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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 April, 2004, 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK
Scientists warn on terror threat
Men in masks
A report says not enough is being done to stop a future terror attack
Leading scientists say Britain is not doing enough to combat the threat of a future chemical or biological attack.

Royal Society academics criticised the government for not making best use of science or technology in the event of a terror strike.

They have called for more research into ways of detecting deadly agents and decontaminating people and buildings.

A government spokesman insisted proper mechanisms were in place and the report showed it was making progress.

The scientists want a multi-million pound research centre to be built to focus effort on the threat.

The issue of decontamination was investigated following the 2001 US postal anthrax attacks.

The Tube exercise was successful... in our opinion there should be more such exercises, civilians should be involved
Professor Herbert Huppert
Decontamination took so long that some US buildings only reopened this year.

The Royal Society has suggested that detection systems in the water pollution industry could be used to track deadly agents.

Professor Anne Glover said in the event of an attack there needed to be a "one-stop shop" that would have all the expertise about terrorism, as well as improved detection methods.

"We would want a detector that gave you very accurate results and didn't give you false positives.

"If you got a false alarm you would create as much panic as if you would there was a real event."

Government confident

Professor Herbert Huppert, chairman of the working group that produced the Royal Society report, called for more mock terror attacks like the one simulated at Bank Tube station in September last year.

"The Tube exercise was successful... in our opinion there should be more such exercises, civilians should be involved and we should be prepared as best we can."

A Home Office spokesman insisted the right mechanisms were in place for co-operation over research into how to stop terrorist attacks using unconventional weapons.

"We do not agree that the most effective way to deliver this is the creation of a new government agency - we cannot deliver effectively everything we need in a centralised way, but need to ensure departments continue to work closely with each other, which they already do day in, day out.

"We will consider the recommendations in the report carefully and will be discussing the report with the Royal Society in May."

Detergent solution

A committee of MPs criticised the government last year over the level of co-ordination and planning in its preparations for a terrorist attack.

But at the time, ministers rejected the science and technology select committee's remarks, arguing the co-ordination between government, academics and industry was being strengthened.

On Wednesday, committee chairman Dr Ian Gibson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the Royal Society had "come to similar conclusions as we did".

The government has not even got its plans correct in terms of the organisms that might be released in a terrorist attack
Dr Ian Gibson
"Our conclusions were pretty well rejected by the government," he added.

Dr Gibson urged scientists to "talk together and share their ideas and understanding of how to detect organisms and what organisms there might be".

"The government has not even got its plans correct in terms of the organisms that might be released in a terrorist attack," he told Today.

The UK has been on a high state of alert since the Madrid attacks on 11 March.

Britain's most senior police officer, Commissioner Sir John Stevens, recently said that a terrorist attack on London was inevitable.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's David Shukman
"New threats demand new responses"



SEE ALSO:
US 'blinded' before 9/11 attacks
14 Apr 04  |  Americas
Bomb plot 'justifies terror alert'
07 Apr 04  |  Politics


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