Id Cards Needed Urgently To Fight Terror – Top Policeman

By John Deane, Chief Political Correspondent Britain’s most high profile police officer has called for the rapid introduction of a national identity card scheme as a tool in the struggle against terrorism. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens said there was an urgent need to enhance the authorities’ ability to check identities – and ID cards should be introduced “the sooner, the better.” At his monthly press conference on Thursday, Prime Minister Tony Blair indicated that ID cards were moving up the political agenda rapidly. Mr Blair said: “I think that the whole issue of identity cards, which a few years ago were not on anyone’s agenda, are very much on the political agenda here, probably more quickly even than we anticipated.” In an interview for GMTV’s Sunday Programme, Sir John was asked whether the security of Britain’s borders is a problem. He said: “It is a problem. I think it is a recognised problem. This is why I think identification cards would be of great assistance. “Up to a year-and-a-half ago I would have been against identification cards because we had no certainty that the documentation used for identification cards could actually prove with certainty the identification of someone. “Biometrics, the use of eyes, the use of fingerprints is now a certainty in a way that never was before, so therefore identification, either whether it be on border controls or whether we have to deal with stop and search in the street, anti-terrorism kind of activity … would give a certainty we need. “And I’m very much in favour of that as is the Association of Chief Police Officers.” Reminded that last week Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt suggested that compulsory ID cards were “many, many years away”, Sir John replied: “Well, I disagree with her totally. “I think the sooner they’re brought in the better and as a professional police officer I have to tell you we need them … I’m afraid the minister is wrong. I have to say that we do need those ID cards now.” Sir John stressed that “proper border controls” were needed to help combat terrorism and crime. “We do need proper border controls, we do need proper immigration controls in this country. “The borders of this country have been porous and we can prove that with a number of cases which have had high profile recently. “I think that the drive towards ensuring that immigration, customs and the police are working together and on occasions working together with some of the excellent work done by MI5 in particular and MI6 is the way forward. “You’ve got to have some border controls which are there, which are obvious and which work.” Sir John was asked about Islamic fundamentalist preachers living in Britain who make provocative remarks about relations between the Muslim community and the rest of society. Sir John said: “We monitor what people say on a regular basis. If they in fact obviously break the law then we will do something about it there and then. “But a lot of these cases are on the very edge of the law in terms of breaking the law and in those cases we submit these comments to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Crown Prosecution Service to see whether people have breached the law. If they have breached the law we will take action.” Asked if the police were keeping a close eye on controversial London-based Muslim cleric Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri, Sir John replied: “Very much”. Sir John was also asked about Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, leader of the London-based group Al-Muhajiroun, who this week said Muslims should not cooperate with their local authorities against other members of the faith. Sir John said: “I think any comments that talk about not assisting the police – because we’re there for the public, we’re there to ensure their safety – is not helpful.” Asked whether Sheik Omar should be deported, Sir John said: “Well again you can only deport people if they’re breached the law.” Sir John was also asked about this week’s major anti-terrorism operation in south east England. He said: “Well I can’t talk about the specific arrests because that would be totally wrong. But I think what we have to acknowledge is that we have to look at the reasons why people do want to come to this country – or are in this country – and do want to bomb people. “I think we’ve got to try and understand it more because unlike the IRA there is no kind of political head, no political people that we can negotiate with – this Al Qaida.”