Lord Carlile's Operation Pathway report - A complacent assessment
" On the 9th April 2009 the Press Association reported that the Prime Minister ...said: "We are dealing with a very big terrorist plot. There are a number of people who are suspected of it who have been arrested. That police operation was successful. We know that there are terrorist links between terrorists in Britain and in Pakistan. That is an important issue for us to follow through and that's what I shall be talking to President Zardari ....we had to act pre-emptively to ensure the safety of the public...." ...taking the statement as a whole and in the context of a press enquiry....in my view it is absurd to suggest that any future jury might have been prejudiced by it, had they become aware of it.
...As the Merseyside Police emphasised to me, they were concerned about various possible threats including....the threat to arresting officers, in the light of the murder of DC Stephen Oake in Manchester during the "ricin plot" arrests....As Merseyside Police said to me, if armed officers are used they "dominate" the arrest situation; the operational judgement was that this was appropriate in this case. Whilst the arrests lacked visual subtlety, it is probably right that in such circumstances no chances should have been taken by the police".
Lord Carlile's report does nothing to address the disquiet caused by the very public arrest of twelve Pakistani students in Liverpool in April 2009, who were subsequently found entirely innocent of terrorist activity. He appears to have accepted at face value the Police's and security agencies' accounts and justifications. He has backed the tactics of 'Operation Pathway', which one veteran journalist described as "a shambles" . An indication of his unwillingness to challenge is the reference he makes to the ricin plot [quoted above] without even qualifing it as the 'so-called ricin plot' - another case in which eight North African men were acquited of poison charges . In his Operation Pathway report, Lord Carlile does not question the intelligence assessment and maintains that the way in which the arrests were carried out was correct.
A scandalous and shameful episode of cavalier intelligence gathering and analysis and gung-ho policing targetted at young Asian men is thus apparently air-brushed away with some low-impact recommendations:
Lord Carlile's Inquiry could have been an opportunity to question at least four issues:
Lord Carlile notes in his report that he wrote to all the solicitors of the detainees for an opportunity to interview them. Apparently the take up was mimimal - perhaps the legal camaraderie knows a thing or two about Lord Carlile's predispositions and decided that this type of engagement was not going to be particularly fruitful. The Establishment has closed ranks and the real lessons have not been taken on board.
It appears that the whole saga was dependent on the interpretation put on one email, found on the pen drive of Abid Naseer, one of the men arrested:
I am sure my email will find you in good health and all your family members are enjoying them self.
I am doing well as usual and having good time. The weather is getting warmer here and we have loads of things to enjoy. You know how it is over here when it is summer. People out to the beaches and going on holidays. Well we had some short trips to riverside as well. My mates are well and yes my affair with Nadia is soon turning in to family life. I met with Nadia family and we both parties have agreed to conduct the Nikkah afer 15th and before 20th this month. I have confirmed the dates from them and they said you should be ready between these dates. i am delighted that they have strong family values and we will have many guests attending the party. I am sure Nadia was the right choice for me at this time because I was getting older day by day LOL Anyways I wished you could be here as well to enjoy the party. That's all from here, nothing new to write down. Pay my love to Hassan and regard to all your family members.
Lord Carlile observes, "the intelligence assessment of the email was founded on the experience of several years of intense scrutiny and policing of Al Qaeda in the UK and, in co-operation with others, around the world....the email, taken together with other intelligence in this context gave rise to the assessment that early stage attack planning may be taking place; and possibly that there was a state of readiness to commit a terrorist attack in the UK, which might include the use of explosives".
Based on this type of assessment, this is how the events unfolded, as reported in the media of the day:
Excluding one of the twelve who was released within a short time, the lack of evidence - including the sugar packets which were destined for a sweet dish - did not prevent the incarceration of the remaining eleven: two were released after 9 days, while others were held for two weeks, without knowledge of the charges against them. Those released in the first batch were electronically tagged and placed under curfew. Eventually District Judge Blake remarked on 22nd April, "the real prospect of evidence emerging needs to be much, much clearer...". Accordingly they were all released from detention under the Terrorism Act 2000. Ten of the eleven were transferred into immigration custody; one, a UK national, was released. Those in immigration custody then had their cases presented to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), and were not granted bail. Most then dropped their appeals and returned to Pakistan.
It is remarkable that Lord Carlile did not criticise the tendency of police officers to provide briefings to the media - see The Times quote above. His report makes no reference to what was also a bumbling intelligence gathering approach: "Playing a leading role were teams of women who kept an eye on the suspects...they worked in two groups: one made up of 72 elderly women, the other young mothers with babies in prams. Both had undergone a crash course in surveillance techniques...." [ with infighting and "furious disagreements" between various constabularies and security units involved. [
The Human Rights lawyer Louise Christian was not far off the mark in observing the case was "not only a serious abrogation of the rights of 12 individuals but it is also a disaster for community relations. How can the police expect the Pakistani community to co-operate and give information about genuine terrorist threats if they see innocent young men being subjected to such obviously unfair treatment?" [
Postscript: On 3rd December 2009, a SIAC judge ruled that the detainee at the centre of the 'buddy' email could not be denied bail solely on the basis of secret evidence. Prior to this ruling people held under deportation orders could be refused bail solely on the basis of closed evidence that they, their lawyers, or the public had never heard. Gareth Peirce, his solicitor described the judgment as a 'historic' victory while the home secretary said he would appeal. [
1. James Slack in the Daily Mail, 25th Nov 2009
2. See Secret State entry - The Ricin Dossier
3. Gordon Thomas in the Daily Express, 19th April 2009
4. Sean O’Neill & others in The Times, 22nd April 2009
5. Writing in the Guardian's Comment if Free, 23rd April 2009
6. Alan Travis in the Guardian, 1st December 2009