Record number of people arrested under anti-terror laws in Northern Ireland

PSNI assistant chief constable Will Kerr told the Policing Board that "the threat is severe at the minute"
PSNI assistant chief constable Will Kerr told the Policing Board that "the threat is severe at the minute"

The number of people arrested using anti-terror powers in Northern Ireland has hit a 10-year high.

Last week a senior police officer warned the likelihood of attacks by anti-peace process dissident republicans was high and pointed to a number of recent weapons seizures.

Police have also recommended the status of loyalist paramilitary ceasefires form part of a review ordered by the Government.

A total of 227 people were detained last year, the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) revealed, the highest since 2005.

The threat level is severe, as anti-Good Friday Agreement gunmen have killed police officers, soldiers and a prison warder in the past.

Under section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000 terrorism suspects can be held without a warrant, for a maximum of 48 hours before a court must be asked to authorise further detention.

In 2014/15, 130 charges were brought against persons detained in Northern Ireland using the power . This included 29 of murder and 16 of membership of an outlawed organisation, according to a bulletin issued by the NIO.

This brings the total number of charges brought against persons detained under section 41 since 19 February 2001 to 1,771.

Figures up to June 9 this year show that, of the 35 persons charged after being detained in Northern Ireland in 2014/15 under section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000, two had been convicted.

One of these convictions involved offences under terrorism legislation and one related to terrorism-related offences under other legislation.

Last year 22 people detained under section 41 faced 34 charges under the same legislation. Sixteen related to membership of and seven to directing a terrorist organisation, six to collection of information, three to possession of items for terrorist purposes and a further two to weapons training.

Police Service of Northern Ireland assistant chief constable Will Kerr told the Policing Board, which scrutinises the police, last week: “The threat is severe at the minute, the definition of severe means an attack is highly likely.”

He drew evidence of the danger from seizures in recent months of pipe bombs.

“The attacks over the last number of months have shown the degree of community contempt that these groups have, leaving viable improvised explosive devices in areas that the community use.”

Dissidents have been linked, with Provisional IRA members, to the murder of Kevin McGuigan earlier this year which has left power sharing at Stormont on a knife edge.