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Whitehall leak reveals plan to cover up terror death toll
POLICE will withhold the true death toll if there is a “catastrophic” Al-Qaeda attack on Britain. This would be necessary to “mitigate and minimise” its impact on the public, according to secret Scotland Yard plans.
The confidential memos — the latest in a series of Whitehall leaks to The Sunday Times — say that officers should not disclose the “numbers or seriousness/nature of injuries” of casualties immediately after a “dirty bomb” attack, even if there are thousands of dead and wounded.
One memo, titled Communications Strategy for Dealing with a Terrorist Attack, suggests that poor handling of an attack will have “political implications” that could damage the police and government.
The instruction to withhold information contrasts with assurances by Tony Blair and David Blunkett, the home secretary, that the public will be told the truth about terrorism.
In a speech about terrorism to last week’s Labour conference, Blunkett said that it was “crucial . . . we don’t hide the truth”. Two years ago Blair promised that the public would not be kept in the dark.
Circulated throughout Whitehall as police and Home Office experts prepare plans to deal with an Al-Qaeda “spectacular” in the run-up to the general election, the document reflects concern that a large-scale attack could turn voters against the Blair government.
The memo, and another “restricted” paper titled Major Incident Contingency Plans, say that an Al-Qaeda attack here is likely to be at least as serious as the September 11 attacks when some 3,000 died.
The memos predict that there would be “widespread loss of life . . . and maximum damage to property” which could cause a loss of public confidence in the police. They say that a massive chemical or biological attack could endanger people for “weeks/months”.
Warning of “suicide terrorism in its most extreme form”, the documents say that in a “catastrophic incident” Al-Qaeda terrorists may use “aircraft, lorries (and) cars” to carry out simultaneous strikes at “several scenes” which would be “of such a scale” that they would cause “large numbers of casualties.”
Senior officials are especially concerned about the possibility of people learning that police had failed to act on prior intelligence about an attack.
The memos also warn Britain’s 1.2m Muslims not to retaliate in the face of the anticipated violent “backlash” from racist groups. They say that tensions between white people and Muslims will “increase sharply” and could get even worse if Britain or America takes punitive action abroad.