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Call for tougher sentences for those who fail to report terrorism plots

By Hayden Smith

Maximum sentences for some terrorism crimes may be too low and should be reviewed, the terror laws watchdog has said.

Max Hill QC gave the example of the offence of failing to alert authorities to possible attacks, which cannot attract a jail term of more than five years.

Mr Hill, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, insisted there was no need for a raft of fresh legislation on the basis that "something must be done" after the UK was hit by a wave of attacks this year.

But he conceded there may be aspects of existing laws which can be amended and improved.

"With the benefit of experience and hindsight it may be the case that some offences have insufficient discretionary maximum sentences, which should be reviewed," he said.

Mr Hill flagged up section 38B of the Terrorism Act 2000, under which an individual commits an offence if they do not inform police when they believe someone is preparing acts of terrorism.

Some defendants who assisted the plotters behind the failed July 21 bombings in 2005 were convicted under the section.

The offence carries a maximum sentence of five years.

Mr Hill said: "It seems to me that should be reviewed for a decision on whether that is actually sufficient."

Longer sentences for some terror-related offences are being weighed up under a review ordered by the Government in the wake of the atrocities in London and Manchester.

In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Hill also suggested there may be a need to look again at general crime offences which are "perfectly appropriate" for use in terrorism cases, but where judges can increase the sentence because of the presence of a "terrorist mindset".

"We have robust and appropriate laws dealing with firearms, knives, assaults and violence against the person," Mr Hill added.

"There is already a mechanism for judges to regard a terrorist mindset as an aggravating factor in non-terrorist offences but that is something that needs to be provided by way of a list or a schedule to indicate to judges which offences may be aggravated by a terrorist mindset."

Counter-terror powers have come under close scrutiny after four attacks in the UK this year.

There have been calls for a boost in the use of Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (Tpims), which place restrictions on suspects who cannot be deported or prosecuted. Six Tpims were in place at the end of May.

Mr Hill said there has been a "sparing but appropriate" use of the measures and an increase is "conceivable".

Around 850 UK-linked individuals "of national security concern" are believed to have travelled to take part in the Syrian conflict, with just under half thought to have returned.

Mr Hill emphasised that a UK citizen who returns from Syria after committing criminal acts should face prosecution.

But he added: "In cases which may come to light of individuals who travel to Syria out of naivety or brainwashing, and are desperate to return to their friends and families in this country in a state of great disillusionment after their time in Syria - it doesn't follow that in every case those individuals must be prosecuted or that there must be any mandatory process against them."

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