Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
TUESDAY 9 OCTOBER 2007
BLAIR QPM AND
CLARKE CVO OBE QPM
Sir Ian, Mr Clarke, can I declare this session open and thank
you very much for coming to give evidence to this Committee. Sir
Ian, last year the Committee concluded that none of the evidence
we have reviewed of current and recent investigations would have
justified a maximum detention period. What specific evidence do
you have to put before this Committee and to persuade Parliament
that we should have a longer period?
Sir Ian Blair: I think, first,
the Metropolitan Police and the Association of Chief Police Officers
has retained the same position for quite some time now. We do
not have a case that has required us to go beyond 28 days. Our
position remains that the number of the conspiracies, the number
of conspirators within those conspiracies and the magnitude of
the ambition in terms of destruction and loss of life is mounting,
has continued to mount, is increasing year by year and a pragmatic
inference can be drawn that at some stage 28 days is not going
to be sufficient. The worst time to debate whether an extension
should be granted would be in the aftermath of an atrocity and,
therefore, we still maintain the position that, subject to cross-party
consensus, if Parliament can find a way in which that period can
be extended that would be a very good position to be in. That
is our position and has remained so for some time.
Have you asked the Government for an extension?
Sir Ian Blair: No.
Is this something which comes from ministers?
Sir Ian Blair: No. We have outlined
that exact position again and again. It is the same position:
there is no case that we have so far had but we believe that cases
will emerge and when that happens we should be in a position that
Parliament has discussed this and made its own conclusions before
we face an atrocity. Had the bombs gone off in Haymarket then
we could have been facing loss of life in the hundreds and that
would have been a difficult time to discuss an extension of this
I am going to put to you two quotes, one from the former Prime
Minister and one from a serving minister, and I want to ask you
which is nearest to your current views. This is what the former
Prime Minister said on 25 August 2005: "What I am trying
to do here, and this will be followed up with action in the next
few weeks, as I think you will see, is to send a clear signal
out that the rules of the game have changed". The Minister
for Security, speaking only two weeks ago, said "With the
best will in the world where we are now as a Government means
that we are coming round to the view that says actually the rules
of the game have not changed and to suggest the rules have changed
is actually to help the other side more than our own side."
Which of those two views is now closest to your position at the
Sir Ian Blair: I am afraid I am
going to give a yes and a no to that. I do not think the rules
have changed or should change in the sense of the balance of the
rule of law but I think the circumstances have changed. Peter,
who has long experience in this field, will know that when we
were fighting or opposing the IRAand I do not want to glamorise
the IRA in any way -they, with very few exceptions, did not want
to die, they did not want to cause mass casualties and they gave
warnings. None of the three apply to the group of people with
whom we are now in opposition. The circumstances have changed.
The quality and quantity of the threat has changed. What you have
to find is the balance between human rights, civil liberties and
the protection of the public from atrocity and that remains very
It would not be right to raise the limit just on a precautionary
basis, would it? You really have to have hard evidence before
you start going for an extension.
Sir Ian Blair: I am afraid that
is not a position that we take. Obviously it is a matter for legislation.
If I take a completely different analogy and we look at something
in the nature of an epidemic, if you can see the epidemic moving
towards you then you start to take precautions before it arrives
and that is the position that we are in, I think. It is very interesting
to look at other countries' experience. The way other countries
deal with this is by prolonged periods of detention under judicial
oversight and in a way we are not far off that because once it
gets past 14 days this is a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service
to present to a High Court judge as to the length of time and
the rationale for detention. Of course, if you look at other countries,
if you look at France you are looking at years; the same with
Germany, you are looking at 12 months; we are doing it in a very
different process and I just think we all need to think very hard
about what the consequences would be of a catastrophic incident
on public opinion and public safety.
Q6 Martin Salter:
This may be a more appropriate for Peter Clarke. As someone who
has supported extending the period and endorses the precautionary
principle which means we can legislate better outside a period
of crisis, can you explain to the Committee the trend in terms
of your investigations? In our briefings we have been told quite
clearly that although you have not had to go over 28 days there
have been some very, very serious suspects who have eventually
been charged on the 28th day. What is the general trend in terms
of the level of investigation and the need for more and more time?
It was not that long ago when you only had seven days and then
14. Can you give us a flavour of how the investigation has proceeded
and what time you need?
Mr Clarke: Thank you. The trend
which we outlined in the autumn of 2005, which we were picking
up from the investigations which we had been conducting, if you
like, since 9/11, and in particular since 2002, was towards an
ever growing scale and complexity. This was scale and complexity
in terms, as the Commissioner has said, of the number of people
involved in these conspiracies but also of the way in which they
were being conducted, the use of computers and encrypted data,
international connections in every single case. What we were seeing
was that each case seemed to get bigger and bigger. It was in
the wake of the case which the last time I gave evidence to this
Committee I could not go into too much detail about because it
was sub judice, this was the so-called Operation Rhyme which is
Dhiren Barot and his associates, that we began to think actually
we are into territory here which is new and long haul and we might
need to think about different ways of investigating in a way which
best serves public safety. That was what drove us to put forward
the suggestion that there needs to be some sort of facility for
us to investigate while people were held in detention beyond what
was then acceptable. Although Parliament took the decision that
there was insufficient evidence of the type that it was looking
for to justify an extension to the 90 days that was suggested,
nevertheless those trends have continued. Without going too deeply
into statistics, what we can say is that taking the totality of
the cases we have had fewer cases actually under investigation
in the last year, marginally, but the number of documents, exhibits,
computers, telephones and the rest has increased. So the scale
of each case is getting larger.
Q7 Mr Winnick:
How many of those held under existing limits, previously 14 days
and for the last year or so 28 days, having been released were
later charged with terrorist offences?
Mr Clarke: Of those that have
been released I cannot recall one who has been recalled to be
charged with terrorism, although I could check that. What I can
tell you, if it helps, in terms of statistics is that since the
permissible time for detention was increased to 28 days in July
2006 some 204 people have been arrested under provisions of the
Terrorism Act. Of those, 11 have been detained for between 14
and 28 days and, of those 11, eight were subsequently charged
or were charged with terrorism offences.
Q8 Mr Winnick:
It does not really answer my question. My question is: of those
who were released, how many of those were later charged with terrorist
offences? I put it to you that as far as I understand the position,
and you will correct me if that is not so, no-one.
Mr Clarke: That is my understanding.
If I do find that is not right I will submit it in writing to
Q9 Patrick Mercer:
The police have now had over a year's experience of operating
the new 28 day power. What lessons would you draw from that experience
and would you have any objection to the Metropolitan Policy Authority
carrying out a review of how you have exercised your new powers,
as recommended by the Joint Committee on Human Rights?
Sir Ian Blair: I think the lessons
that we draw are actually in similar statistics that we gave to
Mr Winnick which are that actually we exercise these powers immensely
sparingly. We do not wish to detain people for long periods of
time and when we do we carry out the most searching investigations
possible so that the likelihood is that when somebody is released
we are unlikely to find any more evidence. In terms of the MPA
we have noted, as have the MPA, the JCHR's recommendation. The
issue will be whether the MPA itself is a proper body because
this really is about looking, as I said earlier, not so much at
police procedures but about judicial procedures because we are
here looking at what is the evidence or information presented
to a High Court judge beyond 14 days and how does that work rather
than an investigative process. Obviously the MPA will consider
it in due course.
Mr Clarke: I think another lesson
to be drawn from it is that there is no suggestion whatsoever
that the power is used to hold people who are suspected of the
most serious offences for longer simply because they are suspected
of those most serious offences. I have to be slightly careful
because the case I am thinking of is sub judice but the alleged
plot to bring down airliners from August 2006, some of those who
were charged with the most serious elements of that alleged conspiracy
were actually charged within the 14 day period. As soon as the
evidence became availablewe are working very closely with
the Crown Prosecution Servicethose charges were brought
forward. Those who remained longer were those against whom we
were seeking to find out whether or not they were involved and
to what extent. Quite simply, there is no interest for us in holding
people for any longer than we need to because, in a sense, once
they are charged and then into the judicial system we can focus
then on those remaining suspects. It is in our interests very
often to charge people as soon as we possibly can.
Q10 Patrick Mercer:
Do you agree that irrespective of whether the 28 day limit is
extended the Metropolitan Police should submit an annual report
to Parliament on the operation of terrorist detention powers,
containing full statistics and analysis of each case in which
an individual has been detained for more than 14 days?
Sir Ian Blair: If that is the
wish of Parliament then we can, yes.
Q11 Mr Winnick:
Sir Ian, Mr Clarke, in order that there should be absolutely no
misunderstanding, no-one in this room, for one moment, under-estimates
the acute terrorist danger. Even if the atrocities had not occurred
in 2005 we know there are murderers, psychopaths, out there who
want to inflict slaughter indiscriminately and in the process
take their own lives. We have no illusions on that score whatsoever
and we pay tribute to the policeall of usregardless
of political affiliationfor what is done day in and day
out to safeguard our community from mass murder as indeed, to
a lesser extent, as you have already said, during the 30 year
campaign of terror by the IRA who wanted to and did carry out
mass murder here and in Northern Ireland itself. What I want to
put to you first of all, Sir Ian, is what do you believe would
be the likely impact on relations with the Muslim community if,
indeed, the 28 day limit was extended, if people were held, say
for 56 days or longer, and then released without any charge? Do
you feel it would worsen relations between the police and the
Sir Ian Blair: Can I start by
making clear to the Committee one particular thing which really
relates to what you said at the beginning which is, of course,
Peter Clarke retires in January and I would like to pay tribute
to his five years in probably one of the most difficult posts
possible to undertake in policing so, Peter, thank you very much.
In terms of the impact on the Muslim community, it certainly will
not ease it; it will not ease the feelings of the Muslim communities
but I think the most important aspect is how is this explained,
what are we trying to do here. What we are trying to do, as you
so well put it, Mr Winnick, is to protect people from atrocity.
Again, many Muslims have talked to me about how they felt after
the events of this summer and a recognition from them that had
the bombs gone off how much more difficult things would have become
for them in their community. It is not the relationship with the
police but with other communities in Britain. I think all this
is is about a balance, what is the right balance here. Are we
protecting those communities properly by keeping the limit where
it stands or would it be better for the limit to be further extended
so that police work could possibly be more effective?
Q12 Mr Winnick:
Do you accept rather like with the Irish the overwhelming majority
of Irish people in Britain, whatever views they may have had over
the political issue of a united Ireland, were totally opposed
to terrorism? Would you accept that the overwhelming majority
of Muslims living in the United Kingdom are opposed to terrorism
in this country?
Sir Ian Blair: Absolutely.
Q13 Mr Winnick:
Arising from what I said about the possibility of antagonising
such people whose loathing of terrorism is no less than ours,
if you take Forest Gate, for example, would you accept, Sir Ian,
that antagonism was caused when it was totally unnecessary and
it could have been dealt with differently?
Sir Ian Blair: I accept that difficulties
arose out of that operation. I do not think it was in any sense
unnecessary. As you will be aware, the Independent Police Complaints
Commission examined the Forest Gate operation and found that the
police action on the intelligence the police had at that stage
Q14 Mr Winnick:
On my question, do you know of any representative body of Muslims,
be it the Muslim Council of Britain, who are in favour of extending
the limit or any other representative body, they may not be representative
but insofar as Christians, Jews and Hindus have such bodies so
have Muslims? Has any such organisation representing Muslims said
to you that they are in favour of having an extension beyond 28
Sir Ian Blair: No, I have not
come across that but then nor does it surprise me.
Q15 Mr Winnick:
ACPO has put forward a view, together with our next witness who
is coming before us at 11.15, that in fact there should not be
a particular limit on pre-charge detention that in fact it should
be left to the judges to decide. In other words, putting it as
crudely as possible, Parliament should say "We abdicate our
powers, we have total confidence in the judges and the judges
will solely decide whether X, Y or Z, A, B or C should be held."
Is that a close view with yours?
Sir Ian Blair: Far be it from
me to suggest that we do not have total confidence in judges.
I think this is just too difficult a matter to leave wide open
because if you leave it wide open in terms of the length of time
you do produce a situation, which I know is not what Lord Carlile
is suggesting or the President of ACPO is suggesting, which can
be represented as detention in perpetuity and that cannot be right.
This is where I differ from the Liberty proposal, for instance.
I believe this is not a matter that should just be left open,
it has got to be decided by Parliament. That is where the Joint
Committee on Human Rights is. I think it is very difficult because
you are selecting something entirely arbitrary but I think I have
enough faith in the officers of the Metropolitan Police and other
services that there will be a time by which we have extracted
all the evidence that is available. Somewhere out there between
50 and 90 days is a limit which would seem very sensible.
Q16 Mr Winnick:
That is a very frank answer to my question. Would it not be the
caseI do not want to put words into your mouth obviouslyif
that view of ACPO, which you have disagreed with, was put into
effect, leaving it to the judges and no fixed time of proper detention
laid down by Parliament, would that not be seen as internment?
Sir Ian Blair: Again, that was
why I did not use that term. We can use any number of terms if
you leave the space just empty and that is why I think we have
to have a point of closure.
Following on from Mr Winnick's question, if you get the extension
you want of 28 days, you accept it will have a disproportionate
effect and impact on the Muslim community?
Sir Ian Blair: I think it will
be a matter which will have to be explained very carefully to
the Muslim communities and couched in a protective mode. If we
can recast this language to be the language of safety rather than
the language of criminal investigation then I think we help. I
do think it is unfortunate that we have become fixed on a number
of days as a limit but that is where we are.
What percentage of those detained under the current limits are
of the Muslim faith?
Sir Ian Blair: I am going to ask
Peter but it is a significant proportion.
Mr Clarke: Well over 50%. I do
not have the exact figure.