3 Jun 2011

Police officers cleared of assault on Babar Ahmad

Four police officers are cleared of assaulting a terror suspect during an early-morning raid on his south London home more than seven years ago.

Babar Ahmad had told Southwark Crown Court that the officers – from the Territorial Support Group – had subjected him to physical, verbal and sexual assaults and mocked his religion, leaving him battered and bruised and fearing for his life.

But the jury found PC Roderick James-Bowen, PC Mark Jones, PC Nigel Cowley and Detective Constable John Donohue not guilty of assaulting Mr Ahmad after just an hour’s deliberation.

The court was told that Babar Ahmad was arrested in December 2003 on suspicion of providing financial and logistical support to al-Qaeda. He was never charged with these offences and was released after six days, but was re-arrested eight months later on an international arrest warrant issued by American federal authorities and has since spent almost seven years in prison without trial, fighting extradition to the United States.

Four police officers are cleared of assaulting Babar Ahmad

The American authorities accuse him of running websites which urged Muslims to fight holy war and of conspiring to raise funds for al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

In March 2009, the Metropolitan Police agreed to pay him £60,000 in damages after he brought a personal injury case at the High Court in connection with his initial arrest, but the four-week criminal trial of the four officers involved in the incident has ended in an acquittal.

During the trial, Babar Ahmad told the court that he was awoken from his sleep at 5am on 2 December 2003 when officers from the Anti-Terrorist Branch and the Territorial Support Group raided his home. He said he was wrestled to the floor and repeatedly punched and sworn at, claiming that one officer pulled his genitals.

MI5 bug

The court had been told that Mr Ahmad had been handcuffed and taken downstairs to a prayer room, where officers had asked: “Where is your god now?”

The prosecution played a recording from an MI5 bug – which the police did not know had been placed in the prayer room earlier. On the recording, one officer was heard saying: “Lay him out and properly search him.”

It is believed to be the first time that MI5 surveillance material has been used in the prosecution of police officers.

But the four officers told the court that Mr Ahmad’s injuries were either self-inflicted or caused by a legal tackle that took him to the ground when he was first detained.

PC Jones told the court that he and the other officers in his unit had been briefed before the arrest that the suspect had been trained by al-Qaeda in armed and unarmed combat.

PC James-Bowen said he had had a “ferocious” struggle with Mr Ahmad, who was a martial arts expert, in which he used “significant force”, but rejected accusations that he and his colleagues beat him up.

After the verdicts, Judge Geoffrey Rivlin QC said he hoped Mr Ahmad’s situation would soon be resolved.

He told the court: “I express the hope that his ordeal as a man in detention in this country for a number of years without trial is brought to an end as soon as possible, either by his extradition or by his release.

“It is no concern of this court as to which, but it is a matter of concern and I would have thought should be a matter of concern to the public at large, quite apart from Mr Ahmad, that here is a man who has been in custody for literally years without knowing what his fate is to be.”

“They are hoping that they will be able to put these unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations behind them now.” Colin Reynolds, solicitor for the four officers

The officers’ solicitor, Colin Reynolds said outside court that the men looked forward to returning to work and getting on with their professional lives.

“They are hoping that they will be able to put these unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations behind them now,” he added.

Acting Commander Carl Bussey, head of the Metropolitan Police Directorate of Professional Standards, said it had been “a difficult seven years for all involved”.

He added: “Given the result I will now ensure a misconduct review is conducted immediately so that the officers can be given a decision as soon as possible and this matter finally brought to a conclusion.”

Mr Ahmad had admitted in court that he had travelled to Bosnia three or four times to fight alongside fellow Muslims in the 1990s and had returned home with shrapnel wounds. But he insists that he is innocent of any terrorist offence and his lawyers have argued that his human rights would be breached if he was sent to America because he could face life imprisonment without parole and solitary confinement at a “supermax” jail.

In July last year, the European Court of Human Rights halted extradition proceedings, but the Home Secretary, Theresa May, decided he should remain in custody until a final ruling is made later this year.