Jury anger over threat of torture
Guardian told plan to deport ricin plot accused ignores court verdict
Duncan Campbell and Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, May 21, 2005
Jurors who acquitted four Algerians in the so-called « ricin plot » trial that ended at the Old Bailey last month have expressed outrage at the news that the government is seeking to deport three of the accused to Algeria.
They have told the Guardian that they are very angry that their verdicts of not guilty appear to have been ignored, and fear that the men face torture or death if deported.
« If anyone has grounds for asylum in this country, it is these men, » said one of the jurors. « They would almost certainly be subjected to abuse, torture or worse if repatriated. We as a jury made a decision. To see the government disregarding our verdict and preparing to send them back to almost certain torture is horrifying. We would try to do anything to stop it. »
The jurors – who gave a robust defence of jury trials in terrorist cases – contacted the Guardian after reading a report last week that there were plans to deport to Algeria three of the acquitted men and others who were formally acquitted in a second trial that the prosecution abandoned.
The men, Sidali Feddag, David Khalef, Mouloud Sihali and Mustapha Taleb, had been charged with conspiracy to murder and cause a public nuisance and were acquitted on both charges. Mr Taleb was granted asylum in 2001.
One man, Kamel Bourgass, who had already been jailed for life for the murder of Detective Constable Stephen Oake was convicted of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance and jailed for 17 years.
The Guardian report told of failed attempts by the Foreign Office to get assurances from the Algerian authorities that the men would be safe if they were deported.
Lawyers for the men said the Home Office was « not giving an inch » in efforts to deport them. It has emerged since the trial that the chief informant, another Algerian, Muhammad Muguerba, provided information to the authorities after torture in Algeria, according to fellow prisoners.
« It appears from the Home Office’s attitude that our decisions were totally disregarded, » said one juror, referring to the not guilty verdicts.
« It would be a total infringement of human rights to send them back, » said another. « The fact that the government is planning to send them back is an outrage. » A further juror said: « I think the government is being very vindictive and spiteful. It seems to be playing to the gallery. »
The same juror said the Algerian government could not be trusted to guarantee the security of the men. « What has emerged is that they are up to their old tricks, especially bearing in mind their views on Islamic radicals. »
« The government’s agenda is slowly eroding civil liberties here, » said another juror. « My guess is that it [the decision to try to deport] comes straight from the top. »
The jurors also expressed their anger at the way the trial was reported. « I was quite incensed that the four men acquitted were treated as though they were guilty in the media, » said one.
Another said the coverage was « ridiculously off the mark. Certain papers have their own agenda. The truth is much more complicated than the way the trial was reported ».
The three jurors, who said they had the backing of a fourth member, praised the jury system as the fairest form of justice, and said any attempt to end jury trials in complex terror cases should be resisted.
« It must be the best way, » said one juror. « You have a microcosm of society and I think that is even more important for terror trials. »
The trial was one of the longest ever held at the Old Bailey, starting in September last year and subject to many interruptions. The jury deliberated for four weeks before reaching their verdicts.
Though the government is to introduce new offences, including condoning acts of terrorism, it appears to have shelved proposals for judge-only trials in terrorist cases.
Shami Chakrabati, director of Liberty, the civil rights group, said yesterday: « Suggestions that acquitted men should be deported to face ill-treatment at the hands of dubious regimes are horrifying and will be fought by the domestic and international human rights community. »
She added: « The principled stance of the ricin jurors demonstrates the sense of fairness and decency of most people. It is a great vindication of the continuing importance of jury trial in this country. »
The Home Office does not comment on specific cases. The Algerian embassy had no comment. Amnesty International is currently holding an inquiry into alleged atrocities in Algerian jails, where it views conditions with « grave concern ».
The law regarding jurors expressing themselves in public was, by coincidence, clarified this week in the case of Keith Scotcher, whose appeal was heard in the House of Lords. Jurors may not reveal details of their deliberations, but are free to express their views to the media post-trial