Britain should lay on charter flights to take wannabe British jihadists to Syria so they don’t fester here, a former counter-terrorism police chief has suggested.

Bob Quick, a former Scotland Yard assistant commissioner, said it may be safer for Britain to help fanatics move to the war torn country and ban them from returning.

But the comments are likely to cause controversy that the UK would be actively encouraging terrorism and does not end the danger of the jihadists sneaking back home and carrying out attacks here once trained.

Mr Quick was the most senior counter-terrorism officer until he had to resign in 2009 after an embarrassing security leak.

The officer inadvertently showed secret papers to photographers outside Downing Street as he walked in to Number 10, which resulted in a major terrorism operation having to be brought forward.

Speaking on the tenth anniversary of the July 7 atrocities, Mr Quick said the terrorism threat facing the UK now was greater than a decade ago.

He said the emergence of Isil in Syria had transformed the nature of the threat.

More than 700 Britons are believed to have travelled to Syria, many to join Isil, and around half have returned.

Mr Quick told the Guardian that those wanting to go to Isil-controlled territory should be allowed to go but have to hand their British passports in as they leave.

He said: “You have to think how do you confront it, if you have hundreds or thousands who want to go there and live that life? We should try and convince them not to go. If they want to go, you have to ask the question, are we better off, if they surrender their passports and go? It’s better than them festering away here.

“Should we say we’ll lay on charter flights to Syria; turn up with your passport and if you are over 18, if this is the life you want, then go?”

He said the threat had moved on from major, complex plots.

“Now we are dealing with large numbers, who have travelled to Syria–we don’t know how many will come back with horrible intent–and the home-grown extremists who are here,” he said.

“We are in a less safe position than we were then, because the world outside our borders is less safe than 10 years ago. There are more people who are motivated, inspired or encouraged to mount these attacks.

“Our understanding of radicalisation, what is at the heart of dissatisfaction with UK society, is very little understood.”

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