/Tougher terror laws within weeks, government vows

Tougher terror laws within weeks, government vows

Saskia Jones and Jack MerrittImage copyright
Met Police

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Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt were killed by a knifeman who had been released from jail on licence

Terror offenders will face more time in jail and be monitored more closely as part of new laws being introduced within weeks, the government has said.

Automatic early release from prison will be scrapped for terror offenders while a minimum jail term of 14 years for serious crimes will be introduced.

The Home Office said a bill would be brought before Parliament by mid-March.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the government had faced “hard truths” since an attack in London in November.

Convicted terror offender Usman Khan had been on licence from prison when he fatally stabbed Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt at Fishmongers’ Hall near London Bridge on 29 November last year.

Khan had been released from jail on licence in 2018, half-way through a 16-year sentence for terrorism offences.

Following the November attack, the government launched an urgent review into the licence conditions of 74 terror offenders who had been released early from prison.

On Tuesday it said it would also launch a review, led by Jonathan Hall QC, into the way agencies such as police and the probation service investigate, monitor and manage terror offenders.

Image copyright
PA Media

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The home secretary said November’s attack “confronted us with some hard truths about how we deal with terrorist offenders”

Ministers also want to introduce lie detector tests – which are currently only used with sex offenders – to improve how probation officers handle released terrorists.

The so-called Counter-Terrorism Bill would ensure people convicted of serious offences, such as preparing acts of terrorism or directing a terrorist organisation, spend a minimum of 14 years in prison.

There is currently no minimum term for such offences.

The Home Office said it would also increase counter terror police funding by £90m next year – roughly a 10% increase on this year’s funding.

Other measures the Home Office pledged alongside the bill included:

  • Doubling the number of counter-terrorism probation officers
  • Increasing the number of specialist psychologists and imams working to de-radicalise offenders
  • Increasing the number of places in probation hostels to help police monitor offenders in their first weeks after release from prison
  • Investing £500,000 and reviewing the support in place for victims of terrorism

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said more needed to be done to monitor terror offenders behind bars and once they are freed.

He told BBC Breakfast: “We have to be ready to challenge our own assumptions at all times, and to ask ourselves the question – are we really on top of this? How do we track it? Is it just going to be Islamic terrorism?

“The far-right are a factor as well. We deal with many facets of extremism in our prisons.”

‘Hard truths’

Ms Patel said the “senseless terror attack” in November “confronted us with some hard truths about how we deal with terrorist offenders”.

“Today we are delivering on those promises, giving police and probation officers the resources they need to investigate and track offenders, introducing tougher sentences, and launching major reviews into how offenders are managed after they are released,” she added.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said the overhaul was “an admission of failure”.

She said: “The fight against terrorism has been undermined by cuts to policing, including community policing, a lack of co-ordination between police and security services as well as the flawed Prevent programme.”

Although head of counter-terrorism policing Neil Basu welcomed the extra measures, he said demand for counter terror work had gone up by a third in three years and insisted the anti-radicalisation programme, Prevent, was the “best hope” for reducing the terror threat in the long term.

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