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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 March, 2004, 18:05 GMT
European anti-terror body urged
Police at Heathrow
Security has increased in the UK, says defence secretary Hoon
Intelligence sharing across Europe needs to improve to tackle terrorism, says Britain's top policeman.

Sir John Stevens told the BBC Europe lacked a unified anti-terrorist body.

"There is a need for far bigger co-ordination in a far more structured way than we have now, and I think Madrid is a big wake-up call," he said.

Earlier Britain's chief emergency planner said it could not cope with a large terrorist attack which was denied by Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John said intelligence on terrorism could be shared along similar lines to those used by Europol, which tackles organised crime.

"There needs to be a structure which is useful, which analyses on a pan-European way, some of the information we get, and the forensics," he told the BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme.

BBC correspondent Clarence Mitchell said Sir John's comments could put him at loggerheads with Home Secretary David Blunkett.

Intelligence agency 'rejected'

European Union justice and home affairs ministers met at a summit on Friday and agreed to appoint a "terrorism tsar".

But a proposal to create an EU-wide intelligence agency was rejected.

"The sort of structure that Sir John is talking about is something that many ministers came away from Brussels on Friday not wanting, David Blunkett included," he said.

Earlier the Chief of the Emergency Planning Society Patrick Cunningham told the Independent on Sunday that Britain's local authorities would be unable to cope with a terrorist attack as big as the Madrid bombings.

It is a totally unacceptable position, something has got to happen
Iain Hoult
Emergency Planning Society

He said key staff who would have to organise evacuations and house the homeless lacked equipment and training.

He told the newspaper local authority planners would only be able to offer "a token gesture of support" following a major disaster.

Iain Hoult, the organisation's chairman in southern England, said that Britain was "very, very badly prepared" for an attack on the scale of the Madrid attacks.

"It is a totally unacceptable position, something has got to happen."

But speaking on ITV's Jonathan Dimbleby programme, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said he did not accept that Britain would be unable to cope.

He added that significant efforts had been made to ensure Britain could "react properly and effectively to any such threat".

The Local Government Association is expected to tell the Cabinet Office and Deputy Prime Minister's Office that funds for emergency planning - currently drawn from a 19 million a year budget - must be increased.

Peter Hain MP
Mr Hain said Britain was a terrorist target before the Iraq war
But a Cabinet Office spokesman said money devoted to emergency planning "goes alongside lots of other money going directly to frontline services".

The warnings come after a statement, claiming to come from al-Qaeda, was e-mailed to Arab news organisations last Wednesday warning of imminent terrorist attacks.

It was signed by a group which said it carried out attacks in Madrid and Istanbul and warned the UK, Australia and Saudi Arabia a "brigade of death" was targeting them and other countries.

The Leader of the Commons, Peter Hain, backed Sir John's call and told the BBC the UK had been an al-Qaeda target since before the Iraq invasion last year.

He said: "I'm not saying that Iraq is an insignificant factor in this build up of terror from al-Qaeda. It is a significant factor, so is the continuing impasse in the Middle East.

"But we need to... remember that it was September 11 followed by the operation in Afghanistan that really triggered Britain as a target, America as an even greater target, and the West as a target too."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Daniel Boettcher
"There's concern there isn't better co-operation across Europe"


Sir John Stevens
"We've had 520 arrests since September 11 in relation to terrorists"



SEE ALSO:
London terror attack 'inevitable'
16 Mar 04  |  Politics


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