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Breakfast with Frost
Sir John Stevens, Metropolitan police commissioner
Sir John Stevens, Metropolitan police commissioner
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: SIR JOHN STEVENS METROPOLITAN POLICE COMMISSIONER FEBRUARY 16th, 2003

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: And we're joined now by the head of Metropolitan Police, Sir John Stevens. We are delighted to have you with us. Known colloquially as Britain's top cop. What's the situation out there today in terms of the threats that you're analysing and the policies you're pursuing? What's the situation, stop press, on Sunday morning?

JOHN STEVENS: The threat is still high and we've still got a, a operation at Heathrow, and what we do every day is we analyse the threat and we meet that threat with whatever resources are necessary.

DAVID FROST: Right, and is the threat as great as it was a week ago - and how do you, how do you gauge what level of alert there is?

JOHN STEVENS: Well there are daily meetings of Cobra, which are chaired by either a minister or by a senior civil servant, and we go to that, the professionals are there, the secret service are there, we are there, the police, and we give advice and as a result of that a decision is made. So it's an ongoing thing and at the moment the threat is still high.

DAVID FROST: And what about the situation, we've read in a number of places and from leaks and briefings and so on, that your real fear at the moment was the possibility of ground to air missiles finding their way into this country - is that correct?

JOHN STEVENS: That is one of the problems, yes.

DAVID FROST: And what are the others?

JOHN STEVENS: The others are a more generalised threat which relate to London, in particular, and that is the threat of people operating and using whatever means they think is necessary to create mayhem.

DAVID FROST: How many members of something like al-Qaeda are there hiding out in this country, or sleepers?

JOHN STEVENS: It's very difficult to know but we do know that there's a substantial presence and we're taking action in relation to those.

DAVID FROST: How do you take action?

JOHN STEVENS: Well there's a variety of means. We work, as I say, with the security services; we work together with the anti-terrorist branch, special branch, and a large, a large number of steps are taken. And one of the real frustrations, of course, is we can't declare some of the things we're doing because that would of course forewarn the enemy and that would let them know what we do and how we do it.

DAVID FROST: And what sources you were calling upon and so on -

JOHN STEVENS: Exactly.

DAVID FROST: - in terms of approaching all of those things. Is it true to say that our system of immigration and asylum makes things that much more difficult for you compared to some of the European countries - that it gives you a tougher challenge?

JOHN STEVENS: I think there's a general acceptance that the borders that we've got are porous and that more steps are needed in relation to that. I think that's been accepted by government and of course we've gone along with that.

DAVID FROST: And what about the situation in terms of when Rudi Giuliani was with us again, just recently, he repeated what he'd said when he was with us a year ago, that he knew that sooner or later there would be another attack on the United States; and the Prime Minister has said that inevitably, sooner or later, there will be a terrorist or an al-Qaeda attack on this country - how do you see it? Is there an inevitability about it?

JOHN STEVENS: I'm afraid I think there probably is but that doesn't mean that we don't take all the steps that are necessary to make sure that that doesn't take place. And that's what we're doing. As I said earlier, the frustration is that we can't declare some of the disruptive tactics that we're taking, that are taking place at the moment, in relation to some terrorist groups. A massive amount of work has been going on specifically since November of last year. There have been 72 arrests for terrorist offences and so it goes on.

DAVID FROST: Why the tanks are Heathrow airport, because they don't directly deal with terrorists do they? Tanks, normally.

JOHN STEVENS: Well that's not new. I mean in 1986 I was a chief superintendent at Heathrow myself and we were using tanks there - you'll remember there were massacres at various European airports - and we used them on a regular basis. And then in 1994 when the mortars were used by the IRA, we used them then. So, there's (...) precedence for that and having gone around Heathrow on Thursday and spoken to members of the public that actually flew out and back into Heathrow, people took it, they knew the reasons we were doing it and took it as a matter of course. We're grateful for that.

DAVID FROST: And what about the situation described in the Daily Mail yesterday which suggested that in fact the terror alert might have been caused by an al-Qaeda hoax. Is that possible?

JOHN STEVENS: No, we don't think so. We think that the, the level of the threat was absolute and that's why we took the steps that we did. And if those steps are needed again, we will take those steps for the safety of the public.

DAVID FROST: The vital thing, I suppose, is intelligence gathering, isn't it? I mean it is, that is the key to what you're doing now, isn't it?

JOHN STEVENS: Yes.

DAVID FROST: And what, what is the next most important thing?

JOHN STEVENS: Intelligence gathering, surveillance of people that's necessary, the gathering of that intelligence and on occasions, of course, which is where we come in specifically, is the turning of that intelligence into evidence, so that if these people are about they can be arrested and convicted in the criminal courts. That is a very important part of the process, obviously.

DAVID FROST: And when you go through a list of the buildings that might be focussed upon by terrorists and so on, when you go through government buildings to football stadiums to all sorts of - you could never patrol them all, you have a finite number of people.

JOHN STEVENS: We do have a finite number of -

DAVID FROST: You have to make a list, I suppose.

JOHN STEVENS: We have to make a list and we have to make a priority and then we have to look at the risks and that's where the calculation comes in, that's where us the professionals have to make a judgement and give our views to ministers and they listen to that, as they should.

DAVID FROST: As they should. And what about the thought that has raised and raised again in a lot of people's minds Sir John, since all this happened, is, is this an argument again for a national police force, possibly, rather than 43 different ones, as it were?

JOHN STEVENS: I don't think so. I was actually in New York and Washington three weeks ago speaking to the head of the FBI and nine members of he big city chiefs, as they call them, and they really were very jealous of the system we have where we have local SPs that lock into a national coordinator at the Yard and then lock into the security services. They found that a way of going forward which they'd like to replicate, we think, in the United States. So we're ahead of the game in that.

DAVID FROST: Some, some figures this week from the Home Office showed that there are ways in which we're not winning the battle, the target for the number of solved crimes, that figure went down rather than solved figure going up and so on and so forth. In general, as you look at the situation, the terrorist situation, but also as you look across the broader crime, look at that terrible case of the two black girls and so on and the availability of gun culture, do you think you're winning or losing?

JOHN STEVENS: We're winning. There's no -

DAVID FROST: You're winning.

JOHN STEVENS: We are winning. There is no doubt that there are far too many guns in London and across the board. If you look at the recent figures, guns, use of guns went up considerably in London but the last six weeks of the beginning of this year, the use of guns has gone down by 28 per cent. The really good story is that the detection rate for the Trident, which was the so-called black-on-black shootings which, an unfortunate phrase but that's what people use, was 20 per cent. Now last year it went up to 80 per cent. It means to say that people are coming forward and the tactics we're using are working. And I'm very optimistic in the future and as we build up the number of police officers we will, you know, to 35,000 - next year I might have the same number of police officers that Paul Condon had ten years ago - that will have an effect.

DAVID FROST: Do you need support? You said on one occasion, more support from judges?

JOHN STEVENS: I think the judges have a job to do and I think they do it very well. I think if you look at burglary, for instance, it's at a 25 year low level in London - the lowest level for 25 years. The tactics that are being used in relation to that and I think the way the judges have approached it in relation to that have worked. We mustn't throw away things that have worked in the past - that's just my point.

DAVID FROST: We'll take a pause there for the news. [NEWS]

DAVID FROST: We were talking about guns there. Do all officers these days have gun training? All police officers?

JOHN STEVENS: No, only 87 per cent of the Metropolitan Police, or 87 per cent of the Metropolitan Police cannot carry guns, but we have upped the number of officers who can carry guns because of the increase in gun crime.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much indeed Sir John. Great to have you with us this morning.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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