Category Archives: Big Brother

Man and children held under terror law

Two police officers are under investigation after using anti-terror stop-and-search powers against a man and two young children in a south London street.

The 43-year-old man had his mobile phones, USB sticks and a CD seized by the officers, who were in plain clothes, and was asked to stand in front of a CCTV camera in order to have his photograph taken. The undercover Metropolitan police officers also took the man’s photograph with their own camera and searched the two children he was walking with – his 11-year-old daughter and his neighbour’s daughter, aged six.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said today it would “manage” the investigation into the incident in July, meaning that an independent investigator will control the inquiry conducted by the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards.

It is unusual for the IPCC to manage an investigation into an incident of this kind, and the decision comes amid mounting concern over police use of stop-and-search and surveillance powers. The commission has received dozens of complaints relating to the use of stop-and-search powers, but the nature of this complaint is understood to have concerned investigators.

In a statement today, the IPCC said: “The complainant states that, when he asked under what legislation his property was being seized, he was told it was under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. He also complained that he was given no information as to when he could retrieve his goods or who to contact in order to do so, and that there was no communication from police despite assurances that he would be told when he could collect his things.”

The Met’s complaints bureau is known to have received a number of complaints relating to alleged misuse of anti-terror powers. Two months ago, Gemma Atkinson, 27, a film-maker from London, said she would challenge the Met at the high court after she claimed she was handcuffed, detained and threatened with arrest for filming officers on her mobile phone.

Lawyers for Atkinson said the Met’s complaints bureau has been slow to respond to their complaints. Atkinson was detained at Aldgate underground station one month after Section 58(a) – a controversial amendment to the Terrorism Act – came into force, making it illegal to photograph a police officer if the images are considered “likely to be useful” to a terrorist.

Speaking about the case of the 43-year-old man, the IPCC commissioner, Mike Franklin, who leads on the issue of stop and search, said: “The use of section 44 stop-and-search powers is a very sensitive issue and it is right that complaints of this nature are taken very seriously. It is particularly worrying that two young children were allegedly searched in this way. This investigation will look at whether the use of these powers in this case was lawful, reasonable and correctly carried out.”


DNA fingerprinting 25 years old (but DNA databases are wrong)

The scientist behind DNA fingerprinting has called for a change to the law governing DNA databases on the 25th anniversary of his discovery.

Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys uncovered the process by chance in his laboratory at Leicester University. The technique has since been used to solve crimes and identity cases. But it has also led to controversy over profiles kept on the national DNA database. “Innocent people do not belong on that database,” he said. The scientist stumbled across the groundbreaking development on 10 September, 1984. He realised that variable patterns in the structure of DNA could be used to distinguish one person from another.

‘Blue skies research’ It led to the development of DNA fingerprinting, which has been used to solve a range of crimes. Last year, 17,614 offences were solved using a DNA match, including 83 killings and 184 rapes. It has also been developed to help solve unanswered questions and disputes over personal identity, paternity, immigration, conservation and cloning.

In an interview to mark the anniversary of his discovery, Professor Jeffreys spoke of the importance of allowing academics freedom to research. Professor Jeffreys He said academics should be able to pursue “unfettered, fundamental, curiosity-driven” research. “Blue skies” research, which led to discoveries such as his own, was “the ultimate engine of all scientific and technological evolution,” he said, warning: “You lose that at your peril.”

He renewed his calls for the government to change the law governing the UK’s DNA databases – particularly the practice in England and Wales of keeping the DNA profiles of thousands of people who have neither been charged nor convicted. There are now more than five million profiles on the national DNA database, a rise of 40% in two years. He told the BBC: “My view is very, very simple, has been right from the outset. “Innocent people do not belong on that database. Branding them as future criminals is not proportionate response in the fight against crime. “And I’ve met a fair number of these people and some of these people are very, very upset and are distressed by the fact that their DNA is on that database. They cannot get it off and they feel as if they’re branded as criminals.

We must separate church and state

In England, our constitution is blighted by an ancient theocratic hangover. Time to sweep it away and bring England into the 21st century!

We’re not Iran, but our constitution does have a theocratic structure. I think this holds us back, impedes us, like an old invisible injury. Like a subtle poison in the blood, it quietly harms us. Most people seem unaware of it. Even Hazel Blears, who recently said that we are a secular democracy.

Yesterday a seminar was held at the UCL Constitution Unit to mark the launch of a book on the issue by Bob Morris. Church and State in 21st Century Britain is a meticulous analysis of the situation. No such study can be entirely neutral, but Morris seems to have no religious agenda; his aim is to point out that establishment is at odds with the principle of religious equality, making it “anomalous to the point of unsustainability”. He is wary of the term “disestablishment” but he does advocate the big reform – ending the monarch’s need to be Anglican.

In his presentation yesterday he said that reform would ideally come from the church itself. Otherwise it is likely to have reform thrust upon it, in a way it cannot control. So it is in its interest to lead the process. He acknowledged that here is little sign of this willingness as yet, but seemed hopeful that a fresh look at the issue might change that.

In the discussion that followed three Anglican representatives spoke. Each offered a slightly different flavour of the old conservative line: that it would be perilous to mess with our ancient constitution, that it might unleash an aggressive secularism. None admitted that there was a problem here that had to be faced.

These speakers confirmed my view that the Church of England looks very nice and liberal from a slight distance but at heart its philosophy is high Tory: tradition is sacred, those who want to tamper with it are dangerously shallow. I know of almost no Anglican who has said anything different, who admits Morris’ basic point that reform is necessary, so that we can have a constitution we can really affirm, and participate in, rather than an alienating relic from the imperial past. One exception is the Oxford theologian George Pattison, who has recently called for a more honest debate within the church (in an article in The Church Times). It is worth noting that Rowan Williams has failed to start the debate; he has allowed the reactionary position to become stronger – a piece of major political cowardice.

Might reform come from elsewhere? Of course the secularist lobbies advocate it, but in a sense this is unhelpful: it makes it seem an atheist cause, and so strenghtens the hand of the Anglicans, who scarify with the prospect of a Dawkinsish tyranny. Ideally it would come from a political movement that was also Christian, led by a new Cromwell figure.

Why is disestablishment not a mainstream liberal cause? It baffles me frankly. Why is it hardly ever mentioned by the columnists of this paper, except as a quick aside? To my mind it is the very essence of liberalism, that church and state should be separate. This is the English revolution that we have never quite had. It is the way to a new sort of political participation, a new sense that we are citizens of a modern state. Other aspects of constitutional change, and other liberal causes such as CCTV, DNA database and ID Cards are pathetically small-fry compared to this.

Terror law used to stop thousands ‘just to balance racial statistics’

Thousands of people are being stopped and searched by the police under counter-terrorism powers simply to provide a racial balance in official statistics, the government’s official anti-terror law watchdog has revealed.

Lord Carlile said in his annual report that he has got “ample anecdotal evidence”, adding that it was “totally wrong” and an invasion of civil liberties to stop and search people simply to racially balance the statistics.

“I can well understand the concerns of the police that they should be free from allegations of prejudice,” he said. “But it is not a good use of precious resources if they waste them on self-evidently unmerited searches.”

The official reviewer of counter-terrorist legislation said there was little or no evidence that the use of section 44 stop-and-search powers by the police can prevent an act of terrorism.

“Whilst arrests for other crime have followed searches under the section, none of the many thousands of searches has ever resulted in a conviction for a terrorism offence. Its utility has been questioned publicly and privately by senior Metropolitan police staff with wide experience of terrorism policing,” said Carlile.

He added that such searches were stopping between 8,000-10,000 people a month.

Under the Terrorism Act 2000, the “section 44 stops” allow the police to search anyone in a designated area without suspicion that an offence has occurred. But Carlile is critical of the use of the powers used by the Met police, saying he felt “a sense of frustration” that the force did not limit its section 44 authorisations to some boroughs or parts of boroughs but used them across its entire area.

“I cannot see a justification for the whole of the Greater London area being covered permanently. The intention of the section was not to place London under permanent special search powers.”

None of the many thousands of searches had ever led to a conviction for a terrorist offence, he said. He noted, too, that the damage done to community relations was “undoubtedly considerable”.

Examples of poor, or unnecessary use, of section 44 abounded. “I have evidence of cases where the person stopped is so obviously far from any known terrorism profile that, realistically, there is not the slightest possibility of him/her being a terrorist, and no other feature to justify the stop.”

The Met has announced a review of how it uses section 44 powers. And the home secretary, Alan Johnson, is to issue fresh guidance to the police, warning that counter-terrorism must not be used to stop people taking photographs of on-duty officers.

Carlile uses his annual report to endorse complaints from professional and amateur photographers that counter-terror powers are being used to threaten prosecution if pictures are taken of officers on duty.

He said the power was only intended to cover images likely to be of use to a terrorist: “It is inexcusable for police officers ever to use this provision to interfere with the rights of individuals to take photographs.” The police had to come to terms with the increased scrutiny of their activities by the public, afforded by equipment such as video-enabled mobile phones. “Police officers who use force or threaten force in this context run the real risk of being prosecuted themselves for one or more of several possible criminal and disciplinary offences,” he warned.

He mentioned an incident in which two Austrian tourists were rebuked by officers for photographing Walthamstow bus station, in east London.

David Miliband wants MI5 interrogation kept secret

The foreign secretary, David Miliband, told MPs today that he will not allow the public to see the secret interrogation policy that is at the heart of allegations that MI5 has been colluding in the torture of British citizens.

Gordon Brown has ordered that the policy be rewritten after a series of people complained that they had been questioned by British intelligence officers after being asked the same questions under torture by Pakistani and Bangladeshi intelligence officers. Brown has also pledged that the policy would be made public.

However, Miliband told MPs on the Commons foreign affairs select committee today that he has no intention of making public the policy as it currently stands, because of the risk of prejudicing a number of on-going court cases. Pressed further, he said that the currently policy would not be published even once those court cases have concluded, as to do so would “lend succour to our enemies”.

He added that the policy had been reviewed by the Intelligence and Security Committee, the group of MPs and peers who are supposed to oversee the activities of Britain’s intelligence agencies, and that the ISC was able to “square the circle between secrecy and accountability”.

The ISC sits in secret, its members and its reports to the prime minister are published after being censored in consultation with the agencies themselves.

Asked about the morality of receiving intelligence that has been extracted through torture, Miliband told the committee: “We would never procure intelligence, or procure evidence through torture. We would never say to another intelligence agency ‘Please get us information about X’ and, you know, abandon our legal and ethical commitments in respect of how you find that.”

Evidence heard in court has contradicted that, however. Last September Manchester Crown Court heard how MI5 and Greater Manchester Police drew up a list of questions for use by a notorious Pakistani intelligence agency which was unlawfully detaining Rangzieb Ahmed, a man from Rochdale. By the time Ahmed was deported to Britain 13 months later three of his fingernails were missing. Furthermore, civil proceedings brought on behalf of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident who was freed from Guantánamo earlier this year, has resulted in the disclosure of the questions that MI5 asked be put to him, despite knowing that he had been tortured in Pakistan and having reason to believe he was being tortured after being rendered elsewhere.

Miliband admitted that the the co-operation between MI5 and MI6 with foreign security and intelligence agencies during counter terrorism operations could risk detainees being mistreated.

“It is not possible to eradicate the risk of mistreatment. A judgment needs to be made”, he said in a letter to the committee. “We cannot act in isolation in order to protect British citizens.” He acknowledged that some countries had “different legal obligations and different standards to our own in the way they detain people and treat those they have detained”. He added that this “cannot stop us from working with them”.

As well as allegations of collusion in torture in Pakistan, where British intelligence officers have questioned people being held by agencies whose use of torture is widely documented, there have been allegations of complicity in the torture of British citizens detained in Bangladesh, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Miliband refused to answer questions from the committee yesterday about allegations that MI5 officers had put the same questions to detainees that had earlier been put, under torture, by foreign intelligence officers, claiming that to do so may prejudice ongoing court cases.

The only cases currently before the courts are those in which the British government and its intelligence agencies are being sued for damages by the alleged victims of torture.

Referring to the secret interrogation policy, Miliband did tell the committee: “Before 2004 the guidance was informal, after 2004 it was more formal. It is now comprehensive, including comprehensive legal advice to all officers.”

He also said the interrogation policy would be made available to defence lawyers representing terrorist trial defendants who allege that they were tortured by foreign agents, and then questioned by British intelligence officers, before being deported to the UK and prosecuted. “Surely, it is founding principle of our legal system: defending counsel can call for whatever papers they want,” he said. “Defence counsel having these papers isn’t the same as putting them on the internet.”

Ed Davey, the Lib Dem shadow spokesman of foreign affairs, said that British intelligence officers had been given “inadequate” guidance on their obligations while interrogating detainees held overseas.

Local Council spies on family for three weeks

A family were spied on for three weeks by a council to check whether they lived in the catchment area of their child’s school.

An undercover official made a detailed log of the family’s daily activities without their knowledge, tailing the morning and afternoon school runs and returning in the evening to watch their £350,000 house.

He made notes including one that reads: “Female and three children enter target vehicle and drive off.” Another states: “Curtains open and all lights on in premises.”

Yesterday the family at the centre of the investigation into their private lives said they were furious their local authority had “stalked” them.

Poole Borough Council in Dorset acted under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) which was introduced by Labour in 2000, partly on the grounds of improving national security. Any evidence obtained under the Act may be used in a criminal prosecution.

The mother who was watched with her partner and three children aged three, six and ten, said: “I can’t bear to think about those people watching my family, it sends a chill down my spine.

“I’m incensed that legislation to combat terrorism can be turned on a three-year-old.”

The 39-year-old businesswoman, who asked not to be named, said the discovery her family had been spied on had left her feeling on edge.

She continued: “My partner is often away on business and when someone parks outside we wonder who they are.

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Oversubscribed: The Lilliput First School, in Poole. Council workers spied on a family who were suspected of living outside the catchment area

“The council won’t tell us if the people watching us were police checked or whether they were taking photographs.”

The surveillance operation began after the couple applied for their youngest child to go to the same school as her sibling, Lilliput First School in Poole.

They were planning to move further away from the school, but asked the council for advice on its admissions policy to ensure their daughter would not be denied a place.

The parents were told that as long as they did not move before the end of January, their daughter would qualify to start at the school in September.

Several weeks after the deadline, they moved two miles away. Then a member of the public incorrectly told the council that the family were living at the new house but registering themselves for school admission at their previous address.

Such tactics are becoming widespread as parents take increasingly desperate measures to ensure their child is admitted to the school of their choice.

The couple were later summoned to a meeting with the council’s schools admissions manager, when it emerged they had been subject to the surveillance operation.

The mother said the council began investigating on February 13 and concluded on March 3.

The log made by the council surveillance officer states that in that period, daily visits were made to both properties.

On entry says: “Female driver with children as passengers”, then lists ten roads their car drove along.

The mother and her partner of 16 years, a 37-year-old computer programmer, want to warn other parents what councils are capable of doing.

She said: “We followed the council’s advice and moved after the date they gave us. But still they stalked us.

“We even turned down an offer on the house in October because we knew we couldn’t move until after January.

“I can’t imagine a greater invasion of our privacy. I’ll admit that we have played the system, but it’s no worse than moving into an area to get your children into a particular school.”

The child has been admitted to the school and is due to start in September.

Yesterday Tim Martin, head of legal and democratic services at the council, said: “RIPA procedures have been used to investigate potentially fraudulent applications for school places.

“In such circumstances, we have considered it appropriate to treat the matter as a potential criminal matter.

“An investigation may actually satisfy the council that the application is valid, as happened in this case.”

High price of launching ID cards as Labour consultants cost us £150m

Spending on consultants by the Home Office has rocketed by 2,000 per cent under Labour to almost £150m a year.

The total amount lavished on management consultants and other so-called experts over the past decade is £545m.

One of the major reasons for the expenditure is trying to get the controversial ID cards project of the ground.

The cash could otherwise have been spent putting 10,900 extra police on streets for a year.

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis, who unearthed the figures, said: “The Home Office has had its worst period in its 200-year history, stumbling from crisis to crisis.

“Despite spending £150m last year on consultants – things are getting worse.

“Violent Crime has doubled, immigration has tripled and police now spend more time on paper work than patrol.

“After 10 years of failure, its time for the Government to ditch the spin and bluster. The public deserve better.”

In 1997/98, the Home Office’s total spending on consultants was £7.6m. By last year, it had rocketed to £147.9m.

Spending by the Identity and Passport Service – the arm of the department in charge of the ID cards project – has gone up in the same period from £237,000 to £30m.

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Mismanagement, political meddling and poor organisation have resulted in chaos across our public services – trying to patch up the holes with expensive consultants clearly isn’t the solution.

“Too often ministers and civil servants turn to consultants in a panic when things are going wrong and effectively sign a blank cheque, paid for by the taxpayer.

“Even the best consultant can’t do more than tinker around the edges of a system which is fundamentally flawed.

“If we really want to solve the high costs and poor performance of public services then we need radical reform to eliminate political meddling, involve people with management experience in service delivery and give the public choice in how their money is spent.”

Last week, it emerged the Home Office has paid out nearly £22m in staff bonuses in the last five years.

The figures, unearthed by the Liberal Democrats, showed the amount paid out each year has doubled since 2002, despite a string of serious failures by the department.

The total amount being spent across Whitehall on consultants is more than £2 billion a year – the equivalent of 1p on income tax.

The influential Public Accounts Committee (PAC) last year found that around £500 million-a-year of the money was being wasted and that Whitehall departments often hire advisers without checking if they are suitable for the job.

Some of the consultants charge £2,000 a day for a bewildering range of services. They include advising departments on how to “manage change”, buying new computer systems and carrying out surveys.

Edward Leigh, chairman of the PAC, said: “It is impossible to believe that the public are receiving anything like full value for money from this expenditure.

“In fact, a good proportion of it looks like sheer profligacy. The consultancy firms are truly on to a good thing.”