07:58, February 03 194 0 theguardian.com

2020-02-03 07:58:04
London attack: PM says terrorism sentence changes may be applied retrospectively

Prisoners already jailed for terrorism offences could face retrospective changes to their sentences to deny them early release, after a man just freed from jail carried out a knife attack in south London, Boris Johnson has said.

Speaking at the end of a speech mainly concerned with Brexit, the prime minister said the government could go down the potentially legally tricky route of changing release conditions for those already in jail, following two recent incidents involving released Islamist attackers.

Sudesh Amman was shot dead by police in Streatham on Sunday after stabbing two people. The 20-year-old had been freed after serving half of his sentence of more than three years for the possession and distribution of extremist material and was under active police surveillance. The attack left one person initially in a life-threatening condition.

After a man with a similar sentencing history killed two people at London Bridge in November, Johnson promised to change the law to end automatic early release for those convicted of terrorism offences.

On Monday he said this could now be applied to those already in jail.

“The difficulty is how to apply that retrospectively to the cohort of people who currently qualify,” the prime minister said. “We do think it’s time to take action to ensure that people, irrespective of the law we’re bringing in, people in the current stream do not qualify automatically for early release, people convicted of terrorist offences.

“I hope people understand that the anomaly we need to clear up is the process by which some people are still coming out under automatic early release without any kind of scrutiny or parole system.”

More details would emerge soon via the justice secretary, Robert Buckland, Johnson added.

Answering a question about how people could be reassured, Johnson said the aim was that no one jailed for terrorism should be released “without some process of parole or scrutiny by real experts in the matter – cynical, hardened people who can look into their eyes and really think whether or not these people again pose a danger to the public”.

Deradicalising Islamists was difficult, Johnson said: “Looking at the problems we have with re-educating and reclaiming and rehabilitating people who succumb to Islamism is very, very hard, and very tough.

“It can happen but the instances of success are really very few, and we need to be frank about that. We need to think about how we handle that in our criminal justice system.”

Speaking earlier, the chief secretary to the Treasury, Rishi Sunak, rejected the idea that cuts to prison and probation services had made it harder to rehabilitate or monitor terrorism suspects.

He told BBC1’s Breakfast: “The counter-terrorism budget, which is what we’re dealing with here, has actually been increased every year for the last five or six years.

“It is now up 30% or 40% from where it was several years ago. And we just announced a 10% increase, taking it to almost £1bn for the forthcoming year.”

He said the government was doubling the number of specific counter-terrorism probation officers and creating new places in probationary hostels. “This is all forming part of the plans that we’re putting in place to keep people safe.”

Map

After Sunday’s attack, three victims were taken by ambulance to south London hospitals. One man, in his 40s, was no longer considered to be in a life-threatening condition after treatment, police said. A woman, in her 50s, who had non-life-threatening injuries has been discharged from hospital.

Police said a second woman in her 20s, who sustained minor injuries believed to have been caused by glass after the discharge of a police firearm, was still receiving treatment.

The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, said he was alarmed that Amman had been freed even though he was considered a sufficient danger to be followed by armed police.

“Why didn’t the probation service, the prison service, properly punish and reform him?” Khan asked on BBC1’s Breakfast. “And also, why was he allowed to be released if the authorities knew he was a danger?”

Speaking earlier, on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, he said the attack was “clearly foreseeable”. “But for an inch this way or that way, but for the brilliance of the medics and the speed of the police, there would have been two fatalities and many more,” Khan said.

“And that’s one of the reasons why I’m not just frustrated but I’m angry at the changes made in the past and the lack of progress in making the changes we were promised in November.”

Mobile phone footage of the incident showed officers wearing plain clothes arriving on the scene at high speed, firing about five gunshots and killing Amman outside a branch of Boots pharmacy. They were carrying pistols that are normally used by surveillance officers.

Map of Streatham High Road showing White Lion pub and Boots

Police continued their investigations overnight, with search warrants being used at two addresses, in south London and Bishop’s Stortford.

Amman pledged allegiance to Islamic State in messages to his girlfriend at the time he was jailed, and said he wanted to carry out terrorist attacks.

He wrote to her: “If you can’t make a bomb because family, friends or spies are watching or suspecting you, take a knife, molotov, sound bombs or a car at night and attack.”

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