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How to get arrested on suspicion of being a terrorist.

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:45 pm on 24 September, 2005.
Categories democracy and the rule of law.
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An article in the Guardian recounts the experiences of a man arrested on suspicion of being a terrorist on the Tube:

7.21 pm: I enter Southwark tube station, passing uniformed police by the entrance, and more police beyond the gate. I walk down to the platform, peering down at the steps as, thanks to a small eye infection, I’m wearing specs instead of my usual contact lenses. The next train is scheduled to arrive in a few minutes. As other people drift on to the platform, I sit down against the wall with my rucksack still on my back. I check for messages on my phone, then take out a printout of an article about Wikipedia from inside my jacket and begin to read.

The train enters the station. Uniformed police officers appear on the platform and surround me. They must immediately notice my French accent, still strong after living more than 12 years in London.

They handcuff me, hands behind my back, and take my rucksack out of my sight. They explain that this is for my safety, and that they are acting under the authority of the Terrorism Act. I am told that I am being stopped and searched because:

  • they found my behaviour suspicious from direct observation and then from watching me on the CCTV system;
  • I went into the station without looking at the police officers at the entrance or by the gates;
  • two other men entered the station at about the same time as me;
  • I am wearing a jacket “too warm for the season”;
  • I am carrying a bulky rucksack, and kept my rucksack with me at all times;
  • I looked at people coming on the platform;
  • I played with my phone and then took a paper from inside my jacket.

These seem rather flimsy grounds on which to consider someone a possible terrorist.

Note that, according to the article, the previous day had been the coldest July day for 25 yrs. Note also that in airports and train stations there are regular announcements telling us to keep our belongings with us at all times. Later on the author was arrested and his flat was searched, apparently because there’d been a firearms incident at the company he works for the previous year (a hoax call was made claiming there was an armed intruder in the building).

Despite charges being dropped, the author’s DNA will now be permanently on file and information about his arrest will likely be shared with the police authorities in other countries:

Under current laws the police are not only entitled to keep my fingerprints and DNA samples, but according to my solicitor, they are also entitled to hold on to what they gather during their investigation: notepads of arresting officers, photographs, interviewing tapes and any other documents they entered in the police national computer (PNC). So even though the police consider me innocent there will remain some mention (what exactly?) in the PNC and, if they fully share their information with Interpol, in other police databases around the world as well. Isn’t a state that keeps files on innocent persons a police state? This erosion of our fundamental liberties should be of concern to us all. All men are suspect, but some men are more suspect than others (with apologies to George Orwell).

Spy.org.uk provides commentary on this.

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