With the release of documents from the professional standards unit of West Midlands police (WMP) it appears that detectives in the force haven’t learnt anything from the bad old days of the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad.
The story starts with the arrest on suspicion of being involved in the ‘commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism’ on 14th May 2008 of Rizwaan Sabir, a PhD student at the University of Nottingham and his friend Hicham Yezza, a staff member at the university. They were arrested after a copy of the ‘al-Qaida Training Manual’ was seen on the latter’s computer by a colleague. It was there becase he was helping Sabir draft his PhD proposal on the ‘evolution of global militant Islam’.
The document had been downloaded by Sabir from the US Deprtment of Justice website and is, so the Guardian reports, also available from major bookstores as well as the university library. Hardly a secret document then so it seems that this was a case of people putting two and two together and getting five.
As part of the obligatory investigation WMP interviewed Dr. Rod Thornton, then a lecturer in the department of Politics and International Relations at the university.
Now, however, the results of the internal West Midlands police professional standards investigation into the affair following complaints by Thornton over the police’s handing of the case is complete. It found that officers effectively invented what Thornton, the university’s sole terrorism expert, told them about the al-Qaida training manual in a police interview.
During the interview Thornton said that he merely told police that Sabir was studying al-Qaida, but was never asked to discuss the manual. Thornton says that officers invented claims that he had concerns over the manual which he says are an apparent attempt to justify the arrest and police anti-terror operation, codenamed Minerva.
The findings of the force’s standard’s inquiry upheld Thornton’s claim that officers “made up what he said about the al-Qaida manual.”
It also states that the actual minutes of the Gold Group meeting of the detectives assigned to the case “incorrectly recorded” their conversation with Thornton.
Internal notes from the Gold Group meeting, dated May 17 2008, actually reveal police quoting Thornton as believing the manual was a “tactical document” and could not be considered relevant to Sabir’s academic research into terrorism.
Thornton has now referred the police treatment of him to the IPCC. The standards board, however, says that no officers will be investigated for misconduct.
Now call me odd but if officers have been found to have been making stuff up, is that not an open and shut case of misconduct. Or is it that the individuals involved have now left the force so there is is no point in disciplining them?
WMP released the pair after a week without charge but left incorrect information on Sabir’s file which asserted that he had been convicted of a terrorist offence.
The whole business cost WMP £20,000 in compensation and a personal apology from the Chief Constable who ‘conceded that “there was “no evidence to justify any criminal charge” against Mr Sabir” and agreed to “delete the inaccurate information from the intelligence files; and acknowledged that her officers? actions were unlawful and “apologise[d] for any embarrassment, frustration and distress” in respect of a stop and search on 4 February 2010 that was based solely on the fact of his wrongful arrest’.
Whilst WMP were obliged to investigate, to me this saga hightlights the following:
- the idea of possession is in some way equates to intent is, as I’ve said before, stupid
- by encouraging people reporting on others we find ourselves living in a country where innocent motives are discounted in favour of criminal ones and we are guilty until proven innocent
- there is apparently such a need to find ‘terrorists’ in order to justify the state-driven paranoia that some police officers would rather lie instead of admitting that a mistake has been made
Is it any wonder I despair?