THE police and Crown Prosecution Service have defended themselves for not prosecuting Muslim extremist Abu Hamza sooner.

Police revealed they had investigated Hamza since 1999 and had made submissions to the CPS, but no charges were brought against the radical cleric until 2004.

A CPS spokesman told the BBC there had been "insufficient evidence" to prosecute earlier.

Hamza was eventually charged following the seizure of more than 3,000 audio and video tapes during a raid on his home.

The 47-year-old cleric was jailed on Tuesday for seven years after being found guilty by a jury of stirring racial hatred and soliciting his followers to murder.

Following the sentencing a French intelligence chief reportedly claimed that British officials did not act on evidence passed on by his country of Hamza's involvement in terrorism.

Christophe Chaboud, director of France's national anti-terrorism co-ordination unit, told The Guardian that Hamza had sent "tens and tens" of people from the Finsbury Park Mosque in North London to al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan.

Scotland Yard has also had to deny newspaper reports linking the preacher to the four July 7 London suicide bombers.

"We have no evidence at this stage that any of those involved had connections with Abu Hamza," a Scotland Yard spokesman told the BBC.