British police have made 304 arrests under anti-terrorist legislation since 11 September 2001. But only forty of those arrests have led to charges being brought. And only three have so far resulted in convictions, none for involvement in Islamic terror groups.
The three successful convictions were related to membership of banned organisations rather than any specific terrorist activity. Two of those found guilty were sentenced last August to thirty months imprisonment for membership of the International Sikh Youth Federation. They were arrested at Dover carrying membership cards, on what police alleged was a fundraising trip to the UK.
Research by the Institute of Race Relations, surveying 154 of the most significant arrests, has revealed that six of the forty people charged have been acquitted or had charges dropped. A further 31 are awaiting trial. However, a significant number of those arrested under suspicion of terrorism offences have been charged over completely different issues, mainly immigration offences.
Defence lawyers claim that the authorities are operating a ‘dragnet’ policy with many charges based on slender evidence. Gareth Peirce, who led the legal campaign against miscarriages of justice in the policing of Irish terrorism, believes that ‘there has been an apparently random, open-ended series of arrests’ which have had the effect of ‘paralysing and terrifying significant parts of the Muslim community’.
Many of the high-profile terrorist raids in recent months have not produced as many charges under terrorist laws as might have been expected. The raid on the Finsbury Park mosque on 20 January 2003, which provoked anger from many in Muslim communities, resulted in only one man, out of the seven arrested, being charged under the Terrorism Act. Similarly, the co-ordinated raids in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester and London on 6 February 2003 resulted in only one person being charged for terrorism offences, although seven were arrested. On 14 January 2003, national outrage followed the murder of PC Stephen Oake during a raid on the home of a suspected terrorist in Manchester. But the alleged murderer has not been charged with terrorism offences.
On 3 March 2003, parliament renewed the detention powers in the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act (2001) for a further twelve months. Thirteen men are currently held under these powers at high-security prisons. Two have opted to leave the country rather than remain detained in the UK.
Anti-terrorist policing was called into question a year ago when Lotfi Raissi, an Algerian pilot living in London, was released after being detained at Belmarsh high security prison for around five months. He was detained on the basis of an unsubstantiated FBI allegation that he had been involved in the attack on the World Trade Centre. On 21 April 2002, a judge ruled that there was no evidence whatsoever to connect him with terrorism.