The UK’s most senior counter-terrorism officer, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, has formally launched the new ‘Action Counters Terrorism’ (‘ACT’) campaign, designed to urge members of the public to report any suspicious activity to the police service.
With the terror threat becoming increasingly complex and varied, the police service is now calling on communities to act on their instincts in order to help prevent atrocities from taking place in both the UK and overseas.
The appeal comes as new figures reveal that information from the public has assisted counter-terrorism police in a third of the most ‘high-risk’ investigations, in turn helping to keep communities safe.
At the launch in Manchester, Rowley informed an audience of community and business representatives that information from the public continues to help keep people safe, playing a significant part in recent successes in countering-terrorism. However, police officers need even more information in order to build better intelligence pictures on individuals or groups plotting attacks.
The terror threat continues to diversify and expand. This is seen in cases where terrorists have been able to reach across the world to radicalise often vulnerable, volatile or chaotic individuals and groups, and subsequently inspire and direct them using instant and secure communications.
Number of calls increasing
“It’s very encouraging that, in a third of cases involving the most serious terrorist suspects, we’ve benefited from information passed on by members of the public,” stated Rowley. “The number of calls and online reports we receive is increasing. This is testament to people’s trust in the police, but now we are appealing for even more help. Counter-terrorism policing is working hard to keep the public safe. Together, the UK intelligence community [MI5, the SIS and GCHQ] and the police have disrupted 13 UK terrorist attack plots since June 2013. However, advances in technology make it more complex and challenging for us to spot would-be terrorists because it’s now easier for them to be in contact with others and be radicalised in a relatively short space of time.”
Rowley continued: “The threat is becoming more varied. The move towards low-tech attacks on crowded places, like those we’ve seen in major European cities and beyond, makes it even more important that everyone remains vigilant and acts by calling us confidentially if they’re concerned about suspicious activity.”
Security minister Ben Wallace added: “The horror of recent terrorist attacks in Europe and beyond is a shocking reminder of the threat we all face. We know that we’re not immune as the threat to the UK is currently assessed as ‘Severe’, meaning an attack on the mainland is highly likely. Our police and security and intelligence agencies work tirelessly, often unseen, day in and day out to keep families and communities across the country safe. Members of the public also have a vital role to play as they’re ideally placed to notice activity which is unusual. I welcome the police service’s ‘ACT’ campaign which raises awareness about what to look out for and provides people with easy-to-access advice. Ultimately, this is a job for all of us. I encourage people to follow the campaign’s message and remain alert, reporting any concerns to the police.”
Research underpinning the ‘ACT’ campaign
From April 2015 through to March 2016, the Anti-Terrorist Hotline received more than twice the number of calls as the previous year, with just over 22,000 people making contact. Officers hope the figures will continue to increase if more can be done to encourage people to call or report their information online.
Research designed to support the ‘ACT’ campaign looked at public attitudes towards counter-terrorism policing. Over 80% of respondents said that it was important for communities to work with the police to prevent terrorism. However, a quarter of those surveyed said they might not report their suspicions because of fears that they may be wasting police time, while 39% were unsure about what suspicious behaviour might look like.
Rowley observed: “Our call and report numbers are increasing. Research has shown many people want to play their part in the fight against terrorism, but some worry they might be wasting our time or are not sure what sort of activity might be suspicious. We want to allay those concerns and help the public to help us.”
More information on what to look out for can be found online at gov.uk/ACT where individuals can report their concerns. Alternatively, members of the public are advised to call the police confidentially on 0800 789321.
Counter-terrorism campaign ‘first’
As part of the new ‘ACT’ campaign, counter-terrorism policing has produced its first-ever podcast. Narrated by actor Mark Strong, ‘Code Severe’ is a two-part series revealing previously untold stories from those involved of how terrorist attacks on UK soil were prevented. The stories are recounted by counter-terrorism detectives, bomb disposal and surveillance officers – many of them speaking publicly about these incidents for the first time – as well as senior officers, witnesses and even terrorists themselves.
The podcasts give never before heard accounts of police action to protect the public. In one episode, entitled ‘Multiple Bombings’, a former Special Branch officer explains the race against time to secure vital evidence right under the nose of a terrorist suspect in a highly sensitive covert operation.
Assistant Commissioner Rowley stated: “Our first-ever podcast series explains, in a compelling and engaging way, how members of the public acted on their instincts and helped to save lives. We hope this encourages others to do the same. By dint of us being more open about the terrorist threat and the work designed to confront it, we hope the public will feel better informed and more confident in coming forward. One piece of information shared with the police service can make a massive difference. At the same time, if information turns out to be nothing of concern, we will still be happy to have checked it out.”