THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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On the virtual red carpet

Longer detention is about saving the public

Link: Longer detention is about saving the public - Telegraph.

The author of the linked piece was until recently head of Scotland Yard's "counter terrorism command." Carefully selecting a case in which his suspicions had proved to be true (how many times were they wrong, I wonder), he dramatically recounts how his officers had to pull all-nighters in order to assemble evidence against a suspected terrorist within a then 14 day limit.

There was not a shred of evidence against them. The intelligence was clear - that he and his gang were planning attacks in this country, but there was no evidence that could be used in court.

There was plenty of evidence you see. Just none that "could be used in court". That didn't stop our intrepid protector;

The decision was made to arrest them, and they were promptly rounded up in London and Blackburn.

Clarke is proud that he ordered the arrest of a fellow-citizen with "no shred of evidence." He has no concern that his instincts could have been wrong.

What should he have done? Police officers in happier lands (such as Britain used to be) can only hold suspects for 48 hours without charge. They would assign some officers to watch the suspects (and intervene if necessary) while others conducted an investigation to substantiate their suspicions with a shred or two of evidence. Clarke argues that while at liberty, the suspects might have committed a crime. How very true. So might he. Based on intelligence gleaned from his own article, he is likely at any time to make an unlawful arrest, for example. Shall we bang him up to pre-empt that?

If arresting people on "no shred of evidence" was his way of doing his job, then it is no wonder that half of the people detained under anti-terrorist powers are eventually released without charge. I am amazed that those people do not all sue  for wrongful arrest. No doubt they are all too busy rebuilding lives shattered by cavalier police action. How many of us would still have a job to go back to if detained for 42 days as a suspected terrorist, albeit with "no shred of evidence" against us? Especially in a climate of fear created by politicised policemen and policified politicians who imply in their every public statement that they know who the terrorists are, but are prevented from dealing with them by stupid rules? Those same "stupid rules" which have kept us free men for centuries.

The hypocrisy of the man is breathtaking;

...we have to brace ourselves for another deluge of politicised comment on the proposal to extend the time terrorist suspects can be held.

He argues that we should trust him to arrest us on "no shred of evidence" because he was once right in his guesses. He urges a change in the law to allow him to hold us for longer while he look for those irritating shreds of evidence to which fuddy-duddy judges are so unaccountably attached. At the behest of his political masters, he makes a political demand inconsistent with our deepest conceptions of who we are as a nation. Yet if we dare to question it, we are making "politicised comments." If I were a swearblogger,  I could tell Mr. Clarke precisely what to do with this argument. I might well suggest that he use a red hot poker to assist him in the process.

His sophistry continues relentlessly;

When I was asked, in 2005, by the home affairs select committee how many terrorists I had been obliged to let go through lack of time to investigate, I inwardly despaired. It was the wrong question. We should look forward, not back. The fact that we have been able to convict more than 60 terrorists in the last year or so is irrelevant.

Were I a person to form suspicions on "no shred of evidence", I might wonder at the use of the Labour Party's slogan for the last election here. After all he is publicly supporting Gordon Brown's latest attempt at political machismo. However, I have no shred of evidence to convict him of being New Labour. Nor have I any powers to detain him for interrogation about his suspected membership of a gang which presents a greater threat to our liberties than Al-Qaida, so let's move on.

The argument has boiled down to this: is the perceived infringement of freedom proposed by the Bill so serious that to legislate on a precautionary basis cannot be justified? This is a serious question, but finding the answer has been made difficult by the intrusion of party politics and an entire barrel of red herrings.

If I find myself in a cell in Paddington Green police station, falsely accused of a terrorist offence on the say-so of a man like Clarke, then any infringement of my freedom will be a mere perception. I shall try to remember that.