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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Bill Carmichael: Quick action but threat remains

Published Date: 10 April 2009
A SENIOR police officer, carrying a top-secret document about a planned raid on a UK terror cell, strolls into Number 10 Downing Street in full view of the assembled photographers.
If you suggested that as a plot for a new television drama, you would be laughed out of the scriptwriting conference. No one in the real world could be that stupid, could they? Well, they could, and the hapless figure of Bob Quick is here to prove it. Memo to the Metropolitan Police – please buy the next head of counter terrorism a briefcase for his top-secret documents, and remember that modern cameras can pick up fine detail from many yards away. At least Mr Quick did the right thing by rapidly resigning as assistant commissioner shortly after the scale of his blunder was revealed. Contrast his palpable decency with the grasping behaviour of his political bosses who are determined to cling on to office despite daily revelations about their greed and incompetence. Mr Quick could certainly teach Home Secretary Jacqui Smith a thing or two about taking responsibility for your mistakes. And don't forget that just a year ago, Caroline Flint committed a similar blunder to Mr Quick by giving Downing Street photographers clear sight of secret Cabinet briefing notes about falling house prices – and she is still in a senior ministerial position. But as Mr Quick would be the first to realise, the gravity of his error was potentially much more serious. He compromised an anti-terror operation, and, as a result, the raids on suspects in the North-West had to be brought forward into daylight hours, potentially putting the lives of officers at risk. Questions had already been raised over his judgment after his involvement in the controversial arrest of Tory MP Damien Green and his ill-advised rant against the Conservative Party following a newspaper story about his private life. But this week's error was by far the most serious of the three. Officers who are expected to put their lives on the line in anti-terror operations need to have confidence in their senior commanders, and Bob Quick's dreadful gaffe undermined that.He had to go – but let's hope his experience and expertise can still be used in other ways in the fight against terror. Because we shouldn't lose sight of the key message of this week's events – that the terror threat against UK civilians remains very severe and we need to remain vigilant. To listen to the terror appeasers and Islamist apologists on the Left of the political spectrum, you might think there was no threat at all. Rather, it is all part of a sinister conspiracy by the Government and the security services to frighten us unnecessarily and thereby keep us under control. It must be wonderfully comforting to believe such reassurances – go back to sleep, there's nothing to worry about. But I am afraid it is provable nonsense. No fewer than 80 Islamist extremists have been imprisoned on terror charges in the UK in the last two years alone. The police have disrupted dozens of plots, and are tracking dozens more. But what about the ones they don't know about? Our historic connections with Pakistan – rapidly descending into anarchy as a result of an Islamist insurgency – makes us uniquely vulnerable in the Western world. Prime Minister Gordon Brown commented recently that two-thirds of the plots threatening the UK were linked to Pakistan. We can commend the bravery of officers who carried out this week's raids, but it doesn't mean the threat is going away. As the IRA commented after the Brighton bombing: "You have to be lucky every day. We only have to be lucky once." Or to quote the great US orator, Wendell Phillips: "Eternal vigilance is the price is the price of liberty".

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