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Britain’s anti-terror police chief quits over raid blunder

world Updated: Apr 09, 2009 22:04 IST

Britain’s top counter-terror chief resigned on Thursday after a security blunder threatened to compromise the arrest of 11 Pakistani suspects in a major terror plot.

Assistant Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bob Quick resigned in the wake of the gaffe, a new blow for Scotland Yard which was already under fire over a death during protests against the G20 summit last week.

Quick was photographed as he arrived at Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Downing Street office on Wednesday for talks on police reform with a secret document about the suspected plot clearly visible -- including details of where the raids would take place.

Brown defended the decision to move the raids forward to Wednesday evening once it became clear that the police swoop risked being compromised.

“We have been investigating a major terrorist plot and we have got to act early. Our first concern is always the safety of the public. It is right that we took the urgent action that we did over the course of yesterday,” he said.

“We are dealing with a very big terrorist plot. We have been following it for some time. There were a number of people who are suspected of it who have been arrested. That police operation was successful.

“We know that there are links between terrorists in Britain and terrorists in Pakistan,” he added.

Eleven out of 12 suspects arrested under the Terrorism Act in the raids across northwest England are Pakistani nationals, the head of Greater Manchester Police confirmed.

“We can’t dance on a pinhead about how serious that threat was,” said Peter Fahy.

Asked if the threat was from Al-Qaeda, he replied, “We know what is the nature of the threat to this country and where it comes from.

“Clearly links to other countries is always something that’s going to feature in any investigation of this type.”

The raids took place in the cities of Manchester and Liverpool -- including at John Moores University -- plus the nearby town of Clitheroe.

The Times newspaper said there were plans to attack a nightclub and shopping centre complex in Manchester, Britain’s third city.

Announcing his decision to quit, Quick said in a statement: “I have today offered my resignation in the knowledge that my action could have compromised a major counter-terrorism operation.”

London Mayor Boris Johnson said he accepted Quick’s resignation “with great reluctance and sadness”.

“There was absolutely no kind of witch-hunt or effort to get him out,” he told BBC Radio.

Quick is no stranger to controversy, having played a key role in the November 2008 arrest of an opposition lawmaker as part of a government department leak inquiry, which triggered a political furore.

But his blunder adds to Scotland Yard’s woes this week after the emergence of a video showing an officer violently pushing a man at protests ahead of last week’s G20 summit, minutes before he collapsed and died.

Thanking Quick for his “outstanding work”, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said that despite the raids being “successful”, he felt his position was “untenable”.

Scotland Yard chief Paul Stephenson, Britain’s top police officer, said he still held Quick “in the highest regard”.

Assistant Commissioner John Yates has been appointed to take over as head of counter-terrorism.

Nicknamed “Yates of the Yard”, he led up the so-called cash-for-honours investigation that clouded the final months of prime minister Tony Blair’s premiership in 2007.

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.