London remains one of the safest global cities in the world, but a constantly evolving terror threat leaves no room for complacency. That was the message from Metropolitan Police police counter terrorism commander Richard Smith (pictured) when taking questions from the London Assembly’s police and crime committee today.
“Last year nobody died as a result of a terrorist act – the result of a huge effort that is largely unseen to ensure that nothing happens,” Smith told Assembly members. “The risk is that the more successful we are, people start to become complacent. London’s history shows the problem has never gone away.”
The session followed on from the committee’s November meeting attended by Lord Toby Harris, author of two reviews for Sadiq Khan into the capital’s readiness for responding to terror incidents, the second of which was completed in March last year.
Finding that the city was significantly better prepared for a terrorist attack following implementation of his initial recommendations, producing in 2016, Harris called in his second report for further improvements in training, equipment and information sharing between agencies, as well as increased funding.
Those improvements were in hand, Smith said, and he confirmed Harris’s conclusion that the terror threat was becoming increasingly complex and diverse, ranging from lone terrorists “self-radicalised” online to right-wing extremists and others with no clear ideological motivation.
London continues to bear the highest risk of terrorism in the UK due to its high profile targets and some 60 per cent of potential terror suspects living in the city, according to Harris’s report. The current threat level remains “substantial”, meaning an attack is considered likely to take place.
The pandemic lockdown had seen more people spending time online “seeking out extremist material,” Smith said. And those referred to the Prevent programme, which seeks to divert vulnerable people away from radicalisation, as well as those under active investigation for possible terrorism offences were getting younger – “small numbers but nonetheless increasing”.
Smith defended the sometimes controversial Prevent programme from the charge that it targets particular communities for surveillance. “Prevent is there to keep vulnerable people safe,” he said. “Fewer than one per cent of referrals result in investigation for terrorism offences. We are able to divert the vast majority away from radicalisation.”
The commander would not be drawn on impact of leaving the European Union on information-sharing and joint operations with European law enforcement agencies, though Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime strategy director Kenny Bowie did confirm that replacement arrangements were “slower and more cumbersome”.
Other issues, Smith said, included the “long-term” challenge of recruiting and retaining officers and civilian staff – particularly those with high-tech skills – and the time currently taken to complete high-level vetting of recruits.
But the creation of a new counter-terrorism hub for the capital, bringing all counter-terrorism agencies together in one building and supported by a £412 million City Hall investment, was on track for completion in 2025, he added.
The meeting also heard that new Met commissioner Mark Rowley would be unveiling his initial plans to reform the beleaguered force very shortly, while Rowley himself confirmed in a major public speech yesterday that the draft plan would be published “in the next few days”.
The commissioner outlined a new focus on professional standards and performance, using technology to get “upstream” of crime and overhauling neighbourhood policing, inclduing deploying more local police and police community support officers.
While promising “precise” policing to make the best use of resources, Rowley also reiterated his concern that investment in policing had fallen below that in other European countries and that the Met would need a 27 per cent increase in funding – some £878 million – to match 2010/11 levels.
The London Assembly police and crime committee meeting can the viewed in full here.
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