Max Hill QC, the new independent terror watchdog, has said the possibility of mass terrorist attacks in Britain is all too real, comparable to the IRA bombing campaign in the 1970s.
Speaking with The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Hill, whose role is to scrutinise government legislation, praised the intelligence agencies for foiling terrorist plots, reacting to the “wake-up call” of the 7/7 Tube bombings with efficiency and widespread success.
“Although many people might be alarmed to hear me say that I think the threat is present and severe, we must remember that since July 2005 there has been in essence a single death in Britain from that form of terrorism, namely Lee Rigby on the streets of Woolwich,” he said. “[It was] another intense tragedy and shocking moment in British history, but we should remember the success rate in avoiding or averting these plots, which has been truly remarkable.”
The prevalence of extremist videos online and their ability to radicalise young Britons from their bedrooms is one of the problems in Mr Hill’s sights.
“The rise of social media in the last decade and of course the internet over the last 25, 30 years has seen an extraordinary phenomenon in terms of worldwide information,” he said. “We are better informed about what’s going on than we ever were but there’s more information accessible at a few clicks of a button to us and to our children than there was before…
“I know from my case work that there are many recent examples where actually quite young people, often teenagers, have been radicalised or have had their mindset altered in part or in whole by what is accessible to them from their bedroom on a laptop computer. “That’s a sign of real worry for all of us,” said the 53-year-old, himself a father of two.
Despite the threat Mr Hill opposed “draconian” measures that would imperil free speech online. He declined to back extra laws to force Facebook, Twitter and other social media giants to take down extremist content, proposing instead more international co-operation between governments.
As for what Mr Hill wants to investigate, the use of Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures – so-called TPIMs, a form of Control Order that can restrict a person’s movement or financial activity – is high on the list.
He calls the orders an “extraordinarily serious infringement” on people’s lives and, while careful to insist they remain “necessary”, appears to caution their use.
“The intention of the Government, the authorities, must always be to charge an individual who they believe is guilty of a crime, to place them before a public court and to either approve the offence or say enough is enough,” he said.