Research by the Institute of Race Relations suggests that one of the briefing document that accompanied the new anti-terror bill may have been somewhat misleading.
In the week the government published details of its new Prevention of Terrorism Bill, it also published four background papers to justify the new legislation. Paper 1 details the current threat of international terrorism to the UK from ‘Al Qaeda, the networks inspired by it and the other networks and groups with similar aims’.
According to it:
‘From 11 September 2001 to 31 December 2004, 701 people were arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000. Of these 119 were charged under the Act, with 45 of them also being charged with other offences. 135 were charged under other legislation – including charges for terrorist offences covered in other criminal law such as the use of explosives. And 17 have been convicted of offences under the Act. For example, a man arrested in November 2000 was subsequently convicted and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for plotting to commit an explosion. And two men arrested under the Terrorism Act in 2000 were both subsequently sentenced to 11 years imprisonment for a range of offences including terrorist fundraising, fraud and possession of false documents.’
The implication of such a passage is that the anti-terror laws have been, and therefore continue to be, a necessity. After all, seventeen people have been convicted. And the sentences of twenty and eleven years suggest serious terrorist crimes. In the public mind such information in a briefing on Al Qaeda suggests that the seventeen will be Muslim and foreign-born. But almost all the facts in the text above have to be reread in other contexts.
The Institute of Race Relations has been researching into the arrests and convictions under anti-terror legislation since September 11 2001. And, according to its research which covers 13* out of the 17 convictions:
- The man sentenced to 20 years in November 2000 was neither charged nor convicted under anti-terror legislation;
- The two men sentenced to eleven years, who only pleaded guilty to charges relating to false documents and fraud, have been granted leave to appeal against their convictions on the grounds that a fair trial was made impossible by media interest;
- Only three Muslims have actually been convicted under the Terrorism Act 2000;
- At least six of those convicted under the Terrorism Act 2000 are white, and were convicted of offences involving the wearing of a ring or carrying of a flag with symbols of banned Loyalist organisations;
- Two of those convicted under the Terrorism Act 2000 were Sikhs (not a community regarded as threatening targets in the UK) and their sentences for belonging to a proscribed organisation were reduced to 12 months’ imprisonment on the grounds that they did not know they had contravened UK law.
- Two other white people convicted, but under the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001, had sent threatening letters with a white powder to public figures. One person was a minor, related to a Scottish Republican group, another, who had a history of mental illness and sent hate mail to Mohammad Sarwar, MP, was found with Nazi materials.
IRR News tried for the best part of a week to establish from official sources who the seventeen were, according to the government, what they had been charged with, and what the convictions were, so as to marry the IRR’s information with that of the government.
The Home Office, which produced the briefing paper, was unable to help and referred us to the Metropolitan Police, which was also unable to help and referred us to the Crown Prosecution Service, which was then able to confirm some of the data that the IRR had collected, but then referred us back, yet again, to the Home Office.