Record 400 arrests for terrorism in Britain in 2017, official figures show

Justin davenport, NIcholas Cecil
Police respond to the terror attack on London Bridge: DANIEL SORABJI/AFP/Getty Images

The number of suspects arrested in terrorism investigations in Britain has reached a record high, official figures revealed today.

A total of 400 people were held for terror-related offences in Britain in the year to the end of September - a 54 per cent jump on the previous 12 months.

This was the highest tally since data collection started in 2001 with figures also revealing that 58 of those held were female - the highest number on record.

The Home Office said the increase was partly due to a large number of arrests made following terrorist attacks in London and Manchester this year.

The figures show that 115 arrests - or 29 per cent - resulted in charges of which 97 were terror-related. A total of 213 people were released without charge, 60 were released on bail pending further investigation and 11 faced “alternative action.” One case was described as pending.

Security Minister Ben Wallace said police and security services “have been clear that we are facing a shift rather than a short-term spike in the terrorist threat”.

He added: “The whole of society must come together to challenge the terrorist threat.

“The public must remain alert but not alarmed and report any suspicions they have about unusual activity or behaviour to the appropriate authorities.”

Counter-terror agencies believe the scale of the threat facing the country is unprecedented.

Britain was hit by five attacks between March and September, four of them in London, while authorities are mounting more operations to disrupt suspected terrorist planning.

The figures come just days after MI5’s Director General Andrew Parker revealed that nine terror plots had been foiled in the UK in the past year.

He warned that now Islamic State forces had been defeated in Iraq and Syria the terror group was calling for attacks to be carried out on British soil.

Official figures show a record number of arrests linked to terrorism (AP)

The figures revealed there were year-on-year increases in the number of arrests for terrorism-related offences across all age groups and ethnic groups, including a 77% rise in the number of white suspects held, from 81 to 143.

They show an annual jump of more than a third in arrests linked to international terrorism, from 212 to 292, such as Islamic State.

There was also a leap in arrests for “domestic” terrorism, up from 20 in the year to September 2016 to 73 in the latest period and a further five in connection to Northern Ireland.

Domestic terrorism refers to activity where there are no links to either Northern Ireland-related or international terrorism.

Finsbury Park attack: The scene at Seven Sisters Road where a man was killed (Jeremy Selwyn)

Many of the record number of terror arrests related to the unprecedented attacks on London and Manchester this year.

There were 12 arrests following the Westminster attack in which Khalid Masood drove a car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge killing four people people before stabbing police officer Keith Palmer to death as he protected the House of Commons.

London Bridge attack: two of the terrorists were shot dead by police (EPA)

A total of 21 people were arrested after three extremists went on a stabbing rampage in the London Bridge and Borough Market attack in which eight people were killed.

One person was held after the Finsbury Park attack in which one person died and seven held after the Parsons Green Tube bomb.

Mr Wallace said the Government was reviewing its counter-terrorism strategy in light of recent attacks to ensure we meet the threat from terrorism now and in the future.

Britain’s terror threat level remains at ‘severe’ meaning an attack an highly likely.

The number of “live” operations being run by MI5 and police has surged by a third since the beginning of this year to well over 500.

Well-wishers: a sea of floral tributes after the London Bridge attack (AFP/Getty Images)

These probes involve around 3,000 “subjects of interest”, while there is a further pool of more than 20,000 individuals who have previously been investigated.

Earlier this week an official assessment revealed the ringleader of the London Bridge rampage was being “actively” investigated at the time of the atrocity.

It also found that the Manchester bombing in May could have been stopped “had the cards fallen differently”.

The Home Office announcement came as Downing Street this morning stopped short of backing Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson’s stance that British jihadists who have fought for Islamic State shoud be barred from returning to the UK - and instead be hunted down and killed.

Mr Williamson, the former Chief Whip, told the Daily Mail: “I do not believe that any terrorist, whether they come from this country or any other, should ever be allowed back into this country. We should do everything we can do to destroy and eliminate that threat.”

The hardline approach put Mr Williamson at odds with the Government’s anti-terror watchdog.

Max Hill QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, has argued that the authorities should look to “reintegrate” the “young” and “naive” jihadis who travel to warzones, rather than prosecute them, on their return to the country.

He warned of “losing a generation” of men and women by automatically using the courts to punish them.

A No10 source said this morning: “As the Government has always made clear, anyone choosing to go to Iraq and Syria and fight with our enemies is making themselves a legitimate target.

“We have a series of powers to deal with foreign fighters seeking to return to the UK, including the removal of passports.”