Memorandum submitted by Association of Chief Police Officers (CTB 03)



Dear Members of the Counter-Terrorism Bill Committee


In the face of the current and growing threat posed by terrorism, ACPO recognise the task of striking the right balance between security and civil liberties calls for fine judgment. In relation to pre-charge detention, ACPO's professional opinions have been sought and various arguments are well rehearsed. There has been a great deal of previous correspondence and debate within the police service as well as beyond it. The issue is clearly a matter for Parliament and, to some extent, the public, to reach a view over where the balance should lie.


The role of ACPO, which leads and coordinates the direction and development of the police service in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, is to provide an objective and professional assessment of the facts, which allows Parliament to come to an informed position. As those holding the senior positions within ACPO's Terrorism and Allied Matters business area, we write to the committee to set out that professional perspective.


Material made public by successive heads of the Security Service has highlighted the growing number of persons that are identified as causing concern, rising from approximately 1600 in November 2006 to 2000 by November 2007.


Chief officers have seen convincing evidence of the mounting complexity and global nature of terrorist investigations. Networks tend to be informal, diffuse and spread over numerous jurisdictions; mobile phone and Internet communication is growing and is not constrained by national boundaries. However investigation is constrained and limited in different ways by legislation in each of the jurisdictions involved.


This complexity is compounded by the reduced opportunity to secure evidence pre arrest. Operations against violent extremists with the intent to cause mass casualties without warning and without consideration to personal safety by the perpetrator are unique in that the police have to apply a low threshold for intervention to protect life. Accordingly investigations are often characterised by the need to take early pre-emptive action on public safety grounds before pre-arrest evidential opportunities have been fully exploited.


This requirement to take pre-emptive action denies the senior investigating officer the opportunity to secure available evidence prior to arrest. Unlike other offences where suspects can be permitted to reach a point close to the execution of the crime in order to secure evidence, this is less likely to be justifiable in terrorism cases. Therefore where, as has proved to be the case recently, a senior investigating officer is forced into making early arrests, the detention period becomes the critical period during which evidence sufficient to charge must be secured.


The record will show that the majority of those arrested under the Terrorism Act spend only a few hours in detention, most are released within 24 hours and only an exceptional few are detained to the maximum period permitted; only 6 have ever been detained over 27 days. The detention of those persons was subject to scrutiny of the courts and was confirmed as necessary with the investigations being conducted diligently and expeditiously. The current proposals therefore cater for extraordinary circumstances and we consider provide for a gateway that could be accessed in extremis rather than a blanket extension to existing provisions.


The previous 14 day detention period was used to its full extent shortly after its inception in 2004 during Operation Rhyme. This case, that involved a conspiracy suggesting limousines were to be packed with gas cylinders, required the full 14 days detention before some of those suspected could be charged. Similarly the more recent 28-day period was used in the course of an operation in 2006 that is currently sub-judice and cannot be discussed publicly due to the imminent trial. It is clear, therefore, that developing trends have already pushed investigating officers to the limit.


Accordingly we conclude that it is possible to foresee circumstances arising in the future in which the current upper limit for pre-charge detention should prove inadequate to ensure a full and expeditious investigation.


Any measures put forward to protect the public from terrorism are likely to be more effective when they are built on a mature and considered consensus about their fairness and proportionality. We therefore welcome the debate on these issues now, rather than in the emotional atmosphere which would inevitably follow a terrorist incident. The police service will always work within the law and has always strived to do the best it can with the tools available.


April 2008