Council services such as housing can’t fight terrorism ‘like MI5’

Home Secretary told councils shouldn’t be a substitute for the security services in monitoring terror suspects.


The LGA says council services such as housing cannot open up a frontline against terrorism as Home Secretary – and former Secretary of State for Housing – Sajid Javid outlines new expectations of co-operation with police and security services.

Simon Blackburn, chair of the LGA’s safer and stronger communities board, acknowledged information sharing as a positive step.

“But what is crucial is that councils are not treated as a replacement for the expertise and resources of the security services and police – councils are not MI5 and it’s essential that the police and security services lead on responding to and acting on any threats,” said Blackburn.

“We will continue to engage with government to ensure residents are kept safe and that local authorities can play their role in supporting and protecting communities.

“While we can all be on the lookout, preventing and protecting us from terrorism is a responsibility that should remain with the police and security services,” he said.

Today (June 4) the Home Secretary unveiled the government’s updated counter-terrorism strategy with an emphasis on security co-operation with the public and private sectors.

The Home Office, said Javid, will work more with key partners outside of central government.

In October last year, 24housing reported on social housing providers pitched into the anti-terror frontline by a plan that extremists – including jihadists returning from Syria – into taxpayer-funded homes.

Then, the Home Office looking at a new strategy to reintegrate extremists who – depending on assessment – could take priority on housing waiting lists.

Under pilot schemes, police and local authorities would assess extremists formerly investigated as suspects by the security services to see what danger they pose and what it would take to help reintegrate them.

Extremists who had nowhere suitable to live could be put in social housing by the local council and could have their rent paid if necessary.

Up to 20,000 extremists who have been previously investigated by MI5 were to be targeted in the scheme called Operation Constrain – with Whitehall saying the scheme could also apply to Britons returning from Islamic State group territory in Syria.

MI5 initially confirmed that some 20,000 people had been “persons of interest” in counter terrorism investigations in the past.

Now, police and security services face a surge in the number of convicted terrorists released from prison, with more than 40% of the sentences for terrorism offences handed down over a 10-year period having been served by the end of the year according to figures compiled by the Sentencing Council.

More than 80 of the 193 terms issued for terrorism offences between 2007 and 2016 will run out by the end of this year.

However, the number of individuals released could be much higher as prisoners are eligible for release halfway through their sentence.

Under the existing de-radicalisation programme Prevent, teachers, doctors and social workers can refer people they fear may turn to extremism.

Constrain, as initially outlined, sees police and social workers contacting people already on MI5’s databases to assess what danger they pose and what it would take to integrate them into society.

In hotspots for terror suspects such as Birmingham, Manchester and London, police would be handed details of potential terrorists by counter-terrorism services and will visit them in person.

A local panel would decide what interventions could work.

If those listed have no suitable accommodation, the housing department of the relevant council can work towards accessing social housing- as a priority – with rent payments covered.

Such interventions are seen as assisting police and Prevent teams being able to send back assessments about the risk the extremists pose.

BACKGROUND: Housing and counter-terrorism

Operation Constrain pitched housing providers into the anti-terror frontline – earlier last year government planned to push further

Ahead of the snap general election last year, Tories were hinting at revived ‘involuntary re-location’ as an option to help security services monitor suspects and force them away from associates.

Under ‘involuntary re-location’ a suspect living in one place could be ordered to live somewhere else – away from associates.

That could still happen – despite the election result – if existing Tpims (terrorism prevention and investigation measures)  are toughened to the level of previous control orders by a new counter-terrorism bill.

Tough talk in the wake of the Borough Market attack suggested a review of existing counter-terror laws, their operational imposition by security services and related sentences – including those for “less serious” offences.

Tipims – restrictions on those suspected of being terrorists but have not been convicted of a related offence – replaced control orders introduced by the last Labour government.

Control orders were subject to repeated court challenges as to the legality of restrictions imposed.

A key – and crucial – difference between Tpims and control orders allowed for involuntary relocation.

Relocation requirements were a particularly controversial aspect of control orders and several were struck down by the courts.

Tpim, instead, has provision for overnight residence requirements saying suspects must be based somewhere they have a residence or connection.

After Borough Market, Tories referenced tougher Tpims, saying the government would probably try to strengthen the specifics of their imposition.

Commentators subsequently seized on that as implying the reintroduction of involuntary relocation – with nothing to indicate the related responsibilities on housing providers – as per a counter-extremism bill proposed after the 2015 general election.

Then, the Cameron government put such a bill in two successive Queen’s speeches – but government lawyers could reportedly not clearly define the “non-violent extremism” the bill was to target.


Control orders and Tipims – what’s the difference?

Measures that may be imposed under Tipims are finite and less intrusive – in some respects – than those under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Tipims don’t allow for involuntary relocation – one of the most controversial aspects of the control order regime – and relocation requirements were struck down by the courts in several cases.

Overnight residence requirements – which are permitted for Tpim – contain their subjects where they have a residence or connection.

Curfews of up to 16 hours are replaced by “overnight residence requirements”.

The power to confine persons to a particular area is replaced by a power to exclude them from particular specified areas or places.

The power to ban all electronic communications is replaced by a provision that requires the subject to be allowed the use of a fixed line and a mobile telephone, and a computer with internet access.

Police searches for the purpose of determining whether there is compliance with Tpims now require a warrant from the appropriate judicial authority.

Measures to prohibit and vet visitors and meetings are relaxed.

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