New Laws Come into Force to Jail Anthrax Hoaxers

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Byline: ROB MCNEIL;ZOE MORRIS

A NEW law which will allow the courts to jail anthrax hoaxers for up to seven years has come into force after being rushed through by the Government.

Anyone who maliciously causes a false alarm over biological, chemical, radioactive or nuclear weapons will be prosecuted under the tough new legislation.

Until yesterday, laws to combat hoaxers only covered explosive devices, but last week Home Secretary David Blunkett announced that it was to be extended in the light of the large number of false alarms since 11 September and the surge in anthrax scares.

Although the legislation will be officially introduced next month, offences will be backdated to midnight yesterday. In a stark message to would-be hoaxers, Mr Blunkett warned: "Those who perpetrate these hoaxes not only create fear and considerable inconvenience, but they also put at risk the availability of secure testing facilities.

"Quite simply, they put us all at risk in the event of a genuine emergency, whilst disrupting business, commerce and our daily lives."

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "This is an exceptional measure but these are exceptional times. It sends the clearest possible signal that we will not tolerate these hoaxes."

Until yesterday hoaxers faced up to six months in prison or a [pound]2,500 fine for wasting police time. The changes to the law will be part of the antiterrorist legislation to be brought before the Commons in November.

London health chiefs will set out today new contingency plans for dealing with germ warfare in the capital. Dr Sue Atkinson, director of public health for London and health adviser to Mayor Ken Livingstone, will outline how hospitals would cope with an attack, as concern grows that the UK could be targeted.

The Government has claimed that despite continuing cases of postal anthrax victims in the United States, there is no evidence to suggest that London is a specific target for terrorists.

However, all London hospitals have been told to update major incident plans and the Department of Health is being passed intelligence to ensure the best possible response to any attack in the capital. …