Sunday, June 11, 2006

Yard told MI5 of terror tip doubt

Cases such as these are at the heart of the debate over the balance between "anti-terrorist powers" and civil liberties. Ignore for the moment the ludicrous whingeing of Muslim groups. Are police "targeting Muslims" in looking for terrorists? Oddly enough, since Islamic terror is the current threat, they are not looking for it amongst Buddhists. During the IRA's long campaign on the British mainland, they were not looking for terrorists among French expats in Britain either.

Each time there is such a raid, we should ask if the new powers were (a) used and (b) necessary. Certainly no new powers were necessary to raid and search this house if the police had reasonable cause to suspect that there was evidence of an offence. A search warrant would be readily granted. Reading between the lines it seems that MI5 signals intelligence (monitored phone calls or emails) may have been the reason to suspect the gentlemen in question. A judge could assess that intelligence in deciding whether to issue a warrant. No problem there.

The suspects were detained for longer than would previously been permitted, using new "anti-terrorist" powers. Without those powers, the police would have had to go back to a court to have the detention period extended and would have had to give reasons. It seems a reasonable safeguard that they should have to do so. When the suspects sue, they will have suffered greater losses and will no doubt win higher damages. I can't see (as it must have been obvious in a few hours that the intelligence behind the raid was clearly defective) that the new powers have achieved anything except greater losses to the taxpayer. The powers were used, but unnecessary.

The new anti-terror laws were irrelevant to the use of firearms in this incident. The police will not have (and should not have) any additional defences against criminal or civil cases brought by the man who was shot. Whether they are to blame or not remains to be seen, but the new laws will make no difference.

Questions should be asked about police tactics. In the confusion of a massive operation (250 officers for one terraced house?!), some kind of foul-up was likely. If the current legal and political situation had any influence at all, it was to create a febrile, almost hysterical, atmosphere in which injury or death was more likely.

All of this supports the theory that Tony Blair's anti-terrorism legislation was passed entirely for political effect. He wanted to be seen to "do something" but what he has done has either made no difference, or has had a negative effect.

The Observer | UK News | Yard told MI5 of terror tip doubt


dearieme said...

I understood that the intelligence source was said to be "human", presumably meaning non-electronic. Perhaps some member of the community wanted to inconvenience othe members of the community?

Tom Paine said...

You could be right. The report I read was just speculating. There are any number of reasons for someone to lodge a false report, and such actions become a distinct problem in their own right in police states.