Bee stings killed as many in UK as terrorists, says watchdog
PUBLISHED June 28, 2012
David Anderson said that no one has even been injured by an Islamist in this country for more than two years, while the number of convictions has dropped to a "handful".
As a result he suggested that ministers could relax some anti-terror laws without endangering public safety, such as by allowing terror suspects to apply for bail or making it harder to ban certain groups.
Mr Anderson, a barrister who serves as the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, also congratulated the Coalition for scrapping tough stop and search powers and halving the maximum detention time for suspects to 14 days.
But he added that the "almost incessant" creation of new legislation since 9/11 has left counter-terrorism laws "bitty, messy" and hard to understand.
His optimistic view of the domestic security situation contrasts with that described by the head of MI5 earlier this week. Jonathan Evans, the Director General of the Security Service, warned that the Arab Spring has spawned a new generation of British terrorists while cyber attacks are damaging companies in the "real world".
He said the situation has improved "markedly" since the middle of the last decade, when Britain suffered the atrocity of 7/7 as well as the failed 21/7 attacks and the foiled fertiliser bomb and airline liquid bomb plots.
The watchdog said no one has been injured by a terrorist in this country since May 2010 when the Labour MP Stephen Timms was stabbed in his constituency surgery by Roshonara Choudhry, while there was not a single al-Qaida attack in Europe throughout 2011.
He pointed out that last summer the threat level in Britain was lowered from severe to substantial, while the same year saw the deaths of Osama Bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki.
There was "only one" serious conviction of a terrorist in a British court, that of a British Airways IT specialist, while terrorism arrests fell to 121 in the year to March 2011, "by far" the lowest number since the Twin Towers fell.
Discussing the suggestions that the threat from terrorism is over-estimated, Mr Anderson wrote: "During the 21st century, terrorism has been an insignificant cause of mortality in the United Kingdom. The annualised average of five deaths caused by terrorism in England and Wales over this period compares with total accidental deaths in 2010 of 17,201, including 123 cyclists killed in traffic accidents, 102 personnel killed in Afghanistan, 29 people drowned in the bathtub and five killed by stings from hornets, wasps and bees."
He added that the threat is sometimes "exaggerated for political or commercial purposes", but warned against complacency and said that terrorists would inflict more death, injury and fear if permitted.
Mr Anderson said the Home Secretary currently has "extraordinarily wide discretion" to proscribe groups believed to be involved in terrorism, and that sometimes organisations are banned as a "cheap" way of giving a "propaganda" victory to a foreign government.
He claimed that such bans can have a "chilling effect" on communities who then fear even to hold meetings or display their flags, and raised the prospect that bans on groups should lapse after two years. However he also added that far-right organisations could be outlawed as well as ones linked to al-Qaida.
Mr Anderson also said it is hard to justify the total ban on terror suspects applying for bail, given that even subjects of deportation cases and alleged murders and rapists can do so.
In a strong criticism of Labour's tough anti-terror laws, he said the wide power given to police to stop and search people and vehicles was the "single greatest focus of resentment among Muslims" and did not lead to a single conviction.
The watchdog said he had not found much "nostalgia" for the now-scrapped power among police, and would himself not lament its demise.
"There is always a political risk in scaling back powers designed to protect the public. By taking that step, the Coalition Government is to be congratulated for delivering on its rhetoric and making a genuine 'correction in favour of liberty'."