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Streatham Incident

Volume 801: debated on Monday 3 February 2020


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the senseless and horrific terror attack in Streatham yesterday afternoon. Two members of the public were brutally stabbed as they went about their business on the busy High Road. Another was injured as our brave police stepped in before even more harm could be done. I am sure Honourable Members will join me in sending our thoughts and prayers to the victims, their families and all those affected by this appalling attack.

I would also like to pay tribute to our outstanding emergency services who once again ran towards untold danger to protect the public: the police who shot the offender to save others, and the ambulance staff who fearlessly tended the wounded despite the risk to their own lives.

Protecting the public is, and has to be, the number one priority for this Government. The Streatham incident is subject to an ongoing police investigation. As such, I am limited in what I can say at this time, but I would like to share what details I can with the House. A known terrorist senselessly stabbed a man and a woman on Streatham High Road around 2 pm yesterday afternoon. The attacker has yet to be formally identified, but police are confident it was 20 year-old Sudesh Amman. In December 2018 he was imprisoned for three years and four months for 16 counts of distributing extremist material and for the possession of material likely to be useful for the purposes of preparing a terrorist act. The sentence he received was a standard determinate sentence. That means that one week ago he was automatically released half way through the term. The Parole Board had no involvement in the matter. The law required automatic unconditional release at the halfway point.

Amman was being followed by armed police officers when he attacked, and they immediately shot him dead before he could harm any others. They stepped in despite the fact he appeared to be wearing an explosive device, which has now been confirmed as fake. A female member of the public in her 20s was hurt by broken glass as shots were fired to end the threat. She remains in hospital, as does the male victim in his 40s, who I am pleased to say is now recovering after initially fighting for his life. The other female victim, in her 50s, has since been discharged. Our thoughts are with them all.

As this is an ongoing investigation, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further on the case while the full facts are established. However, I would like to reassure honourable Members that our outstanding security services and the police have the full support of the Government as they investigate this atrocity.

I also want to talk about our security services, police, prison and probation officers, and their joint response. All these operational agencies are truly first class and are the epitome of public duty. The swift response to yesterday’s attack, monitoring the threat and responding quickly when it escalated, can give us confidence that the police and security services are doing all they can to keep the public safe.

Our prisons and probation services have robust measures in place to deal with terrorist offenders and we are at the forefront of international efforts to counter this threat. All terrorist prisoners and individuals who are considered to be an extremist risk are managed through a specialist case management process. Most can be dealt with as part of the mainstream prison population but, where it is necessary, a small number of the very highest-risk offenders are now managed in separation centres.

The time offenders spend in prison is an opportunity to do our best to rehabilitate them, recognising that this is no simple challenge. Psychological, theological and mental health interventions are all used, and HMPPS psychologists supply two formal counter-radicalisation programmes, used both in custody and in the community. In addition, the desistance and disengagement programme was rolled out in prisons in 2018. This provides a range of intensive, tailored interventions designed to address the root causes of terrorism.

I want to pay tribute to the work of our prisons and probation staff. They are dedicated to keeping the public safe, and they work tirelessly to try to turn lives around, even in the face of such a deep-seated ideology.

The tragic events at Fishmongers’ Hall in November last year showed that we need to look carefully at the way we deal with terrorist offenders. I have long been clear, as has my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, that automatic halfway release is simply not right in all cases. After the London Bridge attack, the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and I immediately promised a major shake-up of our response to terrorism. Two weeks ago, the Home Secretary and I announced clear measures, a tough new approach and a new commitment to crack down on offenders and keep people safe. Those include, first, introducing longer and tougher sentences for serious terrorist offenders, ending release for them before the end of their custodial term, opening up longer licence periods, and keeping the worst offenders locked up for a mandatory minimum 14-year term; secondly, the overhauling of prisons and probation, with tougher monitoring conditions, including lie detector tests to assess risks; thirdly, doubling the number of counterterrorism probation officers and investing in counterterrorism police, providing an increase in funding of £90 million from April; and, fourthly and finally, putting victims first by reviewing the support available to them, including an immediate £500,000 boost for the Victims of Terrorism Unit.

We have also announced an independent review of our multiagency public protection arrangements—MAPPA—to be led by Jonathan Hall QC. This is looking at pre-release planning, as well as the management of offenders upon release in the community.

Many of those measures will be in a new counter-terrorism (sentencing and release) Bill to be introduced in the first 100 days of this re-elected Government. However, yesterday’s appalling incident makes the case plainly for immediate action. We cannot have the situation, as we saw tragically in yesterday’s case, where an offender—a known risk to innocent members of the public—is released early by automatic process of law, without any oversight by the Parole Board.

We will do everything we can to protect the public. That is our primary duty. We will therefore introduce emergency legislation to ensure an end to terrorist offenders being released automatically, having served half their sentence, with no check or review. The underlying principle has to be that offenders will no longer be released early automatically and that any release before the end of their sentence will be dependent on risk assessment by the Parole Board.

We face an unprecedented situation of severe gravity. As such, it demands that the Government respond immediately, and this legislation will therefore also apply to serving prisoners. The earliest point at which these offenders will now be considered for release will be once they have served two-thirds of their sentence and, crucially, we will introduce a requirement that no terrorist offender will be released before the end of the full custodial term unless the Parole Board agrees. We will ensure that the functions of the Parole Board are strengthened to deal even more effectively with the specific risk that terrorists pose to public safety. For example, we will ensure that the appropriate specialisms are in place. That work is in train and we will take steps to implement this as soon as possible.

When someone is released, we will always ensure that terrorist offenders are subject to the most robust safeguards, and we will consider whether new legislation is required to provide additional assurance. Finally, we will review whether the current maximum penalties and sentencing framework for terrorist offences are indeed sufficient or comprehensive on the underlying principle that terrorist offenders should not be released until the Parole Board is satisfied that they are no longer a risk to the public.

As I said, keeping our streets and our people safe is our first duty. We face a threat from an ideology that takes no heed of others, and we must use every tool we can to make sure that that threat is neutralised. The British public have a proud history of coming together in times of adversity against those who seek to divide us. Together, we can make sure that the terrorists who seek to threaten our way of life will never win. This Government will do everything in our power to defeat them and to ensure that the public are protected. I commend this Statement to the House.”

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating that Statement—a difficult duty in very difficult times. I join him in his tribute to our emergency and health services, and in his sympathies with those recovering from this terrible incident.

I hope the Minister will be able to acknowledge the pre-eminence of resources to deal with the threat that we face. He mentioned a number of responses that the Government are considering and/or planning, but resources are required to do anything significant in this area, whether in relation to the prison system, which is under strain, as has been discussed in your Lordships’ House over many years, in relation to the probation service, which is designated with engaging with people who have been convicted, or in relation to precursor terrorism offences or other offences. This also applies, of course, to policing and to our agencies. Nothing that any Government of any persuasion may legislate for can be achieved to “keep our people safe” without putting significant resources into a system that has been under pressure for some time.

In relation to the privatisation of prisons and probation, the issue is not just about resources but about accountability and the importance of those elected to govern—who have, of late, been given a significant mandate—taking ultimate responsibility for that primary duty. I am sure that Members of your Lordships’ House noticed, as I did, the Minister’s comments on sentencing. Few could have a principled difficulty with the idea that those sentenced for terrorist offences should not be released automatically without the input of a decision-maker such as the Parole Board. That, of course, involves significant resources, not just for the Parole Board itself but for those who must engage—by not just isolation but engagement—within the prison system, to make rehabilitation a real possibility; currently, too many of our prisoners are radicalised not on the streets of this country but in the prison system itself.

I also noticed in the Statement more than a hint that the sentencing legislation to come, perhaps on an emergency basis, might well be retrospective in its effect. I hope that the Minister will be prepared to comment a little further on the legal dangers of embarking upon extending the incarceration, or changing the sentence, of people who have already been sentenced. This a very serious principle, under not only human rights law but the common law of this country. Can the Minister give us some comfort, or at least some further explanation, as to why it is necessary to prioritise retrospective legislation—if I have that right—or to extend the sentences of people already convicted, sentenced and incarcerated?

There was also a hint in the Statement—understandably so—about people who will come to the end of their sentence one day or, indeed, as those of us who have dealt with these matters before will know, about people who have never actually been convicted of anything. I would sound a note of caution about a well-trodden and dangerous road that has been embarked upon in the past, in this jurisdiction and elsewhere, of restrictions on liberty, or punishment, or preventative measures, without charge or trial. Such measures bring dangers not just to the rule of law but to counterterror efforts themselves. I ask noble Lords who are just as experienced as I am—or more so—in these matters to consider the dangers of such a path. Have we not learned the dangers of injustices and perceived injustices that recruit and radicalise more people than they ever deter?

The Minister was quite right to express caution about commenting too much on this individual case, which must of course still be subject to intense examination and review. I hope that, in time, your Lordships’ House will be provided with a fuller and more thoughtful review and consideration of what happened in this case, so that there might be some learning in relation to all the matters we have discussed, including how this young man went down the path he did, and how he was engaged with in his younger life, including within the prison system. This is not to detract from the heroic efforts and courage shown by those who put their lives on the line over the weekend, or members of the public who, as always in this great capital of this great country, responded with stoicism, courage and unity.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. This was a very serious incident; our thoughts are with the victims. It could have been much worse but for the rapid action of police officers. We should also recognise, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, did, the contribution of members of the public who came to the aid of the injured.

This terrorist was released by an automatic process which falls short of what we need to do to protect the public. We agree that, in future, release of those convicted of terrorist offences before the end of their sentence should require an assessment by the Parole Board, which will need the resources to do this. The Government have given some indication that they may give these. However, that is necessarily quite a limited thing, which will not in the end make a fundamental difference to the fact that most of these people will eventually come out of prison—a point which I will come to in a moment. If, for example, we have a terrorist conviction for possessing or distributing literature, the amount by which the sentence would be extended, from half to two-thirds, would be small as a proportion of a shorter sentence. In presenting this matter to the public, we should be clear about its limits. Is the Minister telling us—this is the point about retrospection that the noble Baroness referred to—that existing sentenced prisoners currently able to get release on licence at the halfway point will have their custody extended to two-thirds even if they are given a positive review in the Parole Board assessment? That seems to be not only retrospection but punishing prisoners for what others have done while they are inside.

The key point is that most of those we sentence for terrorist offences will eventually be released, so we have to deal with the risks. We need more resources to go into deradicalisation programmes in prisons, using any available expertise from other countries which have also been on this path. We need far more staff in our prisons, trained to deal with these prisoners. I do not think many people in the prison system would recognise the rosy picture tucked away in the Statement of life in our prisons. They house far more prisoners than they are built or staffed to hold, mainly because of longer sentences for a range of non-terrorist offences, which make prisons virtually unmanageable. We need rigorous management of terrorist prisoners, who all too often become members of a radical subculture in prison, which provides recruitment and training for terrorism and inspires the worst kind of fanaticism. When these prisoners are released, we need to be sure that they are supervised by properly financed probation services, police monitoring and, where justified, close surveillance and the involvement of the security services. We look forward to the Jonathan Hall review of multiagency co-operation, which is essential to dealing with this problem.

Finally, this House will want to look carefully at the legislation referred to in the Statement, because it touches on some important civil liberties issues. We must not let the terrorists destroy liberties which we all prize.

My Lords, I am most obliged for the contributions from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble Lord, Lord Beith. They touched on a very significant point, namely retrospection. I will elaborate a little on that.

There will be a retrospective element in the proposed legislation. It will not increase the sentence of those who have already been sentenced by the court. However, it will address the custodial period of the given sentence, which would be consistent with convention law and the common law. Therefore, we may have a situation in which someone has already been sentenced to a period of, say, nine years and might anticipate release without further consideration by the Parole Board after four and a half years. He would then face the prospect that the custodial element of the given sentence would increase to six years and he would also be subject to consideration by the Parole Board before he could be released even at that point. To that extent, as I say, there is an element of retrospection. We consider that to be proportionate and appropriate in the circumstances. As I say, it is consistent with convention jurisprudence and the common law that we should be able to address the custodial period of a sentence without altering the sentence itself. That is what we have in mind.

Noble Lords also raised the matter of resources. As I sought to indicate when repeating the Statement, we are seeking to address it. We are also addressing the need for clear licensing conditions to be imposed on those who are ultimately released having been sentenced for terrorist offences. Indeed, in this instance, there were conditions clearly attached. I cannot go into the detail, because that will be the subject of the police investigation, but I can say that there was a condition with regard to the place of residence of the individual who is believed to have been involved in this incident, for example. That would be common.

In addition, we have introduced the desistance and disengagement programme to try to mentor persons who have become involved in this sort of activity. That is an ongoing programme which operates both within and without prison.

I hope I can give some reassurance to noble Lords that we are concerned with the seriousness of this issue. I note with relief that noble Lords agree that we should address very quickly the question of automatic release of prisoners when they have committed terrorist offences of this kind.

My Lords, my noble and learned friend has said that no terrorist offender will be released before the end of the full custodial sentence, or something very like that, unless the Parole Board agrees. Provided that the class of offender is not too broadly defined, that seems a very sensible approach. My noble and learned friend has already addressed this matter in part, but what additional provision will be made for the testing and assessment of such prisoners when in custody? That was not happening with the IPP prisoners, for whom no adequate courses were made available. What additional resources will be made available to the probation services, to monitor these prisoners on release? I also ask that Mr Jonathan Hall QC be asked to make any further recommendation that he deems appropriate when he conducts his review.

There was a period when remedial courses for IPP prisoners were considered to be less than entirely satisfactory, and we have sought to address that. Certainly, there are various programmes for those who have been sentenced for terrorist offences, including the desistance and disengagement programme, which tries to mentor these individuals. I fully accept that it is a challenge, given that many have been radicalised long before they appear in prison and may be susceptible to the risk of further radicalisation once they are in prison. The availability of resources for the probation services has been discussed with those services. We will increase the number of qualified probation officers capable of dealing with such terrorist offenders. I shall try to put this into context: although the numbers may vary year to year, we are talking about tens, not hundreds, in each year. This is not a tidal wave of cases that will suddenly emerge and impose itself upon the probation service. In the current year, the estimate is of 50 cases; we consider that manageable in its proportions.

Does the Minister recognise that there is likely to be serious and possibly cogent challenge to the retrospectivity as it relates to sentences being served, given that a person who is sentenced to, for example, six years’ imprisonment today has a legitimate expectation—known to the judge—that he will serve three years and not six? Are the Government not therefore taking an unnecessary risk in adopting that form of retrospectivity? Surely, it would be more practicable and immediate to reintroduce the tried-and-tested system of control orders, which was found lawful before it was abolished by the coalition Government in 2011, so that at least for a period, or periods, after release somebody could be held under a control order. That would not cause house arrest but would create meaningful controls on that person, and those orders worked extremely well when they were carefully reviewed while in existence.

In addition, will the Minister confirm that the review of the MAPPA arrangements to be carried out by the current independent reviewer, Jonathan Hall, will be able to look at the actual content and conduct of courses in prison which are offered and given to terrorist prisoners? Can we also be assured that the examination of what happened yesterday will provide, as was suggested by the noble Baroness opposite, lessons learned so that we can discover whether the form of surveillance followed yesterday was the best available to prevent the kind of occurrence that took place on Streatham High Road?

My Lords, with regard to surveillance it respectfully appears to me that it was effective in the circumstances. I am not going to go into the detail of the circumstances but it was a sudden action by the individual in question, which was swiftly responded to by the police in an effective manner. As regards control orders, I remind the noble Lord that the licence conditions that now apply upon release to a prisoner, such as in the case in point, may include particular conditions about where they may reside. For example, the conditions may say that they must reside in a particularised hostel; they may also provide that they have to report in at certain times of the day or on a certain number of occasions during its course. They therefore effect a degree of control on the conduct of an individual. There has to be a careful balance between ensuring adequate supervision of such persons and not impeding unnecessarily, or in a disproportionate manner, their civil liberties.

I come on to the question of retrospective sentencing. We consider that we have taken a proportionate approach to that. The noble Lord suggests that there is a significant risk of legal challenge; with respect, I do not agree. It respectfully appears to me that the jurisprudence of the European Convention, and that in our common law, indicate that we are entitled to address the custodial element of a fixed sentence and vary it without impinging upon any fundamental rights of the prisoner in question. I am not going to say that there is no prospect of challenge; of course, there is always such a prospect in these circumstances, but we take that prospect into account when deciding the appropriate response to the present case.

With regard to the review to be carried out of MAPPA, I cannot give the precise details of the remit that is to be given. However, I will write to the noble Lord setting out that remit and place a copy of the letter in the House Library for noble Lords.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement. However, it gives a rather rosy picture of conditions in our prisons and the extent to which there can be, and is, effective supervision of people of this nature. I would be interested to know what progress has been made on the recommendations made to the former Secretary of State for Justice, Michael Gove, by Ian Acheson, a former prison governor, on what needed to be done about extremism in prisons. He made the specific recommendation that any prisoner in this category should have end-to-end case management from the point at which they are admitted to prison, right the way through to their discharge into the community. That is akin to the recommendation I made when I looked at the problems of young people in prison and at risk of self-harm—that direct, personal oversight by somebody who knows the individual is essential. Has that been implemented?

My Lords, we have accepted the recommendations of the Acheson review. They were essentially brought down to about 11 key points, which we have sought to implement. For example, I again notice the introduction of the desistance and disengagement policy, which is intended to ensure that there is mentoring on a one-to-one basis with prisoners who have been convicted of these serious terrorist offences.

My Lords, the Statement concludes:

“We face a threat from an ideology that takes no heed of others, and we must use every tool we can to make sure that that threat is neutralised.”

Will the Government therefore go to the root of the problem and encourage our Muslim leaders to re-form their religion, so that their jihadists cannot use it as the inspiration for this sort of attack and many thousands of similar attacks across the globe?

My Lords, it is a matter of regret that these outrageous attacks are not limited to any one section of the community and are not to be attributed to religious belief, but rather to a corruption of that belief.

My Lords, is my noble and learned friend familiar with the 20-plus drivers of radicalisation, factors which are well documented in academic research, in the judgments of courts sentencing terrorism offenders and in documents from our own intelligence services? How sophisticated is the Government’s understanding of those drivers of radicalisation? I raise this issue specifically because, as my noble and learned friend will be aware, many of the recommendations that date back to the work done by the last Labour Government after the attacks of 7/7 and work done after the terrorist attack in 2013, when drummer Lee Rigby was killed on the streets of London, have simply been shelved. We may talk about this event—I echo all Front-Benchers in saying that our thoughts are with those who have been injured—but I urge the Government to go back to what we already have on our books: recommendations that would get ahead of this issue, but which have simply not been implemented.

My Lords, there is diverse research in this area. We are on a learning curve and will remain so; we will never be ahead, as it were, because the terrorist can develop swiftly in diverse ways. We cannot always anticipate what those developments will be. Even if we could, there is a more fundamental issue with this sort of despicable offence and that is protection. We seek to address protection in many ways, but it can never be absolute.

My Lords, I join the Minister in commending the response particularly of the firearms officers yesterday. They make very quick decisions in very difficult circumstances. I am sure we all feel as though they had taken great steps.

However, yesterday’s events showed how difficult it is, even when surveillance is in place within what seems to be touching distance, to control dangerous people on the streets. We should not overreact after the two events, in November and now again in February. We need to ask three questions.

The first is the exam question. None of these comments is intended to be critical of the system or individuals, but how can the system allow the release part way through a sentence of someone who, within hours of their release, the police and security services have concluded requires surveillance, and allow them to wander around the streets of this city or any other, given that we do not have thousands of surveillance officers? There is a fairly limited resource, so they had to price in a pretty high bar before they got this commitment, yet the state has said they are okay to be released from part of their sentence. That is an unfortunate juxtaposition which I am sure, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, mentioned, needs to be addressed.

However, one day those people will come out, whether or not they serve more of their sentence, so we still have to consider what we will do for and with them. The deradicalisation work needs a complete quantum leap. The noble Lord, Lord Beith, said that it needs more resources; I am afraid that it needs a complete rethink and refresh. It is not just resource; the sad reality is that we are not sure whether people have been deradicalised or what works. There are international examples of it working and we could learn much from them, but we have to have a root-and-branch look at it.

Finally, we need to consider control orders, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, although I do not necessarily agree with him. Having a period of home imprisonment or incarceration may be a halfway house. However, control orders are designed for people who have not yet been convicted of or charged with offences but who are dangerous. Whether it is the old ones, to which the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, referred, or the new ones, they are available. There are precious few of them in place, because they drag resources with them. At times, people will argue for internment, but these orders can make a difference where somebody is not charged or convicted. The licence conditions and MAPPA conditions mentioned by the Minister are not sufficiently strong for this type of offender.

The noble Lord makes a very good point; this type of offender presents very particular issues and challenges. However, when looking at release and sentencing, we have to remember that there has to be a balance of rights. We must always acknowledge our adherence to the rule of law. No matter what the immediate consequences may be, we have to have regard to the wider consequences to civil society of any departure from our adherence to the rule of law, but this creates considerable challenges.

I agree with the noble Lord on the importance of deradicalisation and the need to try to develop our policy and approach to it; perhaps we should rethink it.

I go back to what I said before on control orders. I do not want to comment on the immediate case because it is still under investigation and report but, in the context of post-sentence release, I nevertheless emphasise that we now have a system of licensing conditions which can impose stringent controls on an individual after their release from custody.

My Lords, I have nothing but admiration for the response of the emergency services and the police in this incident, in the recent one at Fishmongers’ Hall, and in the one two and a half years ago at London Bridge, very near my cathedral. It is incumbent on me to try to correct what might be a mishearing of an earlier contribution. The response of the community in each of these cases has been remarkable and resilient. A major part of that response has come from the Muslim community, which has shown its conviction and commitment to peace-desiring and law-abiding ways of living and supporting the wider nation. The Statement said nothing about this because it did not have to, but I feel it is incumbent on me as a bishop to do so.

The community response yesterday was very remarkable. The rector of the parish was immediately out on the streets, giving refreshments to the emergency services. The parish church was open for prayer. Yesterday and at noon today—when I was able to be present—a large number of people from the community came. First thing on Thursday morning, the rector and I will be going to the Streatham mosque, at its invitation. It is immensely important for the nation to be aware of this wider dimension.

My question for the Minister relates to the fairly open sentence in the Statement:

“The time offenders spend in prison is an opportunity to do our best to rehabilitate them, recognising that this is no simple challenge.”

This is about something wider than antiterrorism strategy and rehabilitation. I have been made aware, again and again, of failures in rehabilitation provision in the five large, significant prisons in my diocese. Cases have often fallen back on the chaplaincy when people have come near to release and inadequate arrangements have been made. They are just being thrown out of prison; they are very vulnerable and at risk. A wider review of rehabilitation is called for.

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for his contribution. Clearly, one should not confuse the religion of Islam with the behaviour that we are concerned with here. I deplore any attempt to bring the two together or merge them in some way.

On the matter of rehabilitation, prison, a custodial sentence, is an opportunity for rehabilitation. The challenges of rehabilitation apply right across the prison community, but they are particularly stark in the case of terrorist offences where there has been radicalisation. We recognise that, which is why we will continue to look at the question of rehabilitation, not only during the period of custody but post release and during any licence conditions.