Reid unveils new terror threat system

The level of terror threat facing Britain will be made available to the public for the first time from next month, the home secretary has announced.

John Reid also revealed that the country is currently on a severe threat level, which means a terror attack is “highly likely”.

He said he hoped the new system would bring “further transparency and understanding” following the July 7th attacks on London, although he stressed the intelligence behind the threat levels, and the specific response details to any threat, would remain private.

While there are seven threat levels at the moment, this will be simplified to five, from low, where an attack is unlikely, through to moderate, where an attack is possible but unlikely, to substantial, where there is a strong possibility of an attack.

The current threat level, severe, means an attack is highly likely, while the top level, critical, means a terror attack on Britain is expected imminently.

“This is the first time that any government has made public in this way the system of threat levels,” Mr Reid told the House of Commons.

“We have decided to inform the general public so it can be better understood and more transparent. I hope it instills confidence and trust.”

The move was recommended by the security and intelligence committee two months ago, and today shadow home secretary David Davis said it was an “eminently sensible idea that will increase public confidence and public vigilance”.

However, he noted that it would only be as useful as the intelligence that supported it, highlighting the fact that the UK’s threat level was actually lowered just before the London bombings last summer.

In response, Mr Reid pointed out that four potential attacks on Britain had been thwarted since then. He insisted: “This is not an exact science, it involves human judgment.”

The home secretary also outlined the government’s strategy to combat terrorism, which is made up of four strands: to prevent, pursue, protect and prepare.

Prevention involved the work of the armed forces abroad as well as that of community workers combating radicalisation at home, he said, while protection involved border security and the proper monitoring of major utilities and transport systems.

Pursuing was more controversial, Mr Reid admitted, but in an allusion to the recent Forest Gate raid in which no evidence of terrorist activity was found, he insisted the threat of suicide bombers meant the security services had to act on any leads quickly.

He added: “By its very nature, intelligence is often imperfect. It is important that we all understand that you can never have 100 per cent guarantees and the threat of further attack remains.”