The UK government has been accused of ignoring top-level advice to change laws to curb hate, as a former policing boss gave a warning that existing legislation allows people to “glorify terrorism”.
Sir Mark Rowley, co-author of a review into the country’s counter-terrorism strategies, said eight months after submitting the findings of his probe he has yet to hear anything back from ministers.
He said the review, which he carried out in collaboration with the Commission for Countering Extremism, found new laws were needed to stop hateful groups from “operating with impunity”.
Sir Mark spoke out about the lack of response after the killing of Sir David Amess, a 69-year-old Conservative MP who was stabbed to death while holding a constituency surgery in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, on Friday. Officers investigating the killing have declared it a terror incident.
The victim's family have said they are "absolutely broken" by the father-of-five's death.
Sir Mark’s review, submitted in February, said extremists were exploiting gaps within existing hate crime and terrorism legislation.
It argued that terrorists including the London Bridge attack ringleader could have been arrested earlier had tighter laws been in place.
Sir Mark, who retired as the head of UK counter-terrorism policing in 2018, said without action from the government, loopholes exist that leave Britain vulnerable to terror groups.
“I have had no feedback from the Home Office on their plans in relation to our report on the absence of a coherent legal framework to tackle hateful extremism,” Sir Mark told The Independent.
“It remains legal in some circumstances intentionally to stir up race or religious hatred or to glorify terrorism.
“These are dangerous loopholes highlighted in our report that continue to be exploited by hateful extremists.”
The CCE was set up for former prime minister Theresa May after the Manchester Arena attack in May 2017, which killed 22 people and injured 1,017.
Suicide bomber Salman Abedi was a 22-year-old of Libyan descent who had been inspired by ISIS.
The CCE has repeatedly given warnings that more needs to be done to tackle terrorism threats facing the UK, including closing legal loopholes that allow those who inspired terrorists to go free, a report in The Independent said.
But, the paper said, ministers have not formally responded to any CCE reports released since 2019 and no suggested measures have been enacted, despite warnings that security threats would worsen until the government stepped up its response.
Figen Murray, whose son, Martyn Hett, was killed in the Manchester attack, referred to the Manchester Arena inquiry’s report, which cautioned that “doing nothing is not an option” in regard to extremism, while telling the paper there had been many opportunities for lessons to be learnt on countering terrorism.
“Violent extremism continues to threaten communities and with attacks on Manchester Arena, in London, the Reading attack, to mention but a few, there have been ample opportunities to learn lessons and establish what needs to be done,” she said.
The newspaper also quoted Brendan Cox, widower of murdered Labour MP Jo Cox, as saying before Amess’s death that “it seems bizarre not to have acted on – or at least responded to – the recommendations made [by the CCE]. There’s nothing more important than protecting the public”.
In September the head of MI5, Ken McCallum, gave a warning that the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban was likely to have “emboldened” terrorists in the UK.
"There is no doubt that events in Afghanistan will have heartened and emboldened some of those extremists and so being vigilant to precisely those kinds of risks is what my organisation is focused on along with a range of other threats," he told BBC Four’s Today programme.