Britain’s new independent terror watchdog believes the current threat faced by the nation is the highest it has been since the height of the IRA 40 years ago.
Max Hill QC – a barrister who has successfully prosecuted some of the most notorious UK terrorists in the last two decades – was appointed earlier this week.
He successfully put the failed 21/7 bombers behind bars, as well as the IRA members responsible for a car bomb outside the BBC studios in 2001 and appeared in the inquest into the 7/7 attacks – but cites the jailing of Damilola Taylor’s murderers as his proudest achievement.
Mr Hill will take over from David Anderson as Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation at the start of next month, and is under no illusion about the task on his hands.
The 53-year-old believes social media is ‘extraordinary phenomenon’, both in terms of being a platform for radicalising people, especially youngsters, as well as for counter-terror teams to pick up potential leads, and believes the current threat is at its highest for 40 years.
He told the Sunday Telegraph: ‘I think the intensity and the potential frequency of serious plot planning with a view to indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians of whatever race or colour in metropolitan areas – represents an enormous on-going risk that none of us can ignore.
‘So I think that there is undoubtedly significant ongoing risk which is at least as great as the threat to London in the Seventies when the IRA were active on the mainland.
Mr Hill has been a QC for nine years and worked on a number of high-profile terrorism cases.
The Home Office said he has ‘extensive experience’ both defending and prosecuting complex cases involving terrorism, homicide, violent crime, high value fraud and corporate crime.
A profile on the website of his chambers said he is an ‘an effective multi-talented barrister who maintains a heavyweight crime practice’.
But despite all of these shining accolades, it is the murder of 10-year-old Damilola in 2000 that sticks in his mind more than any other case.
He told the Telegraph: ‘Undoubtedly the killing of a 10-year-old boy on the streets of London when his Nigerian parents had sent him to be schooled in London thinking he would be safer here than at home, that is not only tragic but leaves a lasting impression.’
nnouncing his appointment earlier this week, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said: ‘With the threat from terrorism continuing to evolve and diversify, it is vital we have robust oversight to ensure our counter-terrorism laws are fair, necessary and proportionate.
‘Mr Hill brings a wealth of experience and legal expertise to help deliver this.’
The independent reviewer scrutinises the operation of the UK’s laws on terrorism and produces reports.
Mr Anderson left his powerful post with a call for the Government to overhaul its controversial ‘Prevent’ programme aimed at stopping people becoming extremists.
In his final interview, Mr Anderson renewed his criticism of the Government’s Prevent programme.
He told ITV’s Peston on Sunday: ‘It’s supposed to be the easy bit, it’s supposed to be about stopping all our young people being drawn into terrorism.
‘But for one reason or another it is actually the most controversial bit and the problem is that although there are admirable people doing the job on the ground locally, this is a programme that is simply not trusted by a very large number of decent British Muslims.
‘I can only indicate directions of travel because I don’t review the programme, but I think one thing they need to do is do a much better job of explaining what they are doing, what the basis is for the interventions they are making, what the training materials say, what is their metric for success.
‘I think they also have to do a better job, particularly nationally, of engaging with a wider range of Muslims.’