We must not overreact to Woolwich terror act, warns Clegg

Deputy prime minister under renewed attack for blocking terrorism legislation

Police forensics officers remove evidence from a flat at Macey House, in Greenwich, southeast London, yesterday. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Police forensics officers remove evidence from a flat at Macey House, in Greenwich, southeast London, yesterday. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire


The British government must not overreact after the Woolwich terrorist attack by introducing draconian internet surveillance laws, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has warned.

The Liberal Democrats leader has come under renewed attack for his decision to block the passage of legislation that would store details for a year about the internet habits of the population.

His decision infuriated Conservative home secretary Theresa May and led to a bitter row between them before the Woolwich atrocity, though she now sees an opportunity to push for the legislation once more. Former Labour home secretary John Reid and the British government’s one-time independent reviewer of terrorism legislation Alex Carlile have insisted the so-called snoopers’ charter is needed to tackle British- based terrorists.

Mr Clegg yesterday said knee-jerk security action is exactly the response wanted by Islamic terrorists, who want to “sow that corrosive seed of fear and division”.

“What they want is for governments and the authorities to overreact in their immediate reaction. What they want is for communities to turn inwards and away from each other. What they want, in short, is to spread fear,” he said.

Speaking at a hurriedly convened community gathering in Islington to condemn the Woolwich atrocity, Mr Clegg went on: “Fear is an extraordinarily powerful emotion and when fear takes root, all of us as individuals, we will avert our gaze from someone who we might be fearful of, who we weren’t before. We might cross the street away from an individual who we’re not so sure about.”

Mr Clegg received some support from Conservative cabinet minister Eric Pickles, who said he knew of nothing in communications data Bill that would have saved soldier Lee Rigby’s life if the law had been in force.

The two suspects, who have been named as 28-year-old Michael Adebolajo and 22-year- old Michael Adebowale remain under armed guard in hospital. They are being treated for gunshot wounds.

Both had come to the attention of MI5 at different points over the last eight years but they were not put under constant surveillance because the intelligence service did not regard either of them as a sufficient threat.

For now, MI5 is being fully backed by ministers, who accept the difficulties faced daily by intelligence officers, though they have made clear MI5’s conduct will be “thoroughly investigated”. Two women arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to murder Mr Rigby on Wednesday have been released without charge, though another man, also arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to murder, remains in custody.

Meanwhile, a neighbour of the younger of the two me arrested at Woolwich spoke yesterday about her concerns for him when she noticed last year that he had converted from Christianity to Islam.

Having questioned Mr Adebowale, Magdalene Edwards, from Greenwich in east London, said she had warned him against listening to the preaching of those who demand that young Muslims should become radicalised. Saying she had told him “be careful, do the right thing”, Ms Edwards said he was “a lovely boy” who had had the “the makings of a fine young man”, though he was solitary: “He was angry at a lot of things, like a lot of young people are.”

Some Islamic extremists, she said, want to “ride on the coattails of Islam”, seeking out vulnerable young men. She said they look only for “the weak ones, the ones that have no support, so we have a duty as parents to keep an eye on those children”.