72.The counter-extremism strategy is being implemented against the backdrop of a very high terrorism threat level. The then Home Secretary, Rt Hon Theresa May MP, told us in March that the threat level was under constant review by the independent Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, but had remained unchanged at ‘severe’, which means an attack is highly likely.
73.Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, the national lead on counter-terrorism, told us that terrorist threats had never been as joined up or as agile as they were now. This meant that the need to share detailed information at speed was greater than ever, and that while a lot of progress had been made there was still more to do. Europol plays a key part in the dissemination of information for countering terrorism. After the Paris attacks, Europol assigned up to 60 officers to support the French and Belgian investigations. The significant exchange of information which followed resulted in 800 intelligence leads and more than 1,600 leads on suspicious financial transactions. Its European Counter Terrorism Centre (ECTC) is an enhanced hub for the sharing of information, analysis of ongoing investigations and coordinating operations within the EU. By providing this central expertise, ECTC is expected to help combat issues such as foreign fighters, terrorism financing, online extremism and propaganda, and arms trafficking.
74.Assistant Commissioner Rowley confirmed to us that the UK’s annual counter-terrorism policing budget has risen from £594 million for 2015–16 to £670 million for 2016–17. The main priorities for the budget included increased counter-terrorism investigative capacity, such as the capability to monitor online activity and digital evidence, and making significant deployments internationally.
75.The then Home Secretary told us in December that, since the attacks in Paris in November 2015, the Home Office had looked again at police response and the provision of armed police in armed response vehicles, and that it was ensuring there was sufficient funding for an increase in these resources. When she updated the House on the counter-terrorism response in January 2016, Mrs May pointed out that the counter-terrorism policing budget had been protected since 2010 and that there would be “an additional 1,900 officers—an increase of 15%—at MI5, MI6 and GCHQ to better respond to the threat we face from international terrorism, cyber-attacks and other global risks.” She also said that the powers available to the police and security and intelligence agencies had been strengthened.
76.Despite the Government’s aim to provide more armed police officers, the Police Federation of England and Wales has warned that there is a national shortage of firearms officers with “worrying” inconsistencies across forces. The figures for 2015 show the number across England and Wales has fallen to 5,647, the lowest level since at least 1987. In response to the fall in numbers the Home Office has agreed to fund an additional 1,000 firearms officers for a period of five years. A further 500 armed officers are to be funded by local forces themselves, from within their existing budgets. Che Donald of the Police Federation said that, while major cities like London had sufficient firearms officers, other large towns and cities did not.
77.According to Steve White, Chair of the Police Federation, funding is not the only issue. He told the Press Association that officers’ concerns about the level of protection they would receive if they discharged their firearms was also a contributory factor: “officers don’t want to carry firearms because they are concerned that if they discharge it, they are going to get arrested for murder”. The National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for armed policing, Chief Constable Simon Chesterman, agreed that potential recruits were being deterred by fears they could spend years under investigation after a decision to fire on a suspect.
78.The Director General of Border Force, Sir Charles Montgomery, told us in December that the UK border is “among the strongest of all the liberal democracies of the free world. I would even say that totalitarian states would never declare their borders utterly impermeable.” After the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, Border Force instituted increased checking of both freight and passengers on selected routes into and out of the UK.
79.Sir Charles explained to us how Border Force staff carry out specific checks to identify ‘persons of interest’ as they leave the UK and when they return, which rely on studying patterns of behaviour and travel, based on profiling, and then intervene to stop people travelling when necessary. In the case of “hundreds” of individuals each month, checks lead to searches for more information about their intentions. Similar checks are carried out on inbound travellers in close cooperation with counter-terrorism police. On a weekly basis an average of over 100 people were referred from the checking process to counter-terrorism forces, although “the vast majority” proved not to be of interest.
80.The then Home Secretary confirmed to us that, during 2015, full exit checks were introduced in relation to various modes of travel out of the UK. New powers also include the ability to remove a passport temporarily at the border where the security services have concerns about an individual. This enables them to carry out further investigations, which could lead to further disruptive action, including use of the Royal Prerogative to remove a passport. The prerogative had been exercised 30 times between the change in the law in 2013 and the end of 2014.
81.However, radical extremists such as Siddhartha Dhar (also known as Abu Rumaysah) have managed to leave the country, escaping even while being under investigation for encouraging terrorism. Dhar was released on bail in September 2014, banned from travelling and ordered to surrender his passport. Nevertheless, he is said to have travelled to Paris via coach from London, with his family. Several weeks later he posted a photograph of himself in Syria holding a rifle and his newborn baby, tweeting “What a shoddy security system Britain must have to allow me to breeze through Europe to IS”.
82.The then Security Minister, John Hayes MP, acknowledged to us in November 2015 that the UK faced a challenge at smaller airports and ports across the country, and that the more security was strengthened at the largest points of entry, such as Heathrow and Gatwick, the more would-be terrorists were being drawn to use other locations. He confirmed that the Government had initiated a fresh review into potential vulnerability at these points.
83.Assistant Commissioner Rowley told us that his specialist team had a joint system with Border Force. His data centre was constantly monitoring data from sea and airports—who had booked travel, where they were going to—and matching that information against indices which flagged warnings about people who were under scrutiny. In relation to people attempting to return to the UK, the then Home Secretary told us in December that the introduction of temporary exclusion orders had enabled a “managed return of people” who had been in Syria. The UK has re-joined the Schengen Information System (SIS II) and is working with other countries across Europe to maximise the sharing of knowledge so border guards can access enhanced information about individuals coming through UK borders.
84.The Director General of Border Force has assured us that the UK has one of the strongest borders in the world and additional measures have been put in place since the horrific attacks in Paris in November 2015. However, we are not convinced that border exit checks operate at the 100% level which the Home Office has set, which would mean that every person leaving the country by whatever mode of transport was checked. Known terrorists like Siddhartha Dhar have been able to exit the country by avoiding the major points of departure and instead using smaller airports, ports and Eurotunnel, which employ weaker, purely digital processes. We call on the Government urgently to report to the House the conclusions of its review into security at smaller airports and ports. Even at the major airports it is the airlines, rather than the Government, which are operating as guarantors of our safety. Until 100% exit checks are fully in place, UK citizens under suspicion for encouraging extremism and prohibited from leaving the country will continue to be able to do so undetected, and could end up joining terrorist organisations in Syria and Iraq.
85.Another important step to prevent potential terrorists travelling from the UK to join Daesh is to ensure that passports are removed from suspects. We were very concerned to learn how seemingly easy it is for those who are on police bail to leave the country. Assistant Commissioner Rowley told us in January that police bail was a weak provision and needed to be tightened. If court bail conditions were breached, the court could take stronger action, including holding someone in custody until the passport was surrendered. Mr Rowley therefore believed that breach of police bail should be made a criminal offence. He also told us that if someone on police bail failed to produce their passport, the police would simply write to them to remind them to do so, in order to create an audit trail “for the legal process with solicitors”.
86.In response to questions from the Committee Chairman during a Liaison Committee oral evidence session in January, the then Prime Minister, Rt Hon David Cameron MP, made clear the Government’s intention to do more to address this issue. This was followed by a Government amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill which makes it a criminal offence for an individual released on pre-charge bail following an arrest for a terrorism offence to breach any conditions of that bail that prohibit them from leaving the country. These conditions include the requirement on an individual not to leave the UK, a requirement to surrender travel documents, and a requirement not to be in possession of any travel documents, even if they belong to someone else.
87.We were appalled to hear from Assistant Commissioner Rowley, the UK counter-terrorism police lead, about the apparent ease with which Dhar and others arrested for terrorism offences could breach bail conditions and flee the country, despite being asked to hand in their passports. It seemed incredible to us that the only follow-up action for failure to comply was a polite reminder letter from the police. We welcome the Government’s acknowledgement of the importance of seizing the travel documents of suspected terrorists subject to police bail to prevent them travelling abroad. We were very pleased that the former Prime Minister’s interest in this issue, in response to our concerns, led to the then Home Secretary tabling an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill currently before Parliament to make breach of certain pre-charge bail conditions relating to foreign travel a criminal offence, where the person has been arrested in relation to terrorism offences. The Government should ensure that the new legislation requires automatic notifications about individuals suspected of terrorism offences to be sent to HM Passport Office and the CTIRU, and that the handing in of a passport is made a pre-condition of bail.
90 Oral evidence taken on , HC (2015–16) 299, Q216
91 Qq425, 784
92 “Europol’s European Counter Terrorism Centre”, , 25 January 2016
94 Oral evidence taken on , HC (2015–16) 299, Q168
95 HC Deb 5 January 2016,
96 “, The Independent, 15 May 2016
97 “ BBC, 17 May 2016
98 “”, The Guardian, 15 May 2016
99 “, The Independent, 15 May 2016
100 “”, The Guardian, 15 May 2016
104 Oral evidence taken on , HC (2015–16) 299, Qq148–151
105 “”, BBC, 4 January 2016
108 Oral evidence taken on , HC (2015–16) 299, Qq152, 155
110 Home Office announcement, , “Home Secretary announces new offence of breach of pre-charge bail”. The Policing and Crime Bill is currently going through the Lords stages of its consideration. See on the Bills section of the parliamentary website
2 August 2016