At first glance, this looks alarmingly like a repeat of the London Bridge attack last year.
Then, the perpetrator, Usman Khan, 28, had been released halfway through a 16-year sentence. Mr Johnson insisted lessons had been learned, and would be acted upon.
At first glance, yesterday’s bloody events on the streets of south London look alarmingly like a repeat of the London Bridge attack last year, writes PHILIP FLOWER. Pictured: Passers-by tackle the London Bridge killer, who was on a tag
However, the record of recent years speaks differently. Politicians promise to take the fight to the judiciary, but they tend to retire hurt in the face of a confected clamour about human rights.
As many as 40 of the 264 fanatics convicted of Islamist-inspired terrorism between 1998 and 2015 had their sentences reduced on appeal.
At least seven have been jailed again since their release or had to return to prison for breaking licence conditions, including some caught spreading hate online or trying to travel to join Islamic State.
After his release, Khan went on to kill two Cambridge graduates last year.
Then, the perpetrator, Usman Khan, 28, (pictured) had been released halfway through a 16-year sentence
Yesterday’s attacker seems also to have been a convicted terrorist who had been released, and was under close surveillance from the plain-clothes armed police who shot him when he launched his deranged assault.
A S a retired senior police officer involved in containing terrorist and other threats during a 40-year career, I want to tell you of the intense frustrations that will be felt today across British policing. They will feel utterly let down by the judicial system.
When I was a constable, I could arrest and process a suspect in an hour, maximum. Today, it takes a day or more.
The police are mired in bureaucracy, while the judicial system has become an institutional cloud-cuckoo land.
As a society, we have to decide how to deal with terrorist suspects. It takes around 32 police officers to maintain around-the-clock surveillance of a single terror suspect.
It is insane to attempt to maintain this level of supervision of the thousands of individuals known to be of interest to the security services and counter-terrorism police. It seems as though the Streatham perpetrator was being watched by armed police, yet still he managed to stab shoppers.
I am proud and relieved that we are not a totalitarian society, but at what cost do these liberties come?
If we are to release convicted terrorists from jail early, then we would have to recruit thousands and thousands more police to oversee them, which of course will never happen because there is not enough money and we would find that level of intrusion unacceptable in a free society.
There is a wider problem of maintaining the morale of the officers charged with keeping the public safe from fanatics.
Yesterday’s attack seems likely to have been at root what we in law enforcement tend to refer to as ‘suicide by cop’, writes PHILIP FLOWER
Bluntly, how would you feel if you were told to keep track of known terrorists who have been released from prison to satisfy the politically correct assumptions of our justice system?
I remember a few years ago arriving at work when my junior officers seemed dispirited. I asked them what was wrong.
They explained that the night before they had arrested a robbery suspect. He was 14, a refugee from Somalia, and entirely unconcerned by the consequences of his crime. He said he had grown up with an AK-47 in his hand and was not remotely scared of anything the Metropolitan Police could throw at him.
I worry about this point more than any other. The police of course have to respect the law and the courts, and accommodate individuals from other countries and cultures.
But the police and security services are fighting this domestic and global terrorism threat with one hand behind their backs. Or to put it another way, they are going on to the pitch in their cricket whites while the opposition is firing automatic rifles around their ears. There is another factor here. When I retired from the Metropolitan Police a few years ago, I told the Commissioner that what I feared most in my retirement was the prospect of murderous attacks from lone-wolf terrorists.
With their fake suicide vests, terrorists like the one yesterday in Streatham (pictured) – and Usman Khan on London Bridge – seem to be asking to be shot dead, writes PHILIP FLOWER
Yesterday’s attack seems likely to have been at root what we in law enforcement tend to refer to as ‘suicide by cop’. With their fake suicide vests, terrorists like the one yesterday in Streatham – and Usman Khan on London Bridge – seem to be asking to be shot dead.
This is a relatively new and difficult policing challenge. In my day, counter-terrorism tended to mean the threat from the IRA, plus some relatively minor aggravation from animal rights extremists.
But those people wanted to fight for their causes, not necessarily die for them as a weird, self-sacrificial, futile gesture. The lone wolf is different. In counter-terrorism, intelligence is always the first line of defence. This could come from informants, colleagues, worried family members, and banks monitoring financial transactions.
The lone wolf generally eschews any of these social interactions, so is much harder to track down. Too often, he (and it’s almost always a male) will be a low-achiever whose mental health has been compromised by drug use.
He probably does not have a job, but is paid state benefits that enable him to sit alone at home, endlessly scouring poisonous material on the internet. He probably doesn’t have a girlfriend and may well be estranged from his family. He is fundamentally disconnected from society and any social group.
When I talk to former colleagues still serving in the police, they say they worry more about the scores of home-grown would-be mass-murderers sitting in their bedsits scouring the internet than any direct threat from IS forces in Syria or Iraq.
The challenge for us is how to engage with these people and take them out of the grip of their blind hatred. And to ensure that, if we have identified them and found them guilty, they are never released on the streets to maim and kill, as has tragically happened on too many occasions.
- Philip Flower is a former chief superintendent with the Metropolitan Police