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Reid threatens to suspend human rights laws after terror suspects go missing

London Independent | May 25, 2007 
Nigel Morris

John Reid faced growing anger as he signalled the Government was ready to declare that Britain faced an "emergency" over terrorism and opt out of human rights legislation.

As the recriminations flew over the disappearance of three radical Islamists who had been on control orders, he made clear his determination to bring in tougher curbs on terror suspects. The Home Secretary said that could mean "derogating" from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) so he could impose tougher control orders on suspects.

The convention, which entered British law via the Human Rights Act, allows countries to suspend parts of the ECHR in "time of emergency".

Control orders, which restrict movements and contact with other people for terror suspects who cannot be brought to court, were introduced two years ago. They replaced the detention without trial of the "Belmarsh detainees," which was ruled illegal.

The latest disappearances bring to six the number of people on control orders who have vanished in the past year and have left the control-order system in disarray. A major police search was under way last night for Lamine Adam, 26, his brother Ibrahim, 20, and Cerie Bullivant, 24, after they went missing this week. Police believe they may try to travel to Iraq or Afghanistan.

A third Adams brother, Anthony Garcia, 25, was jailed for life last month for his part in the "fertiliser bomb" plot to attack targets including a shopping mall and a London nightclub.

Bullivant is due to stand trial over claims he breached his control order on 13 occasions over the past 10 months. All three had been assessed at the lower end of risk, but the fact that they co-ordinated their disappearances has alarmed the police.

Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, said: "Nobody can be perfectly satisfied they are not a risk to the public here, but the intelligence is pointing in another direction."

However, Mr Reid had said the men were "not considered at this time to represent a direct threat to the public in the UK".

News of the absconders triggered fiery clashes over the control-order system in the Commons. The Home Secretary admitted that he would prefer to detain terror suspects or deport those who are foreign nationals, but said he was constrained by legal and political opposition to that approach.

He said he wanted to impose tougher control-order regimes, but was hampered from doing so by court judgments under the ECHR. Mr Reid said he wanted the convention modernised by European leaders to reflect the realities of the terrorist threat. But he added: "We will consider other options, which include derogation, if we have exhausted ways of overturning previous judgments on this issue."

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "By threatening to derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights, John Reid reveals a worrying mix of sloppy thinking and buck-passing." He said it was "wildly inaccurate to claim that the three escapees were somehow helped by our respect for human rights".

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said the escapes were caused by the Government failing to use existing powers, such as tagging suspects. He also said the delay in releasing the identities of the fugitives had allowed them to flee abroad.

"He is now blaming his own Human Rights Act when he has not even tried to derogate under its provisions. He can blame the courts and the opposition, but the problems are of his own making," Mr Davis said.

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the campaign group Liberty, said: "This is last year's rhetoric from yesterday's Home Secretary."

Home Office under pressure

May 2006 Five Nigerian illegal immigrants found working as cleaners at the Home Office.

May 2006 Criminal Records Bureau wrongly labels 2,700 innocent people as criminals.

July 2006 Plans abandoned for enforced mergers of police forces.

November 2006 Prison population in England and Wales passes 80,000.

January 2007 Home Office admits failing to pass on to police details of 27,500 convictions of Britons abroad.

February 2007 Mr Reid ridiculed for idea of texting people to warn they are overstaying their visa.

March 2007 Mr Reid criticised for plan to split the Home Office.

 

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