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Guilty unless proven innocent
01 December 2003


In January 2003, Shadow Defence Secretary Bernard Jenkin (now Shadow Secretary of State for the regions) was emboldened to declare on the Today programme (15 January) “we are dealing with suicide bombers” when asked to comment on the so-called ‘ricin factory’ above a chemist’s in Wood Green, North London. Seven persons were arrested but six months later, when the charges were pressed, the two ‘ring-leaders’ - the Algerian brothers Mouloud Feddag and Samir Feddag were jailed for the possession of false passports – there was no mention of terrorism. The media pandemonium of January was conveniently sidelined by June 2003.

The politicians have politicized the intelligence services, who in turn feed the tabloids; this then sets the measure for the political leaders to appear populist – and the vicious cycle goes around one more time.

Within hours of the arrest of 24-year old Sajid Badat in Gloucester, Home Office Minister David Blunkett was announcing that “it is the belief of the security and special branch forces that this person has connections with the network of al-Qaida groups. That is why he has been arrested under the Terrorism Act”. Quite correctly, Blunkett has now received a ticking off from Lord Falconer, the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, who has noted that “it is wrong to comment in detail in relation to the particular facts at this particular moment." The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith QC, has also issued a warning to the media reminding of the dangers of pre-trial publicity in high-profile cases. Mr Bajat was detained on Thursday 27 November. By Monday 1 December the Police were still unable to press charges, and have asked for the detention to be extended a further three days.

Members of the Muslim community in Gloucester are considering consulting lawyers over possible legal action against the Home Secretary. Shabbir Bann, a representative of the community has told the press "I think if you look at the sort of remarks that were made even before any charges had been brought against Badat, it was clearly being said that he is a threat to the life and liberty of our country. Whose country are we talking about? We are talking about a 24-year-old Muslim resident of Gloucester, born in this country, and yet we are using this sort of emotive language. I think clearly that's something that has widely concerned the Muslims and the general residents of Gloucester."

The politicization of the intelligence services is “the shoehorning of intelligence data to fit pre-fixed political goals” - Michael Meacher’s apt description (The Guardian, 20 November 2003). An example was the bizarre deployment in January 2003 of two helicopters and 150 men in the dawn raid of the Finsbury Park mosque – a venue that had been infiltrated by security agents and under stringent surveillance for several years. In February 2003 Prime Minister Blair personally authorized the deployment of 450 troops with armoured vehicles at Heathrow – a terrain most unsuitable for this type of firing power. Commentators at the time were remarking that these were propaganda events to shape public opinion in advance of the imminent attack on Iraq and to justify the horrendous violation of civil liberties taking place under the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Anti-Terrorism Crime & Security Act 2001. For example commenting on the Heathrow incident, Sir Rodric Braithwaite, former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, has observed “I mean all that stuff... tanks at Heathrow. I mean, I call that overselling."

Braithwaite’s allegation of Intelligence complicity with the political masters is not far-fetched. The pivotal New Labourite Peter Mandelson, described as an MI6 'agent of influence' (by Mark Hollingsworth, writing in The Guardian, 5 November 2003) once in power was not averse to calling on old connections: In 1998 Mandelson was accused of planting a story in the Sunday Times that Chris Patten, former governor of Hong Kong, was being investigated by MI6 for leaking classified documents - apparently to divert attention away from Labour scandals involving Robin Cook and Lord Simon.

The now debunked ‘traces of ricin’ of Wood Green and the ‘relatively small amount of explosives’ – Scotland Yard’s description of the findings at Sajid Badat’s house – brings to mind the case of the Birmingham 6 – the Irishmen wrongfully convicted in 1976 for bomb-making. Chemical tests were positive for ammonium and nitrate ions on the hands of two of the accused: one forensic scientist stated that the source was ammonium nitrate, and thus evidence of bomb-making; another offered an alternative explanation, such as traces in the atmosphere. It was even mooted that the men had been playing cards, and the chemicals could have rubbed off from the card coating. The trial judge indicated his support for the former explanation. The men were put away, only to be released in 1991 when the Court of Appeal ruled they had not received a fair trial.

Sources:
- Campaigners against Terror Act call for support
- Muslims ponder action over Blunkett
- Spies like us
-'The Birmingham Framework'

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