Metropolitan Police commissioner Paul Stephenson rotated 180 degrees when he admitted that police arresting “terror suspect” Babar Ahmad in 2003 had used “gratuitous violence.”
Up until Wednesday, the police lawyer had insisted the officers did no wrong. So what spun the Metropolitan Police round into this embarrassing admission?
The day before the police gave in, their barrister had tried to persuade the court that the Met lost literally “sackfuls” of important evidence, a claim the judge described as “startling.”
The strain of trying to defend a case with so much mysterious “missing” evidence seems to have been too much for the Met. It confessed and paid Ahmad £60,000 damages.
Ahmad won’t be able to spend the cash right away – he is still locked up in Long Lartin prison. He has been jailed for the past five years despite not a single charge against him being proved.
British police arrested him and accused him of being some kind of evil mastermind running terrorist websites, but they just didn’t have the evidence to run a prosecution.
Ahmad stayed in prison because the US wants to extradite him based on the very tenuous link that, although he was based in Tooting, one of the websites’ servers was based in Connecticut.
The US is using the same evidence the British police thought wasn’t good enough for a case – the US affidavit does include evidence showing Ahmad helping run websites sympathetic to Islamic fighters in Chechnya, Bosnia and Afghanistan, which was legal. It lacks evidence linking Ahmad with actual terrorist acts, financial or otherwise.
Ahmad’s imprisonment stems from the “creative” US approach to law in the “war on terror.”
The police admission of guilt is stark.
Commissioner Stephenson has admitted that a squad from the Tactical Support Group beat Ahmad while arresting him and after he was restrained.
One officer deliberately grabbed and pulled his testicles. Other officers forced him onto his knees, saying: “Where is your God now?” and instructed Ahmad to “pray to him.”
He was beaten in the van, where another officer choked him, saying: “You fucking cunt, you’ll remember this day for the rest of your life. Do you understand me, you fucking bastard?”
The Met’s admission also puts the Independent Police Complaints Commission in a bad light. Its supposedly “thorough investigation” last year found Ahmad’s complaints “unsubstantiated.”
Ahmad’s legal team squeezed the admission from the police as a result of dogged work.
They asked if they could see the arresting officers’ incident report books – the notebooks detailing what happened at the arrest. The police said they had all disappeared.
They asked for the taped Police Complaints Commission interview with one officer who witnessed the events. Each of the eight or so cassette tapes had disappeared.
And they asked to see any complaints made against the arresting officers by other people. The police resisted, but Ahmad’s legal team got a judge to order the “discovery” of these papers.
Ahmad’s barrister told the court they had received some evidence and that it looked extremely relevant.
The court heard that in a separate incident another man had complained that he was arrested by one of these officers and grabbed by the throat, forced to kneel and sprayed with CS gas.
So Ahmad’s lawyers were understandably interested to hear that a van was delivering “a number of large mailsacks” of apparently similar evidence of complaints against the officers. But they never arrived – the police somehow lost the sacks between Hendon and central London.
Justice Holroyde seemed unhappy. “The prospect that several large mailsacks have gone missing from a short journey is startling,” he said.
He pushed the police barrister, asking: “What about the missing mailsacks?” The police lawyer’s claim that “it is not thought that it is at all likely that the sacks will be found” was met with scepticism.
The judge would not accept that the police claim that the sacks had been lost was “the last word on the subject,” adding: “If it is the defendant’s contention that several large sacks have disappeared, I will need a lot of persuading as to how that has come about.”
Judge Holroyde even asked the police lawyer to explain the route the mailsacks had taken from Hendon to central London.
While the judge was clearly having none of the police “dog ate several large sacks of my homework” excuse, this information initially went unreported because almost all the journalists had left the court at lunchtime rather than hang around for the detail.
There are a few lessons here.
First, if you are in trouble with the law, then get Fiona Murphy of Bhatt Murphy as your solicitor and Phillippa Kaufmann as your barrister. They did a great job.
Second, there’s something dodgy about this police squad.
The Metropolitan Police still claim that several sacks of evidence of complaints against the Territorial Support Group have fallen off the van into oblivion. This suggests a clumsy cover-up attempt with implications far beyond the Ahmad case.
It isn’t the first time either.
A member of the Territorial Support Group was sacked in 2005 because he had kicked, punched and racially abused a black Tube station supervisor at Piccadilly Circus while off duty.
And six Territorial Support Group officers were summoned to appear in court last December following an Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation. Three men accuse them of “racially aggravated common assault” while on duty in 2007.
Third, Ahmad needs more support for his campaign against extradition. If there is a case against him, it should be heard in a British court.
Running some kind of exchange programme whereby the US releases Binyam Mohammed to us but we send Ahmad to them is plain wrong.
Ahmad is engaged in a last-ditch legal fight – he is currently waiting for the European Court of Human Rights to decide on his extradition.
This article first appeared in the Morning Star newspaper.
You can find out more at the website www.freebabarahmad.com
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This post was written by Solomon Hughes