Don’t dilute terror law, former home secretaries tell Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak - Anadolu Agency
Rishi Sunak - Anadolu Agency

Seven former home secretaries have warned the Prime Minister that public safety will be compromised if the Government dilutes a law to safeguard venues from terror attacks.

Priti Patel and her predecessors Sajid Javid, Amber Rudd, Jacqui Smith, Charles Clarke, David Blunkett and Jack Straw have joined forces to urge Rishi Sunak to fully enact “Martyn’s Law”, which legally compels venues to have appropriate security procedures in place and provide training for staff.

The former home secretaries argue that watering down the Protect Duty Bill to cover only the largest venues risks allowing terrorists to “slip through the net”.

Plans for Martyn’s Law, named after Manchester Arena terror attack victim Martyn Hett, were announced in the Queen’s Speech in May but the Bill has yet to be tabled - despite having cross-party support and being mentioned in the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto.

The latest warning comes after senior police officers wrote to Mr Sunak complaining about the “dangerous” delay in bringing forward the legislation.

‘The PM is responsible for public safety’

In their letter, seen by The Telegraph, the former home secretaries write: “In recent days we have read that our security services fear that the Bill could be delayed or watered down to cover only the largest venues - many of which have already improved security post the Manchester Arena attack.

“We urge you to listen to their concerns and bring forward the strong measures that will make this legislation most effective. The Bill already has proportionality built into its foundations and the training resources would be provided free of charge.

“Of course, it is quite normal for there to be wrangling over the exact timing and wording of Bills. However, given the importance of this issue, we would urge you to personally step in and ensure that the Bill is implemented in full, and its passage completed during this Parliament.

“After all, it is the Prime Minister who is ultimately responsible for public safety.”

Terror attacks in smaller venues

Mr Hett was among 17 concert goers killed on May 22, 2017 when Salman Abedi, an Islamic extremist, detonated a shrapnel-laden homemade suicide bomb as people were leaving a Manchester Arena performance by Ariana Grande, an American pop singer.

The incident was the deadliest terrorist attack and the first suicide bombing in the UK since the 2005 London bombings.

But since the 2017 atrocity, there have been eight further attacks in Britain that have taken place in smaller places, including the murder of Sir David Amess at his constituency surgery at a church hall in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex in October last year.

Mr Hett’s mother, Figen Murray, who has been leading the Martyn’s Law campaign, said: “The big venues already know what to do. We need this legislation to cover cafes, restaurants and smaller places where we know these terror attacks can also happen.

“What we are asking for is not complicated. We simply want a law requiring staff at all venues to undertake 45 minutes of training to help them spot the dangers and know how to evacuate people safely in the event of an attack.

“If they don’t do this, the Government will be failing the population - the ordinary man and woman in the street.”

‘We need to make public spaces harder to attack’

The former home secretaries’ letter adds: “As former home secretaries we know how hard that is when there are individuals willing to attack unarmed civilians for their twisted idea of a cause.

“We also know that no matter the resources and bravery of our security forces there will always sadly be some terrorists who slip through the net and are able to carry out their attacks.

“That’s why as well as supporting our security services we also need to make public spaces harder to attack and more able to cope with an attack if one happens.”

A government spokesman said: “We are working hard to bring forward this important piece of legislation as soon as possible.”