British police were forced to bring forward a major anti-terror operation after a security breach that saw a top officer photographed with sensitive documents on display, reports said. Skip related content
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Police arrested 12 people in evening raids across north-west England, which media reports said had long been planned but were hastily rescheduled after it emerged the briefing notes detailing the operation were visible in the photo.
Manchester police said several hundred officers were involved in the raids, which saw eight premises searched as part of an ongoing investigation that also reportedly involved domestic intelligence agency MI5.
The Times newspaper said there were plans to attack a nightclub and shopping centre complex in Manchester.
“The north-west counter-terrorism unit, working with Merseyside Police, Greater Manchester Police and Lancashire Constabulary, has today… arrested 12 men under the Terrorism Act,” a police spokesman said.
Britain’s top counter-terrorism policeman, Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick of London’s Scotland Yard, was earlier photographed as he arrived at Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Downing Street office for talks on police reform.
One of the documents he was holding was turned outwards and clearly visible.
It contained details about the planned operation, including that there were 11 suspects — ten of them of Pakistani origin who were in Britain on student visas, and one British born — and where the raids would take place.
Quick has apologised for the breach to police chief Paul Stephenson, a Scotland Yard spokesman said, adding he “accepts he made a mistake on leaving a sensitive document on open view and deeply regrets it”.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith praised the officers involved in the operation but said the decision to act “was an operational matter for the police and the security service” and she and Brown were kept fully informed.
A senior lawmaker with the main opposition Conservatives, Chris Grayling, described the security breach as “an extraordinary and very alarming lapse”.
“It’s the kind of error that Britain’s most senior anti-terrorist officer simply can’t afford to make, and it will lead to serious questions about his judgment and about his ability to do his job properly,” he said.
Several newspaper reported that the Ministry of Defence had tried to stop the publication of the Quick photo but it had already been distributed abroad where the MoD has no authority — so police brought the operation forward.
Detective Chief Superintendent Tony Porter, the head of the north-west counter-terrorism unit, said: “Today’s action is part of a continuing investigation and we have acted on intelligence received.”
The raids targeted a DIY store in Clitheroe, in the north-west county of Lancashire, and John Moore University in Liverpool, witnesses said.
“I was on the second floor of the library when I heard a lot of shouting outside,” said Daniel Taylor, a journalism student in Liverpool.
“When I looked I saw a man on the floor. Police were shouting at him and one of the officers had what looked like a machine gun pointed right into his head, it was all very dramatic.”
Britain has been on high security alert ever since the July 2005 attacks in London, which killed 56 people including four suicide bombers, and failed car bomb attacks in London and Glasgow in June 2007.
The security threat remains on its second highest level, severe. MI5 chief Jonathan Evans said in January that Al-Qaeda leaders based in Pakistan still intended to mount attacks on Britain — and had the capacity to do so.