The home secretary, Charles Clarke, is transforming Britain into a police state, one of the country's former leading anti-terrorist police chiefs said yesterday.
George Churchill-Coleman, who headed Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist squad as they worked to counter the IRA during their mainland attacks in the late 1980s and early 1990s, said Mr Clarke's proposals to extend powers, such as indefinite house arrest, were "not practical" and threatened to further marginalise minority communities.
Mr Churchill-Coleman told the Guardian: "I have a horrible feeling that we are sinking into a police state, and that's not good for anybody. We live in a democracy and we should police on those standards.
He added: "I have serious worries and concerns about these ideas on both ethical and practical terms. You cannot lock people up just because someone says they are terrorists. Internment didn't work in Northern Ireland, it won't work now. You need evidence."
Mr Churchill-Coleman's team had to counter IRA cells which mounted the 1991 mortar attack on Downing Street. His criticism comes as Mr Clarke attempts to convince cabinet colleagues about the need for new powers.
The home secretary has already shown an appetite for the kind of political language favoured by his predecessor, David Blunkett, to justify the tools he says the state needs to fight the ongoing war against terror.
In an interview in today's Daily Telegraph, he warns of the need to monitor not only alleged terror suspects but their family, friends and acquaintances. They could be subjected to potentially daily searches even though they are not accused of any crime, he said.
He said: My first responsibility is to protect people. I don't regard their rights as absolute. There are serious people and serious organisations trying to destroy our society. We are in a state of emergency."
Mr Clarke appeared to be digging in for a long and potentially turbulent fight to achieve his new powers.
As criticism of the proposals grew, Mr Clarke gave a lengthy cabinet presentation on the plans. It is believed that some of the government's own law officers have reservations about the details of the new powers, which are needed to ensure it survives any expected legal challenge under the human rights convention.
Guy Mansfield QC, the chairman of the Bar Council, said yesterday that house arrest without trial was as damaging as imprisonment without trial and would breed resentment among ethnic minorities.
The leftwing Labour MP and QC, Bob Marshall-Andrews, called the proposals "the most substantial extension of the state's executive powers over the citizen for 300 years".