The appalling attack by convicted terrorist, Sudesh Amman, in Streatham last week immediately reverberated in Parliament.
Coming just weeks after the Usman Khan murders on London Bridge, Amman used a knife and fake bomb vest to stab innocent people and terrorise the public. He did so while out on licence following conviction for terrorism offences.
In response, the Government has tabled emergency legislation to end the automatic early release of terror offenders. This will apply, assuming no successful legal challenge, to both current and future offenders. Its effect is that no longer will those prisoners receiving a standard determinate sentence for terrorist offences be automatically eligible for release at the halfway point. I welcome that.
I have long called for a robust approach to those convicted of such serious crimes. First, as MP I was very affected by the dreadful impact on the Cheltenham family of one of the victims of the 2017 London Bridge terror attack. Second, before becoming an MP I helped to prosecute several terrorists who had been radicalised by Anjem Choudary and other followers of Al-Muhajiroun.
But although I welcome the ending of automatic release, I have broader concerns about whether terrorism offenders are receiving lengthy enough sentences in the first place. After all, if the sentence is short in length, even serving the full period may not be sufficient to keep the public safe. I have pointed out in the past that those who plead guilty to possessing violent extremist publications, which include for example instructions for making home-made bombs, will typically be sentenced to just fourteen months’ imprisonment. Amman himself was originally sentenced to just three years and four months, for six offences of possessing documents containing terrorist information and seven of disseminating terrorist publications. That is not a criticism of the courts, but an observation about the sentencing guidelines they are required to apply.
Tougher sentences, and properly resourced deradicalisation programmes in prison, are essential.