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Evaluation of Policing Responses to Terrorist Threats in the UK

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 3674 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Criminology Policing in Society Essay

Examine the policing responses to terrorist threat in the UK and how effective have they been in countering terrorism? Draw upon relevant legislation and use evidence to illustrate your views.

Reports of terrorism by the media has been quite high recently and this has led to a lot more discussions on the topic. This is because there has been an increase in the number of terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom and this has caused wide spread fear within the public (Spencer, 2012). This essay will examine the policing response to terrorist threats in the UK and evaluate how effective they are or have been in countering terrorism. Things that will be looked at will be the definition of terrorism, the threat of terrorism today, the suspected community, policing of terrorism and government responses to recent terrorist attacks here within the United Kingdom.

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 So, what is terrorism? Terrorism is defined by ‘The Terrorism Act’ (2000) as using or threating the government/public with violence as a method to create fear but also for “the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause”. Extremism is linked to terrorism and it is defined as the “the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and respect and tolerance for different faiths and beliefs. We also regard calls for the death of members of our armed forces as extremist.”(Home Office, 2015, p.9). Not all extremists will commit terrorism, but they still can pose a threat, and this is why they have to be monitored. Radicalisation is also linked to terrorism as it is a process of brain washing an individual so that they become extremists and support terrorism which could result in terrorist attacks. (Prevent Strategy, 2011).

The odds of a terrorist threat occurring in the United Kingdom is quite high at the moment, this is called the threat level. The threat level informs the public about the chances of a terrorist threat occurring here in the UK (GOV.UK, 2018). There is five threat levels, each threat level indicates a different risk of threat. The lowest threat level is low meaning the odds are unlikely, next is moderate, moderate means there is a possibility of an attack, after moderate there is substantial, and it indicates a strong possibility. After that there is severe (UKs threat level currently) this shows that an attack is very likely and finally there is critical which is the worst as it means that a terrorist attacks is going to happen imminently (MI5, 2018). MI5 is the group who is responsible for deciding the threat levels in Northern Ireland and Britain. When they are deciding the threat level, they have to take into consideration certain factors for example, available intelligence, terrorist capability, terrorist capital and time frame (MI5, 2018). The threat level is important because it helps make individuals more aware of the terrorist threat meaning they won’t be caught off guard, this can help counter terrorism as they would be more prepared if an attack did happen.

When it comes to terrorism there is always a suspect, individuals may be suspected not because they have done something wrong but because of links to a group or community (Ragazzi, 2015). For example, during the troubles when there was a bomb the suspect was the paramilitary groups. Today when there is a terrorist attack the suspect is thought to be a Muslim, this is because they are now seen as the new suspect community due to racial profiling (Ragazzi ,2015). Although a community shouldn’t be labelled as the suspect community if they are not actually officially under suspicion by the government or police according to Greer (2010).  Greer (2010) disagrees with Ragazzi as he believes “Islamism and Salafism are ideologies or movements distributed across various communities and not ‘communities’ as such themselves”. Ragazzi (2015) stated that counter terrorism measures have largely targeted Muslims, and this is because they are labelled as part of the new suspect community. However, Greer (2010) argues against this by saying the United Kingdom’s counter terrorism measures and laws don’t target the Muslim community as they haven’t mentioned Muslims at any point during them.

Recently in the UK there has been a few terrorist attacks for example in London there was the bridge attack. This terrorist attack consisted of three Islamic men wearing fake suicide vests who ploughed a van through pedestrians while they walked along the bridge, they later abandoned the van and started to stab individuals at nearby pubs. Shortly after the incident had been reported armed police responded and shot the attackers showing a fast and effective response to fighting terrorism from the police. This attack resulted in eight deaths and over fifty injured. (Minelle, 2018). A second attack was the bombing of the Ariana Grande Concert in Manchester, this attack was carried out by a twenty-two-year-old Islamist named Salman Abedi. As individuals were leaving the Manchester arena, Salman Abedi detonated an explosive injuring seven hundred people and killing not only himself but twenty-two others consisting of adults and children (BBC News, 2018). The UK’s policing and counter terrorism measures must be efficient as these are the most recent terrorist attacks committed here and there has been a decline in numbers since the troubles.

When it comes to countering terrorism it’s not only the police that has the responsibility of policing it, the government and other law enforcement agencies also have this responsibility. It is important that these bodies co-operate because HM Government (2011) believe that the best and most successful way of countering terrorism is if these forces work closely to help one another as it is pulling together more resources and increasing efficiency.  Walker (1986) believes that the British Government have and are failing to police terrorism and that it will remain this way for a long time. However, the number of individuals that have been arrested for attempting to commit terrorism acts in the UK between 2009-2010 is around 600 and from these 600 there was 67 prosecutions and 58 convictions (HM Government, 2011). This is quite a high number of arrests and is one of the highest in Europe, therefore this shows that terrorism is being policed but it also shows that maybe there is a high number of wrongful arrests maybe because of racial profiling.

There are a number of Acts that the government have passed to help fight the war on terrorism and prevent terrorist events from occurring within the United Kingdom. One of the first acts is the terrorism act 2000, this is “an act to make provision about terrorism; and to make temporary provision for Northern Ireland about the prosecution and punishment of certain offences, the preservation of peace and the maintenance of order” (The Terrorism Act, 2000). The terrorism act 2000 not only defined terrorism but granted the police the power to carry out random stop and searches but also detain suspected terrorists for at least seven days.  The stop and search powers were introduced because it allows police constables to stop and search any person or vehicle they want in an authorised area without ‘reasonable suspicion’ under section 44 within the terrorism act 2000 (Justice, 2018).  The reason for the searches was to try intercept or disrupt terrorists and their plans (Walker, 2002), for example if there was a bomb threat in a specific area police constables could stop and search individuals and vehicles to find the terrorist. The first time the stop and search powers were really used was after the Parsons train bombing in London on September 15th, 2017 (Home Office, 2018). The stop and search powers have been successful because after the Parsons Train bombing there were 4 arrests from 128 stop and searches, this is a success because it has prevented four potential terrorist attacks. Although particular ethnic communities for example Muslims believe that they are treated unfairly (Prevent Strategy 2011) because they are stop and searched more than others and this is a result of racial profiling by law enforcement. Justice (2018) also found this out as they found that “on average, 1 in every 3 people stopped and searched under section 44(2) has been a member of an ethnic minority”. This shows that stop and search powers sometimes are not the most efficient method of policing terrorism due to the racial profiling, but it can be in some circumstances for example in a bomb alert as the police can search individuals and vehicles nearby.

Another act passed by government was the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, this act placed ‘control orders’ on individuals who were suspected of being involved in terrorism (Prevention of terrorism act 2005). The purpose of this act was to protect the public by restricting and preventing terrorist involvement as the individual had to follow special rules that were enforced upon them. An example of the rules they would have to follow are that they cannot have access to particular substances, restriction in communications and have to report to a handler at particular times and places (Prevention of terrorism act 2005). The Control orders was later replaced with Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMS) and it caused problems when policing terrorism because it was said that “lacks sufficient safeguards to adequately protect the right to liberty” (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2016). The terrorism Act 2006 is built upon the terrorism act of 2005 meaning it’s still about prosecution and punishment although the 2006 terrorism act changed the definition on terrorism slightly and the creates new terrorism offences (Legislation.gov.uk., 2006).

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The counter terrorism and security Act 2015 provides the UK with the power to respond to terrorism by disrupting travel abroad where there is high levels of terrorist activity and the return to the United Kingdom. It also increases agencies abilities to watch and control those who could be a potential threat and combats the ideology that supports terrorism (GOV.UK, 2015). The act allows police to seize passports temporarily until investigations end and place restrictions on an individual to limit their activities (GOV.UK, 2015) This is an advantage because it strengthens border control and reduces movement of terrorist activities but again can violate one’s freedom and liberty (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2016). The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 is an act that allows UK intelligence agencies to increase electronic surveillance. This helps to counter terrorism because policing agencies can see more allowing them to look out for potential threats or suspicious activities. Although there was concerns regarding the cameras mainly targeting Muslim areas which created tensions and didn’t help the policing of terrorism as a lot of these cameras had to be removed (Guardian, 2018).

The contest strategy is a strategy that aims to reduce terrorism within the UK, so individuals can live a safe and free life, the strategy has four objectives: Pursue, Prevent, Protect and Prepare. Pursue meaning stopping an attack, prevent meaning stopping radicalisation, protect meaning protection against an attack and prepare meaning to reduce impacts of attacks (Contest, 2011). The advantage of this strategy is that it helps police terrorism by educating people for example prevent can be done in schools and reduces the chances of radicalisation. However, it has been said by the  Casciani (2014) that it can “stigmatise Muslims”. This doesn’t help police terrorism but in fact can increase hate crime. The Contest strategy is similar to the Channel Radicalisation Program as it was a program that helped identify and support individuals who were vulnerable to being radicalised. Full Facts (2017) stated that the government thought that the Channel Program was successful as it has prevented radicalisation

 However, it was again biased towards the Muslim community and alienated them which could result in the program radicalising people rather than deradicalizing them increasing the difficulty to police terrorism.


In conclusion policing terrorism can be extremely difficult for a number of reasons for example ambiguous laws can make it more difficult for police to do their jobs or laws like stop and search can increase tensions between certain ethnic communities and police due to racial profiling. The UK’s terror threat level is currently at severe meaning it is important that terrorism is monitored and policed effectively. From looking at recent attacks within the United Kingdom its clear to see the police respond quickly to terrorists’ threats and take every precaution for example the London terrorist attack police responded within eight minutes. However, events like the Manchester bombing show that sometimes the police can be too late as terrorist attacks often occur randomly. The laws and legislation for terrorism in the United Kingdom can be quite controversial at times for example the stop and search can be racist but also ineffective as there is very little arrests but these small arrests matter as they have stopped a potential threat. However, these acts (like the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005) passed by the Government have helped to find, charge and prosecute terrorists within the United Kingdom and as we have seen there has been very little terrorist attacks within the UK, so the police and government are doing something right. Finally, the government initiatives to help educate on terrorism is very helpful as it can benefit people of all ages and can help save lives but also prevent terrorist attacks.



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