As the Home Affairs Committee recommends a shift in responsibility for terrorism matters, Andrew Staniforth examines the key relationship between the police and security services.
By – Andrew Staniforth – Police Oracle
The recent recommendations by MPs for national counter-terrorism issues to be moved from the police to the National Crime Agency would represent an unprecedented change in the 130 year history of the Metropolitan Police leading the policing of political violence.
The potential shift towards a federal approach to counter-terrorism policing raises concerns for the local community focus of contemporary counter-terrorism efforts and the continued collaboration with the Security Service (MI5), who retain primacy of the domestic threat from terrorism.
Defending the realm
Since the creation of the Special Irish Branch at Scotland Yard during 1883, the citizens of the UK have enjoyed protection from terrorism under the aegis of various departments and agencies across the landscape of government, but critical to the success of domestic counter-terrorism has been the collaborative approach between MI5 and the Police Service.
This collaboration between the covert and overt arms of government to counter-terrorism is unique. There are no other partnership models that are directly comparable and is a relationship that is unmatched anywhere in the world.
For over a century, the police and MI5 have worked together, and while their shared missions have not been without their imperfections, at each juncture where tragic events or increased threats to national security have been identified, MI5 and the police have risen collectively to address the emerging security challenges of the time.
Together, the police and MI5, who represent very different emanations of state power, have served the public well, tackling all manner of security hazards. Former Metropolitan Police Service Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, states that: “There can be no doubt that the most important change in counter-terrorism in the UK in recent years has been the development of the relationship between the police and Security Service“.
He added: “It is no exaggeration to say that the joint working between the police and MI5 has become recognised as a beacon of good practice. Colleagues from across the globe, in law enforcement and intelligence, look to the UK as a model, and many of them are, quite frankly, envious.”
The Police Service and MI5 responded rapidly to the post-9/11threat from international terrorism, a threat of such magnitude that it shaped the first decade of the new century of counter-terrorism. Of the two bodies of government, it is the Police Service in particular that has expanded its counter-terrorism mission the most noticeably over recent years.
The close collaboration in counter-terrorism between the police and MI5 was amplified during the build of the national police counter-terrorism network, a series of police units established across the UK in response to the London 7/7 bombings. These units, operating outside of London but coordinated by senior Metropolitan Police officers, were designed to assess local threats, being armed with the resources to tackle them effectively.
Stuart Osborne, former Deputy Assistant Commissioner, National Co-ordinator of counter-terrorism and the head of the Counter Terrorism Command at the Metropolitan Police Service from 2009-2013, believes that the police counter-terrorism network is one of the most significant changes in UK counter terrorism. He adds: “Through the national network of specialist and dedicated counter terrorism policing units a richer picture of the threats emerging locally and regionally has been both obtainable and obtained”.
The inter-dependencies of the Police Service and MI5 are very close – each is the other’s most important partner in this arena but they remain independent of each other. However, the world is a markedly different place following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and 7/7……….continue……….
Dr Andrew Staniforth is Senior Research Fellow, Centre of Excellence in Terrorism, Resilience, Intelligence & Organised Crime Research (CENTRIC)
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