Guardian Sat 3 Feb - "'Police fear lurid terror briefings being used to divert attention from Whitehall problems"
Police investigating the alleged plot to abduct and behead a Muslim soldier expressed growing anger yesterday at a series of leaks and briefings which they say are hampering their inquiry.
Whitehall officials briefed journalists early on Wednesday before all of the suspects had been found, with the result that lurid details of the alleged plot were broadcast while one suspect remained at large. At least one tabloid newspaper had even been tipped off the night before the dawn raids, and its reporters put on standby to race to Birmingham.
Police sources in the West Midlands said yesterday they suspected the anonymous briefings may have been intended to deflect attention from the prisons crisis and the cash for honours inquiry, while counter-terrorism officials in London told the Guardian there was concern that the speculation generated is interfering with the investigation by the newly formed Midlands Counter-Terrorism Unit.
One counter-terrorism official warned yesterday that "an awful lot of inaccuracies" had begun to appear in the media, to the alarm of West Midlands police. "As a result of some of the speculation, police feel they have been hampered in their evidence gathering," he said.
Some of the more sensational claims about the plot - such as reports yesterday that two young British Muslim soldiers had agreed to act as "live bait" in an attempt to trap the suspects - were dismissed by counter-terrorism officials as being completely untrue. Claims that police uncovered a list of 25 intended victims were also dismissed.
The Ministry of Defence said that it had no idea who was responsible for the briefings, while Home Office officials insisted no briefing had been offered by its press office, but a spokeswoman added: "I can only speak for what has been done on the record by the press office."
West Midlands Assistant Chief Constable David Shaw revealed officers began searching three new locations yesterday, bringing to 18 the number of addresses examined, and said a "significant quantity" of exhibits had been taken away. But he expressed the force's frustration at the anonymous briefings, telling a press conference: "Everything I have said so far and everything I will say will be the truth. Anything further you wish to draw from comments elsewhere is down to yourselves."
Paul Snape, vice chair of West Midlands Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said: "The police force is asking the question, where did it all come from? There may be political reasons for it, such as what was going on at the Home Office and at Downing Street." ...