UK Politics

Theresa May defends handling of terror suspects

Theresa May

Home Secretary Theresa May has defended her decision to scrap control orders after Labour suggested it had helped terror suspects join fighting overseas.

Labour's Yvette Cooper said the relocation powers contained in control orders should not have been ended.

But Mrs May said it would not have stopped Britons travelling to Syria.

It follows the identification of Mohammed Emwazi - the Islamist extremist known as "Jihadi John"- who was known to MI5 before going to Syria.

Former independent reviewer of anti-terror legislation Lord Carlile has said Emwazi, who lived in west London, and his associates would have been subjected to control orders had they not been abolished.

'West London network'

The orders included relocation powers for terror suspects, who were placed under close supervision.

Asking an urgent question in the Commons, Ms Cooper said a "west London network of terror suspects" had been identified in court papers in 2011, the year before the decision to abolish control orders was implemented "against advice" from police.

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Image caption Mohammed Emwazi was known to the security services before he travelled to Syria and joined Islamic State

The group, she said, was involved with "the provision of funds and equipment to terrorism" as well as helping individuals' travel from the UK to Syria to join terrorist-related activity.

She questioned whether Mrs May's decision to end control orders and cancel relocations had made it easier for the group to "operate, recruit and send people to Syria", given that some of the members had escaped the security services' supervision and others had been been reported as joining the fighting in Syria.

'Whittled away'

Mrs May said she could not discuss individual cases, but told MPs that control orders had been "whittled away by the courts" by the time they were scrapped.

"The cases raised in the media date from the time when control orders or the power of relocation were in place," she said.

She added: "No-one has said if we had the power of relocation we would be able to prevent people from travelling to Syria."

Control orders were replaced with Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPims) which did not initially include the power to relocate terror suspects. This power was recently restored as part of a package of anti-terror measures.

As home secretary, Mrs May said she does not take operational decisions on who should be placed on a TPim.

"We took the decision we did in 2011 based on the situation in 2011," she added. "We have now reviewed the situation and put measures in place."

The home secretary also confirmed that a new power allowing the police to temporarily seize an individual's passport if it is suspected they may be travelling to join the extremist group which calls itself Islamic State had been used.

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