Liquid bomb plot 'communications failure' by UK Government led to complaints from First Minister

Scottish ministers lambasted the UK Government over serious communications failures around the terror plot to blow up planes using liquid bombs which was foiled in 2006.

The former Prime Minister Tony Blair has said Scottish Labour requires a revival
The former Prime Minister Tony Blair has said Scottish Labour requires a revival

Jack McConnell’s government reacted with fury at the failure of the UK Government to inform them of the increased terror threat level which was raised to ‘critical’ for the first time in the UK’s history.

This happened after the discovery of liquid bombs disguised as soft drinks which were aimed at airliners flying to the United States and Canada from the United Kingdom.

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The plot led to stricter rules around the amount of liquid allowed on passenger planes being introduced, with the 100ml restriction still in place today.

However, newly released cabinet records from August 16, 2006, show how the Labour-led administration in Holyrood was left in the dark, raising concerns it may not have been able to respond adequately in time to a more serious threat.

Minutes state that the First Minister complained to John Prescott, then deputy first minister, and then home secretary John Reid about the “communications delay and the potential impact these could have had”.

The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre had raised the terror threat to “critical”, its highest level, at 2am on Thursday August 10, 2006, with the Scottish Executive Emergency Room (SEER) “opened on the morning of the Thursday”.

The minutes show Cathy Jamieson, the Scottish justice secretary, raising concerns around the response by the Scottish Executive and, that "in a different set of circumstances, the few hours in question could have proved critical.”

They state: “In terms of counter-terrorism liaison with Whitehall, and lessons to be learnt from this event, Justice Department officials were due to meet Cabinet Office’s head of crisis management within the next week, when they would be aiming to reflect on the recent communications failure and ensure that the processes required to ensure prompt notification to the Executive and Scottish Ministers in the event of any future incidents were securely in place.

"Ms Jamieson said that it would also be helpful to reinforce Scottish Minister’s concerns over this breakdown in communications if the Permanent Secretary were to write to Sir Richard Mottram, the Security and Intelligence Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office.”

The minutes add that Sir John Elvidge, then the permanent secretary, said the incident had “exposed some significant misunderstandings of procedure at a senior UK level” which had been “compounded by further communication failures” when the threat level was lowered four days later.

They state: “The Permanent Secretary said that the Executive’s concerns about the events of the past week focussed on the breakdown of communications about the revised threat level, rather than the intelligence investigation itself.

"This was particularly disappointing, given recent efforts to formalise emergency notification arrangements with the UK Government."

"The First Minister said that he had spoken to the Deputy Prime Minister and the Home Secretary on Thursday 10 August and had registered the Executive’s concerns over the communications delays and the potential impact these could have had.

"He said that Ministers would want to ensure that they were suitably briefed on the situation as it developed, so that any intervention which proved necessary could be made at the earliest appropriate time.”

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