Leader: British lessons from the Bali bombs

Leader: One question raised by the Bali bombs is why the Foreign Office failed to follow the Australian government's serious warnings to tourists.

Chris Ryan, a British tourist who escaped injuries from the new round of Bali bombings, deliberately chose the island because "I didn't think it would happen again". Unknown to Mr Ryan, the Indonesian government had in recent weeks issued warnings that Jemaah Islamiyah, a regional Islamist organisation with close links to al-Qaida, was preparing further attacks.

It was blamed for the 2002 Bali bombings that left 202 people dead and is also suspected of being behind two further Indonesian bomb attacks - on Jakarta's Marriott hotel in 2003 and the Australian embassy last September. Three suicide bombers this weekend claimed 22 more lives and left more than 100 injured. They deliberately carried ball bearings to maximise the number of injuries.

Many of the people behind the earlier bombings have been captured, but two Malaysian fugitives, both on Indonesia's most wanted list, remain free. One of them, Azahari Bin Husin, who completed a doctorate at Reading University in the 1980s, is suspected of being this weekend's bombmaker. Indonesia's president, who took over a year ago in the country's first peaceful transition of power, is well aware of the challenge facing his government. He was a former security minister, but in a nation of 220 million people spread across 13,000 islands, there are many places where police and security services still do not reach, despite the help they have been receiving from the Australian government, among others.

One question raised by the Bali bombs is why the Foreign Office failed to follow the Australian government's serious warnings to tourists. One lesson is the need to take seriously British security and police chiefs' warnings that the UK should expect further attacks. Just as big a threat as al-Qaida are our indigenous terrorists who may draw inspiration from Osama bin Laden, but act independently. Initial ministerial moves since London's July bombings sensibly sought to include spokesmen from all three major parties in the tightening of our already tough terrorist laws to ensure a national consensus. Where Tony Blair has gone wrong was first to produce a draconian 12-point anti-terrorist plan in August without any consultations with the opposition parties, and second, and more serious, to seek to extend new coercive police powers to non-terrorists too.

Look no further than his speech to last week's Labour party conference for an example of how anti-terrorist legislation can pollute a criminal justice system. First he accepted that the system had a duty to protect the innocent from being wrongly convicted: "That must be the duty of any criminal justice system." But in the very next sentence he contradicted himself: "But surely our primary duty should be to allow law-abiding people to live in safety." From that premise he justified the need for "a radical extension of summary powers to police and local authorities to take on the wrongdoers".

These new powers are not aimed at terrorists. They are to be applied to a wide range of petty offenders, indeed people who have not even committed a criminal offence, but merely indulged in anti-social behaviour. The prime minister was not just giving unequivocal endorsement of anti-social behaviour orders - which senior criminal justice workers suggest need serious amendment - but proposing a new and more radical form, which the police would be able to impose on suspects even before any evidence has been submitted in court.

Mr Blair is wrong to suggest the criminal justice system is operating as though it was living in the time of Dickens. It has helped achieve the longest sustained fall in crime - a decade in which burglaries and car crime have shrunk by 40% - for more than a century. It is Mr Blair's "rough justice" that will return it to the 19th century. He should go back to the earlier approach of building a consensus on creating police powers proportionate to the crime.


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