attack, rather than it being the result of mental illness or motivated by prejudice.

We have the best police and security services in the world. I was part of the Metropolitan Police Service for over 30 years and I was awestruck by the capabilities of the security services when I was briefed on the Investigatory Powers Bill by representatives of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. We have also seen numerous pieces of legislation over the years to extend the powers of the police and security services, and the powers of the courts to sentence those convicted of terrorism offences and to prevent their early release. Indeed, there is legislation before the other place as we speak. Yet lone wolf terrorist attacks appear to be increasing. As my right honourable friend Alistair Carmichael said in the debate on the Statement in the other place,

“if the answer to this problem were to be found in a formulation of the law, we would have found it by now.”—[Official Report, Commons, 22/6/20; col. 1089.]

The problem is this. Too many people—some traumatised by their experiences in war-torn parts of the world, but many British-born young men—are being radicalised, either in prison or online, and there is not enough collaborative work with communities to address the problem. It is neither possible nor proportionate to keep all of the thousands of people who may be of concern to MI5 under surveillance, and the overwhelming majority will do no harm. The tiny minority who decide to carry out so-called “lone wolf” attacks can change from “harmless” to “dangerous” overnight, and almost always only close friends, relatives or community members who are around them will notice that change.

In the same way that policing by consent relies on the public being the eyes and ears of the police so that we do not need a police officer on every street corner watching for criminal activity, so communities, friends and relatives need to be the eyes and ears of counter- terrorism. In the same way that policing by consent relies on the public having trust and confidence in the police, communities, friends and relatives must have confidence in the Government’s counterterrorism strategy generally and the Prevent programme in particular.

I have referred to him before and I do so again: my friend and the former head of the anti-terrorist branch, John Grieve, said that the police and security services cannot effectively tackle terrorism alone; they need the help of the public. As the current head of counterterrorism policing said today:

“If you see any suspicious activity, don’t hesitate to ACT—report it.”

Trust and confidence in the police and security services comes from genuine and comprehensive community policing, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said, whereby concerned communities, friends and relatives feel safe in passing on their concerns to officers they trust. Trust and confidence in the police and security services comes from communities, friends and relatives feeling it is safe to pass on their concerns to the Prevent programme.

My two questions to the Minister are these. When will the Government reintroduce the genuine community policing that they have decimated over the past decade not just with drastic cuts in the number of police officers, which they are going some way to addressing, but with the devastation of police community support officers, so that there can be a dialogue of equals between the police and the communities they are supposed to serve, rather than the police simply explaining the policing they are imposing on those communities? When will the Government appoint an independent lead for the review of the Prevent programme, in whom communities have trust and confidence, to produce a programme that communities can feel safe passing their concerns to? Unless the police, community services and communities work together, these lone-wolf attacks will continue to be very difficult to stop.