Bollox Britain

 2006

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16th December

  Police Violators...

 
   
Protestors unlawfully turned back by police

Police made up the law to stop protestors travelling

Some very worrying possibilities here

From the BBC

Campaigners have won a legal battle to prove their rights to protest were violated when police stopped them from attending an anti-war demonstration.

About 120 Iraq war protesters were held on coaches by police near RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire in March 2003.

The Law Lords ruled police did violate the right to freedom of expression and lawful assembly. This overturned a previous High Court ruling that police did not violate the protesters' rights in this respect.

Peace campaigner Jane Laporte, under whose name the case was brought, said: I am absolutely overjoyed. The Lords have confirmed that freedom to protest is something that should be treasured in this country and police don't have the right to take it away.

Gloucestershire Police said it was "disappointed" with the decision, which it accepted, and added that officers acted in "good faith". It also expressed "regret" for any inconvenience and said it would now review its policies.

A police decision had been made to stop and turn back the three coaches travelling to RAF Fairford from London."

Lord Bingham said: It was entirely reasonable to suppose that some of those on board the coaches might wish to cause damage and injury to the base, and to enter the base with a view to causing further damage and injury. It was not reasonable to suppose that even these passengers simply wanted a violent confrontation with the police, which they could have had in the lay-by. Nor was it reasonable to anticipate an outburst of disorder on arrival of these passengers in the assembly area or during the procession to the base.

The Lords ruled the police actions were unlawful because they were not prescribed by law and were disproportionate.

 

9th December

  Mince Pie Nuts

necfair.jpg

Oy! You can't erect that sign
without a risk assessment

Councils and Christmas pedants.

From the BBC

Organisers of a village Christmas party have been told they must carry out a risk assessment of their mince pies - or their festivities will be cancelled. Council bosses say posters will have to be displayed at the party in Embsay, in the Yorkshire Dales, warning villagers the pies contain nuts and suet pastry. The cocoa content and temperature of the hot chocolate must also be checked.

Resident Steve Dobson said the rules had made the small party as difficult to arrange as the Great Yorkshire Show. Dobson said he learned of the regulations after writing to Craven District Council to ask if he could use a car park outside Embsay village hall to hold the free party for the community.

He planned a fireworks display, mulled wine, Santa's grotto and free mince pies made by members of Embsay and Eastby Women's Institute.

It is bureaucracy gone mad , Dobson said: The council gave me a huge list of things we had to do. I wrote back, a little bit tongue in cheek, asking if I really had to risk assess free mince pies and a brass band, and they said yes. For a small Dales village we found it a bit of a joke really. It's gone from us hoping to use a bit of council property for a community party, to needing the same sort of planning we would have to put in for the Great Yorkshire Show.

Craven Council's director of community disservices, Jonathan Kerr, said: We support these community events and we try to help local communities organise them and make sure they are as safe as possible.

 

28th November

  Abandoning Free Speech to Suit the Easily Offended

I was offended...that's why...This must be one of the most worrying stories for a long time. The Police seem to be setting up a law where 'offence' is criminalised and yet we know how easily 'offended' religious people are.

I feel somebody should be questioning exactly what the police motivation is for this report. It seems to me to be a setup to stop people protesting against possible future religious inroads.

Surely we should be supporting the right to offend....I have a feeling we will need it!

Setting Up Bollox Law

From The Guardian

Police are to demand new powers to arrest protesters for causing offence through the words they chant and the slogans on their placards and even headbands.

The country's biggest force, the Metropolitan police, is to lobby the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, because officers believe that large sections of the population have become increasingly politicised, and there is a growing sense that the current restrictions on demonstrations are too light.

Trouble at recent protests involving Islamic extremists has galvanised the Met's assistant commissioner, Tarique Ghaffur, into planning a crackdown. His proposals are due to be sent to Lord Goldsmith, who is reviewing how effective the current laws are in tackling extremists.

The police want powers to proscribe protest chants and slogans on placards, banners and headbands. Human rights experts say that such powers could also be used against protesters such as animal rights and anti-globalisation activists. The civil rights group Liberty said the powers would make the police "censors in chief".

Ghaffur has previously advocated banning flag burning. But this document would take the police a lot further. Ghaffur says there is a "growing national and international perception" that the police have been too soft on extremist protesters, which has led to rising anger across the country.

As well as the absence of a law banning the burning of a flag, there is no law banning the burning of a religious text.

The police want powers to tackle a "grey area" in the array of public order laws. At present, causing offence by itself is not a criminal offence.

There must be a clear message that we will not allow any extremist group to display banners or make public statements that clearly cause offence within the existing law, the document says.

The document continues: Is the sand shifting in our collective viewpoint around what constitutes 'causing offence'? Equally, we need to have a clearer determination of current community perceptions around what 'public offence' actually means. We also need to think more laterally around how we police public demonstrations where 'offence' could be caused, while still respecting the British position around freedom of speech.

The document, entitled The widening agenda of public demonstrations and radicalisation , says Islamic extremists have learned how to cause offence without breaking the law. It also reveals that the government has yet to implement the bill outlawing religious hatred which received royal assent in February. It says that the law may prove useless against extremists: Virtually all activity by protesters could constitute insulting or abusive language, behaviour or banners towards particular religions, but would fall outside the remit of inciting religious hatred.

The director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, said: [The proposal] misunderstands the nature of law and free expression in a democracy and casts the police as censors in chief. It aims to protect people from 'offence' rather than harm, slates the CPS and muses wildly on 'public perceptions'.

Using Bollox Law

From The Peninsula

Pakistani police arrested two Catholic men from Faisalabad for allegedly burning a copy of the Qur’an despite the fact that their accusers did not see them commit the act itself.

Their arrest spared them a possible lynching by a mob of 500 Muslims who had surrounded the house in Munir Park where James and Buta Masih both lived.

A catholic attorney, Khalil Tahir, took on their case. He told AsiaNews that the police locked up in an isolation cell rather than go before a judge for fear that extremists might attack them.

A local priest, Fr Yaqoob Yousaf, told AsiaNews that the Muslim employer of James Masih’s daughter Nargis, who works as a maid for his family, gave her items that she might reuse. She took them to her father’s house. After sorting out things they kept some for themselves and sold some in the market. Her father burnt waste papers in the street. Both are illiterate and are unaware whether any pages from a holy book was among them. More importantly, no one saw them burn pages from the Qur’an.

Arshad Mubarak, a local Muslim, made a complaint at the local police station against James Masih and his neighbour and friend Buta Masih for burning the Qur’an in the street. He told the police he didn’t actually see the two accused burning the Qur’an but that other local people told him that that was what they were doing.

However, Father Yaqoob said that the plaintiff was trying to get James Masih to sell his house to no success and that the accusation gave him the opportunity “teach him a lesson for refusal”.

A Pakistani court has now sentenced the two Christians to 15 years of hard labour on charges of desecrating the Holy Quran under the country’s tough blasphemy laws, officials said yesterday.

James Masih and Boota Masih were found guilty of burning pages of the Muslim holy book, judge Mohammad Aslam said in a verdict on Saturday after a trial in the industrial city of Faisalabad.

Both men, who are not related, were also fined 25,000 rupees (416 dollars), court officials said.

 

5th November

  Beyond All Reasonable Bollox

Asbo collector t-shirtAll these escalating punishments without the authorities having to prove guilt. Seems scary to me.

Based on an article from the Bridlington Today

Posters of people with Anti-Social Behaviour Orders will be displayed in Bridlington town centre in what is the first scheme of its kind in the country.

The posters will feature pictures of the troublemakers, information about their ASBOs and what to do if people see them causing a nuisance.

They will be put on one of the town's public information pillars and are intended as a deterrent to yobbish behaviour and to help enforce ASBO bans.

The idea was the brainchild of Insp Steve Jackson, head of Bridlington police, Sgt Richard Kirven and town centre manager Denise Cowling.

Insp Jackson said: We wanted somewhere to put pictures of people with ASBOs and display information. We can't use shop windows because shopkeepers could be at risk and become victims. If someone decides they are going to damage the public information pillar they will be caught on CCTV.

From The Independent

People who repeatedly flout anti-social behaviour laws should be housed in "sin bins" where they will be subjected to curfews and a tough set of rules governing how they live, according to the Government's anti-social behaviour chief.

Louise Casey, who heads the Respect taskforce, wants to extend family intervention projects to single people who have extremely "chaotic" lifestyles.

In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, Casey said that she believed that the expensive boarding-school style regimes were the answer to breaking the cycle of antisocial behaviour.

Critics say the centres are open prisons for people who have not been sentenced by the courts. But Casey says she has seen evidence that the harsh, structured regime is effective.

 

29th October
updated to
30th October

  Discouraging Flag Waving

Danish flag being burntOne has to sympathise with the flag makers. Surely there aren't many people who actually want to wave them anymore. And now you can't even buy them to burn.

From the BBC

Police chiefs are urging the government to make flag-burning a new criminal offence, as part of a drive to crack down on Islamic extremists and others preaching violence and religious hate

The proposals also include action to ban demonstrators from covering their faces to avoid police scrutiny, and tougher powers to arrest demonstrators seeking to inflame tensions.

They have been drawn up by Scotland Yard, and submitted to the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, by Britain's most senior muslim police chief, Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur. He is responsible for public order in the capital as commander of central operations.

Ghaffur told BBC Radio Five he was concerned Britain had come to be seen at home and abroad as soft on extremist demonstrators. He said police wanted a change in the law on the burning of flags - to make that illegal.

Other proposals included a police power, when approving demonstrations and marches, to attach conditions covering banners and making clear demonstrators should not cover their faces. He emphasised that it did not include Muslim women wearing the veil.

Responding to his comments, a Home Office spokeswoman said: As far as we are aware, the police have found existing powers to cope with public order offences adequate, but ministers will always listen to representations from the police who can contact them with their views."

The BBC's Weekend News programme has been told the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, is preparing a package of announcements. These are being discussed between ministers who will decide how far existing public order and anti-terror laws can be used more actively and consider police calls for changes in the law.
 

30th October

   Update: Police a Soft Touch for Repression

Danish flag being burntFrom the BBC

Human rights groups have opposed a plan by police chiefs to make flag-burning by protesters a new criminal offence. The Liberal Democrats and Liberty said new legislation was unnecessary because police had powers to tackle incitement.

Scotland Yard has drawn up proposals to submit to the Attorney General because of a belief the UK has become a soft touch in dealing with extremists.

Shami Chakrabarti, Liberty's director, said: " We will have to look at the detail of these proposals but the police already have wide powers, especially for dealing with people wearing masks.

Criminalising flag-burning would be an unacceptable restriction of freedom of expression, said Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, a member of the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights: The battle against terrorism and extremism is not a matter of yet more public order offences and it is vital that we preserve free speech where no crime is incited.

Massoud Shedjareh, of the Islamic Human Rights' Commission, said whether it was incitement or not depended on the circumstances, but police already had powers to deal with it.

A Home Office spokeswoman said she was unaware police thought existing powers were inadequate but ministers were ready to listen to any suggestions from officers.

 

25th October

  Rubbish Council

Based on an article from the Daily Mail

A householder has told of his despair at being landed with a criminal record for putting a scrap of paper in a bin bag meant for bottles and cans.

Michael Reeves has become Britain's first recycling martyr after a court fined him 200 for disobeying rules about sorting his rubbish.

He had volunteered to take part in a recycling scheme launched by Swansea Council. But somehow a single piece of junk mail found its way into a bag designated for other rubbish. And when council workers found his name and address on it, they prosecuted.

Last night the case provoked widespread anger. Even environmentalists said that it could put people off recycling as millions of householders already struggle to make sense of bewildering rules governing how to dispose of their rubbish.

Reeves told The Mail on Sunday: I now have a criminal record and it will weigh me down like a millstone. I will have to explain myself every time I apply for a new job. And if I want to go to the United States I will have to apply for a special entry visa.

Reeves denied even putting the letter in the bag. There were no witnesses nor camera footage of him doing so, but magistrates still found him guilty.

I am not a violent man or a drunkard. I have not held up a bank. I have not committed fraud. But when I allowed a single piece of junk mail to appear in the wrong sort of recycling bag I found myself committing a crime. It was not me who put the letter in the recycling bag. It was not even my bag. Yet the presence of my address amid the cans and bottles was enough for the court to find me guilty. I have always been happy to do my bit for the environment - but I couldn't care less now.

He added: The irony is that I would have been better off not recycling at all, just loading everything into a single rubbish bag. But like most people I supported the principle and was happy to play my part.

Friends of the Earth said Reeves' case 'may put people off recycling - and that's bad news'.

 

27th July
updated to
29th July

  Barely Disguised Sharia Law in Britain

A mere stones throw away from forcing ugly old Daily Mail reading women to wear a veil!

Based on an article from the Daily Mail

Beer bellyThe Men may be barred from baring their chests - and stomachs - in public under new local laws being considered by town halls.

They would stop men stripping off their shirts in crowded town centres and give powers to police to remove any who defy the repressive laws.

The proposal has been inspired by the least attractive side effect of the heatwave - the tendency of a number of often middle-aged men to go about in nothing more than shorts and trainers.

Last week the Daily Mail highlighted the wave of revulsion among Daily Mail readers at the summer's least welcome fashion trend, and pictured a series of the worst examples in the hope of shaming offenders into keeping their T-shirts on.

Now local authorities have been circulated with a scheme for using by-laws to require shirts in town centres and to brand men who won't wear them as anti-social. The laws would operate in a similar manner to local statutes that ban drinking on the streets or which prevent gangs of youths from congregating.

The politician behind the plan is former local government minister Nicholas Bennett, who has canvassed councils across the country for support: One of the things that is depressing for anyone going shopping is the numbers of shaven-headed men, mainly in their 30s and 40s, who seem to think people want to see their torsos. It is only a small minority, one in a hundred people. But these men do look aggressive and occasionally behave aggressively. You would see a big difference in the shopping centre if they were made to put a shirt on."

Officials in Bromley, in south east London, have responded warily to the proposal, suggesting that implementation might prove 'difficult'. However by-laws governing local behaviour and giving police powers to act against those who infringe them can be pushed through by town halls if the win approval from the Home Office.
 

29th July

  Skegness: Scrag End of Civilisation

Presumably Skegness is a haven for louts hanging around making peoples life a misery then. Best to avoid the place totally.

Based on an article from Skegness Today

Beer bellyEveryone has heard of Anti-social Behaviour Orders being slapped on unruly individuals but now part of the town has been given a similar order.

This is the latest step presumably to deal with a serious public order problem in town.

The order came into force on Monday and covers Skegness sea front, including Grand Parade, Lumley Road, Rutland Road, and Scarbrough Avenue. It lasts until September 30. Authorisation to use this clause of the Anti-Social Behaviour Order Act 2003 was approved by East Division's police commander Chief Supt Russ Hardy and East Lindsey District Council's chief executive Nigel Howells.

Insp Steve Hill, who is responsible for policing the area, said: The order will assist policing throughout the summer months, preventing unruly behaviour and allowing us to take action before matters escalate.

He added: If individuals are causing concern to others trying to enjoy themselves, then we will direct those responsible to leave the area. If they fail to comply they are likely to be arrested and could face six months' imprisonment and/or a fine of up to 5,000.

The order gives police the power to disperse two or more people from the designated area. It also allows the police to take home unaccompanied youngsters under the age of 16 found in the area after 9pm.

Notices will be displayed at various points within the area giving details of how the order works and the punishments open to those who fail to comply.

 

12th July

  Bollox Policing

From the BBC

Armed policemanThe High Court has criticised the way anti-social behaviour laws were used to prosecute a 17-year-old schoolboy.

The boy and his friends were talking peacefully at a south-west London shopping centre when they were told to leave by a policeman, two judges heard. The police officer made the order because of a persistent problem with anti-social behaviour in the area, though the group was well-behaved.

The boy was convicted for not leaving at Wimbledon Youth Court last September after being found guilty of contravening the direction. He was sentenced to a 12-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay costs of 50.

This was overturned by two High Court judges who said the police officer's direction was not a proportionate response. There had been an illegitimate intrusion into the rights of people to go where they please in public.

Lord Justice May, sitting with Mr Justice Aikens, said the evidence before the youth court was that the boy and his group "seemed well-behaved" at Wimbledon train station and the Centre Court shopping centre.

But the beat officer - knowing that there had been a trend for youths from several of the local schools to meet in the vicinity and start fights - made the dispersal direction using powers under the 2003 Anti-Social Behaviour Act. Provisions of the Act allow the police to clamp down when they have "reasonable grounds" for suspecting that anti-social behaviour could cause members of the public to be "intimidated, harassed, alarmed or distressed".

Overturning the conviction, Lord Justice May warned police officers that it was not enough, save in exceptional circumstances, to rely solely on past experience. There had to be some behaviour on the part of the group at which the direction was aimed to justify the direction being made. Otherwise, it would intrude on the legitimate activities of young people coming from school by a particular route, behaving properly as they do so.

 

6th July

  Bollox Police, Bollox Britain and Bollox to Blair

From The Times
Spotted by MediawatchWatch
Shirts from www.houndblair.com

Bollocks to Blair shirtPolice issued two stallholders at a farming show with 80 fines for displaying T-shirts bearing the slogan “Bollocks to Blair”. Officers questioned staff on two stands at the Royal Norfolk Show after receiving a complaint, subsequently issuing two fixed-penalty notices of 80 for the offending garments.

Tom Williams, co-director of the clothing firm Splash, who was manning one of the stands, said that police told him it was legal to sell the pro-hunting shirts with the slogan on the back, but illegal to put them on display.

Toby Rhodes, a fellow director, said: It’s utterly ridiculous and totally out of proportion. We have been selling the shirts for ages as part of the Countryside Alliance’s argument with the Labour Government over foxhunting. Tom was amazed when the officers told him they were distressing some people. They said they were issuing him with a fixed-penalty ticket and asked for his eye colour, shoe size and his National Insurance number, so they could keep track of him in case he reoffended.

He told The Times: They just arrived and issued the fine without any warning. We told them we were happy to take the T-shirts down but they said that the offence had already been committed. What makes it even more ridiculous is that we have been selling them for 18 months without anyone complaining.

What was funny was that the show’s president then asked us to stop selling them altogether, but then later on the vice-president came and asked us how he could go about buying one himself. We’re continuing to display them at shows and they are selling really well.


Last night Norfolk police defended the action. A spokesman said: Officers from Norfolk Constabulary issued two fixed penalty notices, each with a value of 80, at the Royal Norfolk Show in relation to two trade stands displaying T-shirts emblazoned with offensive language. The notices were issued under Section 5 of the Public Order Act as the language was deemed to cause harassment, distress or alarm at an event, where a cross section of people were present including families and young children who may have found the displays offensive. Police did receive a complaint from a member of the public.

The police officers in question explained the reasons for their actions to the two individuals concerned. Both men now have the right to either pay the penalty or challenge the action before magistrates.

 

1st July

  Aiming Low

Armed policemanLetter to the Independent

Sir: As the Metropolitan Police have failed to find evidence sufficient to prosecute Kate Moss for drug taking, isn't the next obvious step to launch a night-time raid on her house and shoot her?

Francis Beswick

 

30th June

  Arrested: Repressed in Charge of a Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair cover

Blair laid bare: the article that may get you arrested

Part of an Independent article by Henry Porter

In the guise of fighting terrorism and maintaining public order, Tony Blair's Government has quietly and systematically taken power from Parliament and the British people. Henry Porter charts a nine-year assault on civil liberties that reveals the danger of trading freedom for security - and must have Churchill spinning in his grave

In the shadow of Winston Churchill's statue opposite the House of Commons, a rather odd ritual has developed on Sunday afternoons. A small group of people - mostly young and dressed outlandishly - hold a tea party on the grass of Parliament Square. A woman looking very much like Mary Poppins passes plates of frosted cakes and cookies, while other members of the party flourish blank placards or, as they did on the afternoon I was there, attempt a game of cricket.

Sometimes the police move in and arrest the picnickers, but on this occasion the officers stood at a distance, presumably consulting on the question of whether this was a demonstration or a non-demonstration. It is all rather silly and yet in Blair's Britain there is a kind of nobility in the amateurishness and persistence of the gesture. This collection of oddballs, looking for all the world as if they had stepped out of the Michelangelo Antonioni film Blow-Up , are challenging a new law which says that no one may demonstrate within a kilometre, or a little more than half a mile, of Parliament Square if they have not first acquired written permission from the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. This effectively places the entire centre of British government, Whitehall and Trafalgar Square, off-limits to the protesters and marchers who have traditionally brought their grievances to those in power without ever having to ask a policeman's permission.

The non-demo demo, or tea party, is a legalistic response to the law. If anything is written on the placards, or if someone makes a speech, then he or she is immediately deemed to be in breach of the law and is arrested. The device doesn't always work. After drinking tea in the square, a man named Mark Barrett was recently convicted of demonstrating. Two other protesters, Milan Rai and Maya Evans, were charged after reading out the names of dead Iraqi civilians at the Cenotaph, Britain's national war memorial, in Whitehall, a few hundred yards away.

Last year - rather late in the day, I must admit - I started to notice trends in Blair's legislation which seemed to attack individual rights and freedoms, to favour ministers (politicians appointed by the Prime Minister to run departments of government) over the scrutiny of Parliament, and to put in place all the necessary laws for total surveillance of society.

There was nothing else to do but to go back and read the Acts - at least 15 of them - and to write about them in my weekly column in The Observer. After about eight weeks, the Prime Minister privately let it be known that he was displeased at being called authoritarian by me. Very soon I found myself in the odd position of conducting a formal e-mail exchange with him on the rule of law, I sitting in my London home with nothing but Google and a stack of legislation, the Prime Minister in No 10 with all the resources of government at his disposal. Incidentally, I was assured that he had taken time out of his schedule so that he himself could compose the thunderous responses calling for action against terrorism, crime, and antisocial behaviour.

The day after the exchange was published, the grudging truce between the Government and me was broken. Blair gave a press conference, in which he attacked media exaggeration, and the then Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, weighed in with a speech at the London School of Economics naming me and two other journalists and complaining about the pernicious and even dangerous poison in the media.

So, I guess this column comes with a health warning from the British Government, but please don't pay it any mind. When governments attack the media, it is often a sign that the media have for once gotten something right. I might add that this column also comes with the more serious warning that, if rights have been eroded in the land once called "the Mother of Parliaments", it can happen in any country where a government actively promotes the fear of terrorism and crime and uses it to persuade people that they must exchange their freedom for security.

Blair's campaign against rights contained in the Rule of Law - that is, that ancient amalgam of common law, convention, and the opinion of experts, which makes up one half of the British constitution - is often well concealed. Many of the measures have been slipped through under legislation that appears to address problems the public is concerned about. For instance, the law banning people from demonstrating within one kilometre of Parliament is contained in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act of 2005. The right to protest freely has been affected by the Terrorism Act of 2000, which allows police to stop and search people in a designated area - which can be anywhere - and by antisocial behaviour laws, which allow police to issue an order banning someone from a particular activity, waving a banner, for instance. If a person breaks that order, he or she risks a prison sentence of up to five years. Likewise, the Protection from Harassment Act of 1997 - designed to combat stalkers and campaigns of intimidation - is being used to control protest. A woman who sent two e-mails to a pharmaceutical company politely asking a member of the staff not to work with a company that did testing on animals was prosecuted for "repeated conduct" in sending an e-mail twice, which the Act defines as harassment.

But there's more, so much in fact that it is difficult to grasp the scope of the campaign against British freedoms. But here goes. The right to a jury trial is removed in complicated fraud cases and where there is a fear of jury tampering. The right not to be tried twice for the same offence - the law of double jeopardy - no longer exists. The presumption of innocence is compromised, especially in antisocial behaviour legislation, which also makes hearsay admissible as evidence. The right not to be punished unless a court decides that the law has been broken is removed in the system of control orders by which a terrorist suspect is prevented from moving about freely and using the phone and internet, without at any stage being allowed to hear the evidence against him - house arrest in all but name.

Freedom of speech is attacked by Section Five of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which preceded Blair's Government, but which is now being used to patrol opinion. In Oxford last year a 21-year-old graduate of Balliol College named Sam Brown drunkenly shouted in the direction of two mounted police officers, Mate, you know your horse is gay. I hope you don't have a problem with that. He was given one of the new, on-the-spot fines - 80 - which he refused to pay, with the result that he was taken to court. Some 10 months later the Crown Prosecution Service dropped its case that he had made homophobic remarks likely to cause disorder.

Do these tiny cuts to British freedom amount to much more than a few people being told to be more considerate? Shami Chakrabarti, the petite whirlwind who runs Liberty believes that the small measures of increasing ferocity add up over time to a society of a completely different flavour . That is exactly the phrase I was looking for. Britain is not a police state - the fact that Tony Blair felt it necessary to answer me by e-mail proves that - but it is becoming a very different place under his rule, and all sides of the House of Commons agree. The Liberal Democrats' spokesman on human rights and civil liberties, David Heath, is sceptical about Blair's use of the terrorist threat: The age-old technique of any authoritarian or repressive government has always been to exaggerate the terrorist threat to justify their actions, I am not one to underestimate the threat of terrorism, but I think it has been used to justify measures which have no relevance to attacking terrorism effectively. And Bob Marshall-Andrews - a Labour MP who, like quite a number of others on Blair's side of the House of Commons, is deeply worried about the tone of government - says of his boss: Underneath, there is an unstable authoritarianism which has seeped into the [Labour] Party.

Tony Blair is also a lawyer who suffers acute impatience with the processes of the law. In one of his e-mails to me he painted a lurid - and often true - picture of the delinquency in some of Britain's poorer areas, as well as the helplessness of the victims. His response to the problem of societal breakdown was to invent a new category of restraint called the antisocial behaviour order, or Asbo.

Please speak to the victims of this menace, he wrote. They are people whose lives have been turned into a daily hell. Suppose they live next door to someone whose kids are out of control: who play their music loud until 2 am; who vilify anyone who asks them to stop; who are often into drugs or alcohol? Or visit a park where children can't play because of needles, used condoms, and hooligans hanging around.

It is true that, in theory, each of these acts is a crime for which the police could prosecute. In practice, they don't. It would involve in each case a disproportionate amount of time, money and commitment for what would be, for any single act, a low-level sentence. Instead, they can now use an Asbo or a parenting order or other measures that attack not an offence but behaviour that causes harm and distress to people, and impose restrictions on the person doing it, breach of which would mean they go to prison.

Blair is untroubled by the precedent that this law might offer a real live despot, or by the fact that Asbos are being used to stifle legitimate protest, and indeed, in his exchange with me, he seemed to suggest that he was considering a kind of super-Asbo for more serious criminals to harry, hassle and hound them until they give up or leave the country . It was significant that nowhere in this rant did he mention the process of law or a court.

He offers something new: not a police state but a controlled state, in which he seeks to alter radically the political and philosophical context of the criminal-justice system. I believe we require a profound rebalancing of the civil liberties debate, he said in a speech in May. The issue is not whether we care about civil liberties but what that means in the early 21st century. He now wants legislation to limit powers of British courts to interpret the Human Rights Act. The Act, imported from the European Convention on Human Rights, was originally inspired by Winston Churchill, who had suggested it as a means to entrench certain rights in Europe after the war.

There can be few duller documents than the Civil Contingencies Act of 2004 or the Inquiries Act of 2005, which is perhaps just as well for the Government, for both vastly extend the arbitrary powers of ministers while making them less answerable to Parliament. The Civil Contingencies Act, for instance, allows a minister to declare a state of emergency in which assets can be seized without compensation, courts may be set up, assemblies may be banned, and people may be moved from, or held in, particular areas, all on the belief that an emergency might be about to occur. Only after seven days does Parliament get the chance to assess the situation. If the minister is wrong, or has acted in bad faith, he cannot be punished.

I realise that it would be testing your patience to go too deeply into the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, which the Government has been trying to smuggle through Parliament this year, but let me just say that its original draft would have allowed ministers to make laws without reference to elected representatives.

Imagine the President of the United States trying to neuter the Congress in this manner, so flagrantly robbing it of its power. Yet until recently all this has occurred in Britain with barely a whisper of coverage in the British media.

The idea of the ID card seems sensible in the age of terrorism, identity theft, and illegal immigration until you realise that the centralised database - the National Identity Register - will log and store details of every important action in a person's life. When the ID card is swiped as someone identifies himself at, say, a bank, hospital, pharmacy, or insurance company, those details are retained and may be inspected by, among others, the police, tax authorities, customs, and MI5, the domestic intelligence service. The system will locate and track the entire adult population. If you put it together with the national system of licence-plate-recognition cameras, which is about to go live on British highways and in town centres, and understand that the ID card, under a new regulation, will also carry details of a person's medical records, you realise that the state will be able to keep tabs on anyone it chooses and find out about the most private parts of a person's life.

Despite the cost of the ID card system - estimated by the Government as being about 5.8bn and by the London School of Economics as being between 10bn and 19bn - few think that it will attack the problems of terrorism and ID theft.

Nothing demonstrates the sense of the state's entitlement over the average citizen more than the new laws that came in at the beginning of the year and allow anyone to be arrested for any crime - even dropping litter. And here's the crucial point. Once a person is arrested he or she may be fingerprinted and photographed by the police and have a DNA sample removed with an oral swab - by force if necessary. And this is before that person has been found guilty of any crime, whether it be dropping litter or shooting someone.

So much for the presumption of innocence, but there again we have no reason to be surprised. Last year, in his annual Labour Party conference speech, Blair said this: The whole of our system starts from the proposition that its duty is to protect the innocent from being wrongly convicted. Don't misunderstand me. That must be the duty of any criminal justice system. But surely our primary duty should be to allow law-abiding people to live in safety. It means a complete change of thinking. It doesn't mean abandoning human rights. It means deciding whose come first. The point of human rights, as Churchill noted, is that they treat the innocent, the suspect, and the convict equally: These are the symbols, in the treatment of crime and criminals, which mark and measure the stored-up strength of a nation, and are a sign and proof of the living virtue in it.

The second invisible change that has occurred in Britain is best expressed by Simon Davies, a fellow at the London School of Economics, who did pioneering work on the ID card scheme and then suffered a wounding onslaught from the Government when it did not agree with his findings. The worrying thing, he suggests, is that the instinctive sense of personal liberty has been lost in the British people: We have reached that stage now where we have gone almost as far as it is possible to go in establishing the infrastructures of control and surveillance within an open and free environment, that architecture only has to work and the citizens only have to become compliant for the Government to have control.

That compliance is what scares me the most. People are resigned to their fate. They've bought the Government's arguments for the public good. There is a generational failure of memory about individual rights. Whenever Government says that some intrusion is necessary in the public interest, an entire generation has no clue how to respond, not even intuitively And that is the great lesson that other countries must learn. The US must never lose sight of its traditions of individual freedom.

Those who understand what has gone on in Britain have the sense of being in one of those nightmares where you are crying out to warn someone of impending danger, but they cannot hear you. And yet I do take some hope from the picnickers of Parliament Square. May the numbers of these young eccentrics swell and swell over the coming months, for their actions are a sign that the spirit of liberty and dogged defiance are not yet dead in Britain.

Charged for quoting George Orwell in public

In another example of the Government's draconian stance on political protest, Steven Jago, 36, a management accountant, yesterday became the latest person to be charged under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act.

On 18 June, Mr Jago carried a placard in Whitehall bearing the George Orwell quote: In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. In his possession, he had several copies of an article in the American magazine Vanity Fair headlined "Blair's Big Brother Legacy", which were confiscated by the police. The implication that I read from this statement at the time was that I was being accused of handing out subversive material, said Mr Jago. Yesterday, the author, Henry Porter, the magazine's London editor, wrote to Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, expressing concern that the freedom of the press would be severely curtailed if such articles were used in evidence under the Act.

Mr Porter said: The police told Mr Jago this was 'politically motivated' material, and suggested it was evidence of his desire to break the law. I therefore seek your assurance that possession of Vanity Fair within a designated area is not regarded as 'politically motivated' and evidence of conscious law-breaking.

Scotland Yard has declined to comment.

 

6th May
updated to
9th June

  Reform in Favour of Government Dictatorship

From Ofwatch World dictatorsYour country needs you

If you have reservations about the way that the Government is eroding freedom and liberty in the UK then you are in good company. But these are nothing compared with the latest plans the Government has. Forget those worries about porn and what is or isn't legal. If the Government have their way with the Legislative and regulatory reform bill, currently progressing through Parliament, Ministers will be able to make changes to legislation (any legislation) without referring the matter to Parliament and with very few safeguards.

If you think this is some form of bad joke or prank then check out the Legislative and regulatory reform bill on the Parliamentary publications website and see for yourself. If this doesn't start alarm bells ringing then read some more about this bill at the save parliament blog .

Those people who believe in Parliamentary democracy would do well to write to their MP's now. Regardless of any spin or subterfuge that may now be applied to hide this issue or any amendments that have or might be made it is all too clear that the present  Government has made an attempted to shift very significant powers away from Parliament and into the hands of  Ministers.

Despite amendments this legislation still poses many dangers to the basic fabric of democracy. You can see how your MP voted on this Bill in a recent motion that would have provided some protection, but was defeated by Labour MP's.  

You can help by joining the campaign and writing to your MP
 

7th June

   Letter: Suggested Question to MP

From Rustin Mann on The Melon Farmers' Forum World dictatorsI posted about that a while ago. I wrote to my local MP Ian Pearson three time with questions that needed answering. I have yet to receive a reply or even an acknowledgement of receipt.

I am now about to publish an open letter to him in a local free newspaper that every home in his constituency gets. It's time to name and shame.

The questions I asked (you`ll see how long ago it was first sent by one of the questions):
  • Why does the Bill change the current procedures for the enactment into our law of EU legislation?
  • What guarantees are there that the Bill could not be used to bring in the EU Constitution by the back door?
  • If the Bill is just a simplifying measure for deregulation, why does it contain no requirement for any orders to actually reduce the amounts of red tape and regulation?
  • Why does the Bill give the power to create new law, including new criminal offences, to the Law Commissions, which are unelected quangos appointed by Ministers?
  • If the Law Commissions are supposed to be staffed by impartial technical experts, why are Ministers taking the power to amend the recommendations of the Law Commissions before they are fast-tracked into legislation?
  • Why do protections in the Bill against new laws to permit forcible entry, search, seizure or compelling people to give evidence not apply to reforms recommended by the unelected Law Commissions appointed by Ministers?
  • If the Bill allows Ministers to “amend, repeal or replace legislation in any way that an Act might”, does this not give them an unlimited power to ignore a democratic Parliament and legislate by decree?
  • If the Bill is so sensible, why has Parliament used a different way of making laws for 700 years?
  • If the Bill is meant to retain Parliament’s ability to scrutinise regulations and regulators, why does it not contain a provision for automatic sunset clauses in orders issued under the Bill?
  • If the Bill gives Ministers powers to charge fees by decree, is that not a charter to bring in unlimited stealth taxes?
  • As the Bill permits an order to be made by a Minister under the Bill provided its effect is “proportionate” to his “policy objective”, since when in our history as a democratic country has a Government Minister’s “policy objective” directly received the force of law?
  • What guarantees are there that the Bill could not be used to bring in ID Cards by the back door?
    Why does the Bill give the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly a veto over Ministers’ power to change the law which it denies to English MPs?

Please ask your local MP the same questions.

 

9th June

   Letter: Dangerous Regs Act

From MichaelG World dictatorsJust emailed my MP about the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, incorporating the questions which Rustin Mann  suggested we ask:

Dear Denis Murphy,

I am writing to you to express my most grave concerns about the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. I simply cannot believe what is being proposed.

Is this government actually considering undoing the very fundamentals of democracy in Britain and healthy debate in Parliament merely to introduce draconian measures such as these? This is going to turn the lawmaking process and justice system in Britain into a farcical free-for-all, where anyone in Parliament can legislate against anything on a whim.

I've already written to you expressing my concerns about the sheer volume of pointless and unnecessary legislation we are currently being subjected to in this country. I understand that this Bill will make the whole process of passing legislation easier, but surely the answer is to create less, more worthy legislation in the areas that are of real importance to the people of Britain, not to grant new powers to ministers which threaten to turn government into an utterly chaotic dictatorship. Whilst I still have faith in Parliament, this Bill will leave the country wide open to dangerous abuses of power by individuals, who will be able to turn their own whims and preferences into law whenever they feel like it. This isn't the sort of society I want to live in – and I don't believe it is the kind of society the vast majority of people living in this country want to live in either.

Amongst many questions this raises, have you considered the following?
 
  1.  If the Bill is just a simplifying measure for deregulation, why does it contain no requirement for any orders to actually reduce the amounts of red tape and regulation?
  2. Why does the Bill give the power to create new law, including new criminal offences, to the Law Commissions, which are unelected quangos appointed by Ministers?
  3. If the Law Commissions are supposed to be staffed by impartial technical experts, why are Ministers taking the power to amend the recommendations of the Law Commissions before they are fast-tracked into legislation?
  4. Why do protections in the Bill against new laws to permit forcible entry, search, seizure or compelling people to give evidence not apply to reforms recommended by the unelected Law Commissions appointed by Ministers?
  5. If the Bill allows Ministers to “amend, repeal or replace legislation in any way that an Act might”, does this not give them an unlimited power to ignore a democratic Parliament and legislate by decree?
  6. If the Bill is so sensible, why has Parliament used a different way of making laws for 700 years?
  7. If the Bill is meant to retain Parliament’s ability to scrutinise regulations and regulators, why does it not contain a provision for automatic sunset clauses in orders issued under the Bill?
  8. If the Bill gives Ministers powers to charge fees by decree, is that not a charter to bring in unlimited stealth taxes?
  9. As the Bill permits an order to be made by a Minister under the Bill provided its effect is “proportionate” to his “policy objective”, since when in our history as a democratic country has a Government Minister’s “policy objective” directly received the force of law?
  10. What guarantees are there that the Bill could not be used to bring in ID Cards by the back door?
  11. Why does the Bill give the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly a veto over Ministers’ power to change the law which it denies to English MPs?
  12. What happens if 2 Labour ministers disagree on something? Is one going to waste his time simply 'unmaking' a law his fellow MP has created because he doesn't agree with it?

This Bill has passed by almost unnoticed up to now, but if and when it becomes law, you can be fairly certain that the public outcry will be enormous. Especially when ludicrous, pointless legislation starts to appear overnight which interferes with the lives of thousands of people. I have little doubt that the sheer unpopularity this will generate will spell the end of power for Labour in this country. As a lifelong supporter of Labour, it really pains me to say this, but the blame will lie squarely with yourselves. As a party, you no longer seem to stand for the working classes, have completely forsaken your roots and are flying dangerously close to outright fascism with this new legislation. A sad time indeed for those of us who actually still remember the principles that your party used to stand for.

MichaelG

 

15th May
Updated to
16th May

  Opposition to Human Rights

Based on an article from The Independent

David Cameron has threatened to rewrite or scrap the Human Rights Act if it stands in the way of deporting suspected foreign terrorists. The Tory leader accused the Government of being "complacent" in letting the Act, which it passed in 1998, undermine Britain's ability to deal with foreign criminals.

Cameron reiterated a pledge contained in last year's Conservative election manifesto to repeal the Act if it could not be successfully reformed.

Cameron's intervention has won him support from Britain's biggest selling newspaper, The Sun - a prize coveted by every opposition leader - but could come at the price of undermining his own attempts to change the image of the Conservative Party.

Cameron told yesterday's Sun that it is "close to impossible" to deport foreign nationals who pose a threat to the UK. He added: It is wrong to undermine public safety by allowing the human rights of dangerous criminals to fly in the face of common sense. The Government's attitude has been complacent. It refuses to recognise that the problem is compounded by the interpretation of the European Convention and the passage of the Government's own Human Rights Act.

A spokesman added later that Cameron's policy could also involve Britain "temporarily" withdrawing from the European Convention, to renegotiate some of its clauses.

 

16th May

   Update: Opposition to Human Rights

Based on an article from The Observer

Tony Blair is planning a radical overhaul of Britain's controversial human rights legislation. In a move which brought immediate criticism from human rights' experts, the Prime Minister wants the government to have the power to override court rulings. The move comes only days after Blair criticised a senior judge for preventing the deportation of nine Afghan refugees who hijacked a plane to Britain. Downing Street said he was determined to find a way around such 'barmy' court rulings.

Blair unveiled his plans in a letter to the new Home Secretary, John Reid, in which he set out his 'most urgent policy tasks'. Legal experts and civil liberties groups accused Blair of playing politics with fundamental rights. The Observer has obtained a copy of the letter, which says it is essential to 'ensure the law-abiding majority can live without fear'.

It adds: We will need to look again at whether primary legislation is needed to address the issue of court rulings which overrule the government in a way that is inconsistent with other EU countries' interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

A Downing Street source said a range of existing laws could be reviewed and new legislation was also possible. One option under consideration was to amend the 1998 Human Rights Act, which wrote the European Convention into British law, to require a balance between the rights of the individual and the rights of the community to basic security. He said that: although British judges should already take that balance into consideration, it's clear that sometimes they don't.

But Shami Chakrabarti, director of the rights group Liberty, denounced Blair's initiative: The sinister twist in this case is that the government's own Human Rights Act is being used as the target for tough talk. In fact, it's a very tame piece of rights legislation that doesn't, for instance, allow the courts to trump Parliament. Still, it is an important framework to give the courts a say to prevent the worst excesses of authoritarian government.

Anthony Lester, the human rights lawyer and Liberal Democrat peer, was particularly scathing about Blair's response to the Afghan ruling: The Human Rights Act was one of the first constitutional reforms of this government, but the Prime Minister persists in undermining public confidence in the rule of law and the protection of human rights by the senior judiciary

 

27th April

  Blair & Clarke Dictate their Definition of Liberty

From the people that:
  • are hell bent of mandatory ID cards with nasty penalties for not reporting address etc
  • have initiated state access to all communication records
  • tacitly support torture, Guantanamo & rendition
  • wanted to silence of justifiable criticism of religion
  • require that accountants snitch to the State about petty offences, eg expense fiddling
  • require financial institutions report relatively small transactions
  • allowed paedophile persecution of innocents even when trumped up evidence was revealed
  • proposed 3 years imprisonment for possession of legally produced staged violent images
  • imprisoned people for trading in harmless adult consensual images
  • invented ASBOs to restrict freedom without needing to bother much with proof
  • have set up a massive amount of technology to monitor everybody's whereabouts and travel

Based on an article from The Independent

Tony Blair and Charles Clarke have hit out at critics who have accused the Government of pursuing "illiberal" policies.

At his monthly press conference, the Prime Minister was questioned about criticism from the human rights group Liberty, in The Independent yesterday, that he led one of the most authoritarian governments in living memory.

Blair said his administration had introduced the Human Rights Act to ensure the Government and Parliament was held to account over essential human rights for the first time in British history. This whole civil liberties debate is conducted on the basis that the only civil liberties that matter are those of the potential or accused offender. There are also the civil liberties of the people in the community who are fed up with people creating menace and difficulty, drug dealing on the street and so on. We have given the police the resources and powers to deal with it. We will legislate again if they need more powers.

The Home Secretary, meanwhile, hit out at commentators, including Simon Carr of The Independent, who have berated the Government over issues such as identity cards, anti-terror legislation and controls on protests.

He said complex debates were often covered in a simplistic way by columnists who reflected a "more general intellectual laziness" in the media. I believe that a pernicious and even dangerous poison is now slipping into at least some parts of this media view of the world. So some commentators routinely use language like 'police state', 'fascist', 'hijacking our democracy', 'creeping authoritarianism', 'destruction of the rule of law', while words like 'holocaust', 'gulag' and 'apartheid' are regularly used of our society in ways which must be truly offensive to those who experienced those realities.

From The Telegraph

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, triggered a clash with the courts over human rights yesterday when he rounded on sections of the media and a former law lord for suggesting that the Government was undermining ancient freedoms and creating a police state.

He told MPs that the Home Office would continue to issue control orders against suspected terrorists despite a recent High Court ruling that they were incompatible with the Human Rights Act that Labour introduced on taking office.

Mr Justice Sullivan condemned the procedure as "conspicuously unfair" and ruled that the first British citizen to be subject to a control order, a suspected terrorist known only as MB, had been denied a fair hearing.

Clarke, who has lodged an appeal, said in a parliamentary written statement that MB's control order would remain until the legal case was settled.

Eleven control orders are in force, three of which are on British nationals. The existence of the orders has bolstered criticism that the Government has been cavalier with civil liberties

 

20th April

  How Much Compensation is Due to Brits for Loss of Liberty ?

From The Guardian

Miscarriage of justice campaigners were enraged last night by plans to stop defendants walking free from the court of appeal after their convictions have been quashed on a technicality.

The announcement by the home secretary, Charles Clarke, was made as part of a package making a 5m a year cut in the 8m paid out annually in compensation to victims of miscarriages of justice. Clarke said he wanted to see the change introduced in legislation as soon as possible.

One option is to introduce the Scottish "not proven" verdict into the English legal system. He said it was needed to put an end to the growth of a small industry for the legal profession that has been giving away large amounts of money to individuals who do not deserve it. Clarke acknowledged that a move to a "not proven" verdict would be a major change: It would be a radical change. We are going to have a look at it.

The package of cuts to compensation payments will cap payments at a maximum of 500,000. He is also to introduce legislation empowering the compensation assessor to make deductions from the award if there are other criminal convictions in the case.

But the proposals have angered miscarriage of justice campaigners. Gerry Conlon, of the Guildford four, who was wrongly convicted over an IRA bombing in 1974, said he was "absolutely horrified" by the package and called the compensation cuts a "penny-pinching, vote-catching exercise".

John McManus of MOJO, the campaigning organisation set up by Paddy Hill of the Birmingham six, said he was appalled that ministers appeared to be suggesting that those whose convictions were quashed were really criminals. He claimed that in many cases technical grounds were used to quash convictions to avoid the exposure of corrupt police officers.

The proposal  also sparked an angry reaction from opposition MPs. The Liberal Democrat shadow attorney general, Simon Hughes, said an important criminal justice proposal seemed to have been smuggled on to the agenda under cover of an announcement on compensation: Criminal trials are supposed to clear up questions of guilt and not encourage suspicions to linger. Any review of the law must be conducted with extreme care. There are many people in Scotland who, with good reason, have deep misgivings about the 'not proven' verdict .

The Conservatives also voiced doubts about the "not proven" verdict, saying it had come in for much criticism in Scotland. We have a longstanding principle in this country of being innocent until proven guilty, said Dominic Grieve, the shadow attorney general. People want certainty and I am at a loss to understand why the home secretary might think this course of action necessary.

 

16th April

  UK Denies Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Assembly

From The Telegraph

An anti-war activist who demonstrated at the Cenotaph by reading out the names of UK soldiers killed in Iraq was fined 350 + 150 costs.

Milan Rai now has a criminal record after the latest case under a controversial new law. He was found guilty of breaching the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) which bans demonstrations around Parliament that have not been agreed with police.

District Judge Nicholas Evans, at Bow Street Magistrates' Court, told Rai: You knew what the law was. You, quite with your eyes wide open, decided not to comply with it [the law]. He accepted that Rai had been "polite at all times".

Rai, the founder of an anti-war group, Justice Not Vengeance (JNV), had argued that the SOCPA legislation banning unauthorised protests inside a Parliament "exclusion zone" ran counter to the European Human Rights Act.

But the judge rejected his arguments. He said Rai had not been taking part in a spontaneous show of dissent, but had organised an event and deliberately failed to get formal authorisation as a matter of principle.

Rai and Maya Evans, a fellow protester, were seen demonstrating at the Cenotaph at around 9.30am on Oct 25. Rai was served with a "notice of unauthorised demonstration" leaflet by police and given 10 minutes to stop protesting within the exclusion zone. He was arrested after this time.

After the hearing Rai said he would not "willingly" pay the fine. He said he was consulting with the civil rights group, Liberty which represented him during the case. He planned to ask the High Court to rule that the SOCPA was incompatible with Article 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

 

8th April

  Culture Clash

From Reuters

British anti-terrorism detectives escorted a man from a plane after a taxi driver had earlier become suspicious when he started singing along to a track by punk band The Clash.

Police halted the London-bound flight at Durham Tees Valley Airport and Harraj Mann was taken off.

The taxi driver had become worried on the way to the airport because Mann had been singing along to The Clash's 1979 anthem London Calling , which features the lyrics Now war is declared -- and battle come down while other lines warn of a meltdown expected.

A Durham police spokeswoman said Mann had been released after questioning -- but had missed his flight.

 

3rd January

  Britain Holds More Coats

From The Observer

British officials have admitted MI6 officers were present during the interrogation of 28 Pakistanis in Greece, despite apparent denials by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. They insist, however, that the officers took no active part in the men's arrest, questioning or abuse that was later alleged.

As the story of the interrogation of the Pakistanis, picked up in Greece following the 7 July London bombings, has turned into a political scandal in Athens, officials in the UK have retreated from Straw's insistence that the allegations of British involvement were 'fabricated' and 'utter nonsense'.

Instead, in a series of interviews with officials, it has been made clear to The Observer that MI6 officers were present as observers of the interrogations. The MI6 station chief in Athens - who has been named in the Greek media but whom the British media have been ordered not to identify - and two colleagues have been recalled to London.

British law requires officers to report any abuse they witness and forbids MI6's collusion in torture or abuse.

As details emerged in the Greek media this weekend, it became clear that first reports of the Pakistanis' 'kidnapping and torture' were exaggerated or untrue, with the alleged abuse largely amounting to punches or slaps by Greek intelligence officials, as well as threats and sleep deprivation.

The allegations are the focus of an in-depth inquiry, with Greece's deputy Supreme Court Prosecutor, Dimitris Linos, promising that 'truth will prevail'. The tangled story of what did, or did not, take place after the arrest of the Pakistanis will, however, reinforce the demands by British MPs for a full explanation.

According to the version of events that The Observer has pieced together, the men were arrested by Greek officials, not 'kidnapped' as was initially claimed, after intelligence potentially linking them to a phone used in the 7/7 attacks was passed to the Greek authorities by MI6. The decision to arrest them was taken by the Greeks.

One detainee, Mohammed Munir said last week that they were kept for up to five days, and Greek agents repeatedly beat and threatened him. They kept asking if I had a mobile phone. I didn't. Then a man hit me very hard on the head and said, "You prick, we'll take you on a trip to England. Do you know why we brought you here? Because of the bombs they put on the trains in England. So tell us, what do you know?" I told them I knew nothing.'

 

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