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UK borders 'not as secure as they should be', counter-terror review says

Published 28/10/2016

In July and August, Scotland Yard recorded 202 firearms discharges, compared with 87 in the same months last year
In July and August, Scotland Yard recorded 202 firearms discharges, compared with 87 in the same months last year

Britain's borders are not as secure as they should be and efforts to stop weapons being smuggled into the country must be stepped up, a review of counter-terrorism arrangements has warned.

It highlighted "real concerns" about how easy it might be for terrorists to bring guns into the UK.

Despite the work of UK intelligence agencies and police being among the best in the world, a serious attack is "a matter of not if, but when", according to the report.

Lord Toby Harris of Haringey was asked by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to carry out an independent review of the city's readiness to deal with a major terrorist incident in the wake of atrocities in Brussels and Paris.

The official threat level for international terrorism in the UK currently stands at severe - meaning an attack is "highly likely".

Some 850 UK extremists are feared to have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join Islamic State, with around half thought to have returned.

A marauding firearms attack - such as the method used in Mumbai in 2008 and Paris last year - is currently considered to be the most significant terrorist threat affecting the UK, according to the report.

It warned that although guns are more difficult to acquire here than elsewhere in the world, London is not "firearms-free".

In July and August, Scotland Yard recorded 202 firearms discharges, compared with 87 in the same months last year.

Lord Harris wrote: "Our borders are not as secure as they should be and much greater efforts should be made to prevent the illegal transportation of weapons and people into the country.

"It would be naive in the extreme to assume that would-be terrorists will not attempt to exploit any such weaknesses."

Much more should be done to strengthen the ability to prevent the importation of firearms, the report said, calling on Mr Khan to seek assurances that the routine screening and searching of cars and freight entering the country is being "significantly enhanced".

Lord Harris made 127 recommendations, including:

:: The Met Police should further explore the use of temporary barriers to protect against a Nice-style attack

:: A pilot of new public alert technology to advise Londoners of a major attack, with messages sent directly to mobile devices

:: The installation of CCTV on all Underground and mainline trains

:: Strengthening of security measures on the River Thames

:: A full review of perimeter security at London City Airport

Fifty of the 73 highest risk crowded places across the country are in London, the report said. It suggested that the potential cost of a Paris-style atrocity in the capital could top £1 billion.

The review also said the mayor and Scotland Yard should "strongly resist" any attempt to shift counter-terrorism functions from the Met to the National Crime Agency.

Lord Harris said that if London were subject to a terrorist attack today, the emergency service response would be "substantially faster" than five years ago.

He said all of his recommendations are "there for a reason", adding: "I remained concerned about the potential leakage of firearms into the country, which is why I have made recommendations about bolstering the presence to avoid arms smuggling at our borders and so on."

Mr Khan said: "We know looking with what happened in Paris and Brussels, in Nice - that there is a real possibility that terrorists want to cause damage to us and our way of life."

Met Police commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said the report "is saying that broadly we have got a really good arrangement in London."

The Home Office said the UK has "one of the most secure borders in the world" and Border Force "works tirelessly to protect the country from people looking to bring harm to our communities".

A spokesman said: "We work closely with a number of operational partners to prevent weapons being imported into the UK."

He added that the Government is investing £130 million in new technology to "help take on the ever-changing threat to our borders".

Press Association

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