The following article, by Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, head of national counterterrorism policing, was published in The Times on Tuesday, 13 June.
With three terror attacks in ten weeks, five plots foiled since March and 18 thwarted since 2013, the tempo of the threat is unprecedented.
Police officers in every part of the UK are working hard to prevent further attacks and our ambition, of course, is 100% protection, but we have to be realistic with the public.
With an attack assessed as highly likely, the risk posed by thousands of individuals identified as possible threats must be managed whilst new ones are spotted.
We assess that risk week-by-week, moving resources for changing priorities.
Working with MI5, we have about 500 investigations involving some 3000 individuals posing the biggest threats.
There are another 20,000 who we continue to be concerned about. Some of these, we will decide to move into the priority group. Others may move from radical to would-be terrorist very quickly.
These numbers have grown. There is more overseas influence from terrorist groups and an internet going darker. That makes it harder to look at those we are concerned about.
Our work-rate has grown – more arrests, more use of criminal law where we can’t get a terrorist charge and the conviction of some of the most dangerous radicals.
We and MI5 investigated Kharum Butt, the London Bridge ringleader. However, there was no intelligence to suggest that this attack was being planned and the investigation was prioritised accordingly.
He is one of thousands of vile people, with vile views, so we searched for other evidence of criminality to lock him up.
We had the Channel 4 programme in which he appeared reviewed by a lawyer to see if we could get a criminal charge. There were no grounds.
We had a public report to our hotline about him. It was welcome and confirmed what we knew – he was a vile and worrying extremist – but took us no closer to evidencing offending.
We investigated him for fraud and common assault but there was no prospect of charging him.
This is what we do to disrupt people who don’t make the highest priority categories.
Like the aftermath of the July 7 attacks, of course we are reviewing our actions. A detailed look back will help us find new methods to increase our ability to identify these risks before an attack.
The United Kingdom has great assets on which we can build our response.
-More information coming from communities.
-Huge public resilience and no less bravery than we’ve seen from our own officers.
-Committed people in policing & MI5 who are passionate about keeping the public safe.
- Great security partnerships, international and at home, sharing information and expertise.
We welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to look at the whole strategy, including powers and capabilities available to the security network.
Where we have to step in to disrupt a potential attack before we have the best evidence, we need longer sentences for those convicted.
We need communities to be more assertive at calling out extremists and radicalisers amongst us. It’s not just overseas propaganda inspiring attacks.
And we need communications and internet-based companies to show more responsibility. It is too easy for the angry, violent or vulnerable to access extremist views, learn about attack methodologies, conspire on encrypted applications and then acquire equipment to kill, all online.
The public support for the armed and unarmed police officers who confronted terrorists is enormous. The detectives and MI5 intelligence officers need the same support. Their decision-making duties weigh heavily on them.
In hundreds of cases, they wrestle with the fragments of intercepted communications; coded conversations and information from sometimes unreliable informants.
If, as a result, they move someone up the investigative priority list, they have to take the tough decision to downgrade elsewhere.
What we are not doing is looking for what they call in policing a ‘single point of blame.’ That’s destructive. It saps our efforts to defeat terrorism.
It’s not how this country, the police or our intelligence agencies have responded when our national security and the safety of our people has been most under threat.
We look for advantage, sometimes an inspired breakthrough, more often marginal gains that we need to aggregate to maximum effect.
Like the brave police officers and members of the public at London Bridge, we all need to stand together and give the terrorists our best fight.