15 Sep 2011

Student compensated after terror arrest

Home Affairs Correspondent

A student arrested for downloading a document about al-Qaeda as part of his university research has won £20,000 compensation from Nottingham Police. Darshna Soni went to meet him.

Rizwaan Sabir’s fight for justice has led to accusations that the government’s counter-terror strategy is threatening academic freedom and alienating Muslim students.

“I’m just so relieved. That cloud of suspicion has been hanging over me for three years, even though I was released without charge,” Mr Sabir told me.

He was talking to me after learning that Nottinghamshire Police had settled a case with him. He was arrested and released without charge by anti-terror officers for down-loading a document that is freely available in bookshops and the internet.

That was back in 2008, but Mr Sabir says for the next three years it continued to impact on his life.

“People think once you’re released without charge then that’s the end of it. But my case shows clearly that information was held on the criminal information system about me that suggested I had been convicted of a terrorism offence, but that was simply wrong.

“Yet, that intelligence was causing me to be stopped and questioned and searched, on the roadside, at airports, always as I tried to go about my everyday life.”

I’m just so relieved. That cloud of suspicion has been hanging over me for three years, Rizwaan Sabir

It was the impact on his every day life that led Mr Sabir to bring a claim against the Police. He claimed wrongful imprisonment and also a claim under the date protection act about the information held on him.

Counter-terrorism concerns

His legal team believe that the three year campaign for justice reveals concerns about counter-terror strategy. Michael Oswald of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors told me the case demonstrates how the so-called “war on terror” had perverted the rule of law over recent years.

“An intelligence file was kept on him by Nottinghamshire police that contained some very inaccurate information that was leading to him being stopped and searched on regular occasions.

“Clearly, the police have a difficult and important job to do in their counter-terrorism role, however, they must nonetheless act within the law and must be held to account when they do not,” Mr Oswald told me.

Channel 4 News understands that some of the logs on Mr Sabir noted that he often wore a hoody, that his trainers were in a poor state and that he had “an attitude.”

“It’s that cloud of suspicion, because you are a young Muslim man that fits a stereotype,” said Mr Sabir.

In what’s thought to be an unprecedented settlement, the Nottinghamshire force has agreed to erase some of the inaccurate intelligence.