The Government was on a collision course with its independent terror watchdog Max Hill (file image) today after he warned against a raft of new laws
Britain’s terror watchdog was last night branded ‘horrifyingly dangerous’ for claiming tough new laws to prosecute extremists would be wrong despite a string of jihadist attacks.
Max Hill, the independent reviewer of anti-terror laws, was rebuked by ministers after raising concerns about Theresa May’s plans to create new offences following a wave of Islamist atrocities in London and Manchester.
In a highly unusual intervention, the Government said it ‘disagreed’ with the top lawyer’s controversial remarks – thinly veiled code for deep unhappiness.
The QC’s comments came only days after he provoked outrage by suggesting ‘naive’ militants returning from the Islamic State war zone should be given space to reintegrate into UK communities instead of prosecuted.
Experts said his words would ‘give succour to those who wish us harm’ and that he was increasing the risk to Britain from terrorism by ‘undermining’ the work of MI5.
Mr Hill used a speech to a charity in central London to warn against a ‘knee-jerk reaction’ to the recent terror attacks.
He said introducing new crimes, including a kind of Asbo for jihadists to prevent them radicalising vulnerable people and measures to silence firebrand preachers or groups, should be shelved.
The proposals had been unveiled by the Prime Minister, who vowed to crack down on extremism as the country reeled from the attacks in the summer.
Mr Hill also questioned Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s plans to make watching terrorist propaganda such as beheading videos and bombmaking guides online punishable by 15 years in jail.
She has vowed to introduce tougher prison sentences for those convicted of repeatedly viewing sickening jihadist and far-Right content online.
Mr Hill said the law had to draw a distinction between committing terrorism and merely thinking about it. Pictured is the aftermath of the Westminster attack in March
In the aftermath of the London Bridge attack (pictured is the immediate after the terrorists were shot by police), Theresa May vowed ‘enough is enough’ and promised new laws
Britain has more returning jihadis
More Islamic State fighters have returned to Britain than to any other Western country, a report said yesterday.
Britain had the highest proportion of returning jihadis in Europe, according to Richard Barrett, a former MI6 director of global counter-terrorism.
It was ‘inevitable’ that some of those returning from Syria and Iraq would remain committed to violent extremism and would pose ‘a huge challenge’ to security, said his report for the Soufan Centre think-tank and the Global Strategy Network.
Globally, it found 40,000 foreign fighters had joined IS since 2011, of whom more than 5,600 had returned home. Around 5,000 were from EU countries, of whom around 1,200 had returned.
Some 850 Britons joined the terror network, of whom around 425 were said to have returned.
By comparison, 1,910 travelled from France but only 271 reportedly returned – raising questions about why so many more were able to come back to the UK.
More than 100 British fighters were believed to have been killed, including notorious IS recruiter Sally Jones, but around 325 remain unaccounted for and could still pose a danger.
Mr Hill suggested terrorists who committed ‘modest or middle-ranking’ offences should not face longer behind bars.
His views are a stark contrast with his predecessor, David Anderson, who warned that returning jihadis were the greatest risk to the nation for years and said extra legal powers might be needed to prosecute hate preachers who encourage violent radicalisation.
In his speech to human rights charity Justice Mr Hill, who took the anti-terror role in February, said the law should be targeted only at those who attempted to commit, or actually carried out, acts of violence. He said: ‘Whilst we can all agree that there should be nowhere for real terrorists to hide, we should also agree that legislating in the name of terrorism when the targeted activity is not actually terrorism would be quite wrong.
Mrs May (pictured leaving No 10 yesterday) has promised to stamp out tolerance of extremism in Britain
‘We do not, and should not, criminalise thought without action or preparation for action. Thought with steps towards action can be terrorism. Thought without action or preparation for action may be extremism, but it is not terrorism.’
Last night No 10 hit back at Mr Hill. A spokesman said: ‘What we want to do is to send a clear message that we will not tolerate terrorism, those who help radicalise terrorists with their extremist views, or those who turn a blind eye to terrorist activity.’
A Government spokesman said: ‘Max Hill is independent of Government. His role is one of oversight, not the formulation of policy and we disagree with him on this issue. Extremism is a danger to society and we have a responsibility to protect the public.’
Emma Webb, of security think-tank the Henry Jackson Society, said: ‘The independent reviewer is downplaying the fact that non-violent extremism… creates an environment in which violent extremism can flourish.
‘To suggest measures tackling this problem are beyond the pale of legislation misses the point entirely and gives succour to those who wish us harm.’
Security expert Professor Anthony Glees, of Buckingham University, suggested Mr Hill should be fired. He added: ‘He is meant to review counter-terror laws, not pontificate if they are good or bad.’
MI5 has more than 500 live investigations, with 3,000 people suspected of extremist activities.
Mr Hill is a leading barrister who successfully prosecuted the failed July 21 bombers. He was appointed the independent reviewer of anti-terror laws by the Home Secretary.
UK freedom fighter is killed
Jac Holmes (pictured) died on Monday
A British man who travelled to Syria to fight against Islamic State was killed by an explosion days after watching the fall of Raqqa.
Jac Holmes, one of the longest serving Britons fighting with Kurdish militia against the terror group, died on Monday while he was clearing an area of landmines to make it safe for civilians.
Hours previously he had written of how he had walked through the liberated streets of Raqqa, the extremists’ former capital. The 24-year-old former IT worker from Bournemouth had no military experience before he joined the Kurdish People’s Protection Units in January 2015.
His mother Angie Blannin called him a hero and said: ‘He had the courage of his convictions to go out and do something where he thought that the West were not doing enough.’
Saudi to axe strict Islamic law
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince has promised to break the country free from the ‘destructive’ Islamic law.
Mohammed bin Salman pledged a ‘moderate and open’ society yesterday as he announced a £380 billion new megacity.
Speaking in the capital Riyadh, the Crown Prince, 32, said: ‘We want to live a normal life. A life in which our religion translates to tolerance, to our traditions of kindness.
‘Seventy per cent of the population is under 30, and honestly we will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with destructive ideas. We will destroy them today.’ The heir to the throne added: ‘We were not like this in the past. We want to go back to what we were: Moderate Islam.’
The new city project, dubbed Neom, will be built along the country’s Red Sea coastline and could lead the way in the use of drones, driverless cars and robotics.
The Middle Eastern country has long been criticised for its severe religious laws which restrict women’s lives. It comes after King Salman lifted a decades-long ban prohibiting women from driving last month.