Ricin jurors attack new terror laws

Ricin jurors attack new terror laws

‘Knee-jerk reaction’ under fire on BBC programme

Martin Bright, home affairs editor Sunday October 9, 2005 The Observer

Three jurors in the so-called ‘ricin trial’, whose acquittal of four Algerian terror suspects in April caused deep embarrassment to the government, police and security service, will condemn the government’s new terrorism legislation in their first television interviews tonight.

It is unusual for jurors to speak to the media after a trial, but they have told The Observer they are furious that a number of the defendants have since been re-arrested and imprisoned without trial.

Three jurors were interviewed for the BBC’s Panorama programme, which examines new counter-terrorism proposals to be put before Parliament this week.

One juror, speaking anonymously, told the programme: ‘Before the trial I had a lot of faith in the authorities to be making the right decisions on my behalf … having been through this trial I’m very sceptical now as to the real reasons why this new legislation is being pushed through.’

A second added: ‘I think they are probably a knee-jerk reaction to the recent terrorist incidents in London … it’s a classic example of the government’s need to be seeming to do something to quell comment in the nation at large.’

The third said measures introduced in response to the 7 July bombings were ‘draconian’, ‘ill-considered’ and ‘hastily put together’. Home Secretary` Charles Clarke has already been forced to back down in introducing an offence of ‘glorifying’ terrorism. An arrest will now require evidence of incitement to violence.

The government is also under pressure to drop moves to detain suspects for three months before charging them. The police argue that this is the time needed to gain access to encrypted computers, but opponents say that it constitutes internment.

Two jurors told The Observer they were shocked when a number of the men they had freed after a seven-month trial were re-arrested earlier this year. One juror said: ‘I was dumbfounded … During the trial there were clearly different degrees of evidence against different defendants. But in a couple of cases, the evidence was so flimsy you couldn’t see where the arrest came from in the first place. To re-arrest them seemed totally unreasonable.’ A female juror added that the trial revealed failures by the authorities: ‘[There was] poor intelligence, police having misinformation and not really understanding the background, the government willing something along because of the impending war and it gathered its own momentum … Now they are trying to justify why the arrests happened.’

The acquittal of the Algerians, who were accused of plotting to manufacture the deadly ricin poison in a north London flat, led to the collapse of a second trial involving four more men. Only one suspect, Kamel Bourgass, was convicted of the plot. At the time of the trial, he was already serving a life sentence for the murder of a policeman, DC Stephen Oake.

The ricin arrests were made at the end of December 2002 and were used in the run-up to war in Iraq to suggest that Britain was under threat from weapons of mass destruction. The trial revealed that no traces of ricin has been found in the flat occupied by the suspects in Wood Green, north London.

The Panorama programme, Blair vs Blair, will examine the new legislation in the light of the apparently contradictory stances of the Prime Minister and his wife, human rights barrister Cherie Booth. In August, Tony Blair said in the light of the 7 July bombings that ‘the rules of the game are changing’. But on 26 July his wife said: ‘It is all too easy for us to respond to such terror in a way which undermines commitment to our most deeply held values and convictions and which cheapens our right to call ourselves a civilised nation.’

The programme contains interviews with Moazzam Begg, who was held at Guantanamo Bay as a terror suspect for three years, and former law lord Lord Steyn, who says the new legislation could be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, while Lord Lloyd of Berwick said: ‘Being questioned notionally and not being charged: I think that is intolerable.’