May mocked over attempt to defuse Abu Qatada fury

Theresa May was mocked today as she stoutly defended the Home Office after the radical preacher Abu Qatada succeeded in halting his own deportation with an 11th hour appeal to Strasbourg.

The Home Secretary insisted that the Jordanian terror suspect’s lawyers had misread the law and that his appeal on Tuesday to the European Court of Human Rights would be ruled out of time, as the deadline for appeals had expired at midnight on Monday. But Ms May faced a barrage of criticism from Labour benches and anger from Tory benches that the Government had again been humiliated in its attempts to rid the country of the Islamist terror suspect.

“On Tuesday night, while Abu Qatada was appealing to the European Court judges, the Home Secretary was partying with the X Factor judges,” accused Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary. The gibe was a reference to photographs taken of Mrs May at a function in the Victoria and Albert Museum which was attended by the X Factor judge Tulisa Contostavlos.

Dennis Skinner, the veteran Labour backbencher, wanted to know: “Does the Home Secretary know what day of the week it is?” And Pat McFadden, Labour MP for Wolverhampton East, asked whether she was capable of “organising a convivial social gathering in the nearest brewery”.

Sir Peter Tapsell, the venerable Tory MP who is Father of the House, was one of several Tory MPs to urge Ms May to heed the wishes of the British people and withdraw the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights altogether. Ms May dodged the question, agreeing with Sir Peter that reform of the notoriously slow and unwieldy court was much needed and adding: “And that is exactly what we are doing today.”

Tory MP for Broxbourne Charles Walker said: “You must not delay in getting this scumbag and his murderous mates on a plane out of this country. And in so doing would you send a metaphorical two fingers to the ECHR?” Ms May was forced to make an emergency statement to Parliament at 11.30am after a morning in which fellow ministers appeared to accept that the affair had turned into a farce. Ken Clarke, the Justice Secretary, did not deny that it had become a “cock up” and offered no more ringing support for the Home Secretary than that she “could well be” proved right.

Adding to Ms May’s woes, it emerged this morning that the Home Office had twice been alerted that there was a difference of opinion between itself and the European Court of Human Rights over the final deadline for appeals. Ms May stuck closely in her speech to the written statement to Parliament that she had issued earlier today, and confirmed that Abu Qatada’s deportation was now once more on hold. Her admission opens the intensely embarrassing possibility that the preacher may yet again be released on bail. He has been held in Belmarsh top security prison in East London since he was rearrested on Tuesday with a view to being deported. “Abu Qatada remains in detention, and the Government will resist vigorously any application he might make to be released on bail,” she told the Commons.

The Home Office had twice been warned that there was a disagreement over the legal deadline before Ms May made her confident speech to MPs on Tuesday afternoon claiming that the preacher’s deportation was under way. Daniel Shaw, a BBC correspondent, revealed that he had telephoned the Home Office on Monday afternoon to ask why it was insisting that the deadline for an ECHR appeal was Monday, when the ECHR itself was saying it was Tuesday.

And at 2pm on Tuesday afternoon, 90 minutes before Ms May spoke to Parliament, Abu Qatada’s barrister, Edward Fitzgerald, QC, told a bail hearing attended by very senior Home Office lawyers that it was too early for his client’s deportation proceedings to go ahead as there was still time for an appeal. He too referred to the difference of opinion between the Home Office and the ECHR. Home Office officials are refusing to release any papers showing who they spoke to at the Court, or what they said, saying it is ‘not incumbent on them’. Mrs May also ducked repeated questions from opposition MPs over whether she was told there was potential for confusion over the date.

Today Ms May faced criticism from several of the lawyer MPs in the Commons that the Home Office had failed to study legal precedent over appeal deadlines. Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, revealed that he was summoning Ms May to appear before the committee next Tuesday and that she would be questioned on precisely that issue. ‘What worries me is that a North London law firm [the lawyers for Abu Qatada] managed to outwit the very expensive silks of the Home Office,” said Mr Vaz. “If she looks at two previous cases before the European Court [those of Otto v Germany and Praha v Czech Republic], she will see that the time limit actually begins the next day. Could she look at those two cases, and ensure that proper advice was taken by the Home Office?” Ms May retorted that the cases of Otto and Praha involved the European Court itself, and not the Grand Chamber which is its appeal body.

A spokesman for the Strasbourg-based court said the human rights judges did not have any discretion to hear appeals made after the three-month deadline. The panel of judges will now decide whether or not Qatada’s appeal was made in time, and if it was not it will be dismissed, the spokesman said.

The row comes as Mr Clarke hosts talks in Brighton with justice ministers from the other 46 member nations of the Council of Europe over improving the ECHR’s efficiency, reducing its backlog of some 150,000 cases, drastically trimming the number of cases it hears, and increasing the role of individual nation states in protecting human rights. Asked about the Abu Qatada case, Mr Clarke said he was “sure the Home Office lawyers will sort it out… If I was the Home Secretary, I would probably be confident it was right,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. “I know what the Home Secretary has said. It seems to me quite sound and she could well be proved right.”

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Crime figures: robberies increase as overall crime falls

BBC

A policeman in high visibility jacket
The police say crime has fallen every year since 2004.

Street robberies and other crimes against the person increased by 8% in the last year in England and Wales, new police figures reveal.

But overall, recorded crime has fallen by 3% since 2010, and there was a 7% reduction in crime against vehicles.

Separate figures from the annual Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) show no “significant change” in crime levels.

And violent crime continues to fall according to police figures.

The Crime Survey has been published by the Office for National Statistics for the first time, after taking the job over from the Home Office. It was previously known as the British Crime Survey.

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The results are a credit to those officers and staff who have faced the challenge of major efficiencies while continuing to tackle crime”

Deputy chief constable Douglas PaxtonAssociation of Chief Police Officers

Total recorded crime fell from just over 4,159,000 to around 4,043,000, the CSEW figures estimate.

They suggest vandalism has reduced by 14%, while the police recorded 9% fewer criminal damage offences.

Violent attacks against the person fell by 7%, with similar falls in both violence, with and without injury.

Deputy Chief Constable Douglas Paxton, of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said he was particularly pleased with the reduction in criminal damage offences.

But he said: “There has been increases in opportunistic thefts and robbery offences and police forces are continuing their efforts to work with partners and the public to prevent these offences.”

Policing minister Nick Herbert said, despite overall crime remaining stable, levels of crime are still too high.

“Police forces and local agencies need to focus on the areas of concern, and from November this year police and crime commissioners will be elected with a mission to drive down crime.

“We will do all we can to cut bureaucracy and give officers the freedom they need to do the job.”

Mr Paxton said police officers will continue to work hard to improve the figures.

“The results are a credit to those officers and staff who have faced the challenge of major efficiencies while continuing to tackle crime in our communities.”

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Student Demo: No Verdict Reached

Student Demo: No Verdict ReachedJury fails to reach verdict in violent disorder case where Alfie Meadows and four others were accused of clashing with police at protest in London in December 2010.

Courtesy of – Guardian

Jurors failed to reach a verdict on Wednesday April 18 on whether a student who suffered a brain injury at a university fees demonstration was guilty of violent disorder.

Alfie Meadows (21) was accused along with four others, in connection with the demonstration in December 2010 when a minority of participants in a 10,000-strong protest clashed with police in Whitehall, central London.

After more than two days of deliberations, a jury at Kingston crown court in London failed to agree and Meadows, of Brixton, south London, was told he may face a retrial.

“You are here as individuals to say this is what I think is reasonable in the circumstances.”

Prosecutor James Lofthouse told the court the crown would consider the next step: “It is very likely we will seek a retrial but we want to consider our position.”

Earlier, Judge Paul Dodgson told the jury he would accept a majority verdict, but the panel of seven men and five women were unable to agree.

Judge Dodgson said: “Individual jurors can only speak for themselves on what they believe to be reasonable. You are here as individuals to say ‘this is what I think is reasonable in the circumstances’.

If the consequence of that is a disagreement then so be it. That is how the jury system sometimes ends up, that 12 jurors sometimes reluctantly end up saying we can’t agree.”

Mr Meadows was a second-year student at Middlesex University at the time of the demonstration and said he was hit with a police truncheon as he attempted to leave the area where protesters were being kettled.

He underwent emergency surgery for his injuries and the Independent Police Complaints Commission mounted an inquiry that was subsequently suspended because of the criminal proceedings.

Mr Meadows’s co-defendants Colin Goff (24), Vishnu Wood (23), and Jack Locke (18) were cleared of violent disorder. Locke was found guilty of one charge of arson with a majority verdict of 10 to two. He will be sentenced on May 18.

Zac King (21) may also face a retrial after jurors failed to agree a verdict in his case. During the trial jurors were told the demonstration was one of four concerned with the proposed increase in university tuition fees at the end of 2010.

Mr Lofthouse said that it was evident from repeated film clips taken from various angles on the day that Meadows was prominent in the repeated thrusting of barriers towards the police line on Whitehall.

But Michael Mansfield QC, who defended Mr Meadows criticised police tactics of kettling saying they had been “totally counter-productive”.

“They had to wait hour after hour. If you put a ring around a number of people, whatever their intention, they’re going to get anxious … They feel trapped, imprisoned – anxiety, irritation, frustration, anger, hostility. Do you see that escalation?”

Mr Mansfield added that some of the reports recalling the level of violence used against police were a “gross exaggeration of what was going on.”

Mr Meadows’s supporters, who staged a demonstration outside the court, claimed the trial was an attempt to silence legitimate protest by pursuing the victim of an assault rather than investigating.

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Officer Defiant As Terrorists Target Parents

A PSNI officer whose family have been targeted twice by terrorists in as many years has sent a clear message that intimidation will not deflect him from his chosen career.

Colleagues have said that the man – who has not been named – remained defiant after a grenade-based IED was left under his parents’ car in Londonderry.

“he family are absolutely clear that this will not intimidate them out of the estate.”

The incident comes in the wake of a pipe bomb attack against the family in 2009, and the Force has said it is treating the latest attack as attempted murder.

Speaking after the incident, PSNI Supt Chris Yates confirmed the device, which was confirmed as viable by British Army ammunition technical officers, was discovered under the vehicle in Shantallow on the evening of April 15.

He told reporters: “This was an attempt to intimidate the family of a police officer who has no intention of giving up his chosen career, and the family are absolutely clear that this will not intimidate them out of the estate.

“It beggars belief that these dissident criminals could think of targeting two pensioners who have lived in the city for 40 years and are well-respected.

“We are treating this as attempted murder, as a terrorist incident. There are clear similarities to the device used in 2009 and that attack was claimed by dissident republicans – we will be linking those investigations.”

Supt Yates said the Army had confirmed that the device “was the same as a military grenade”. He added: “It’s a cowardly attack, reckless in the extreme. That device when it exploded could have caught anyone in the blast and seriously injured them.

“We utterly condemn such an attack and there has been overwhelming condemnation from all sides of the community. It is breathtaking recklessness and no right-thinking person would carry out such an attack.”

As previously reported on PoliceOracle.com, the Police Federation for Northern Ireland has voiced concern about the increase in terrorist attacks in the province.

Chairman Terry Spence said he remained “deeply concerned” that several officers had been forced from their homes and their families had been threatened.

He added: “Last year there were 140 attacks and we have already seen members of the police and the army targeted by the terrorists since the beginning of January.”

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Chiefs Warned On Roads Policing Cuts

Chief constables must be cautious about seeing roads policing as an easy target for cuts if a rise in casualties is to be averted, according to the Police Federation.

Steve White, Secretary of the staff association’s Roads Policing Group, said he feared that an expensive resource could be an attractive option for reductions.

“I have a lot of sympathy with chief officers who find themselves in this position but it simply is not the case that anyone can take on such a specialist role.”

Mr White told PoliceOracle.com: “These are specialist officers who are highly trained and driving around with a lot of expensive equipment – it is going to be easy for chief constables to claim that all officers can do roads policing and effect cuts.

“I have a lot of sympathy with chief officers who find themselves in this position but it simply is not the case that anyone can take on such a specialist role.”

Mr White was speaking after a story in the Daily Mirror found that there are apparently now more initiatives being run that use volunteers to deter speeding.

Following a FOI request to which 18 forces responded, the paper found that 157 speed detection devices had been issued to volunteers in the past three years.

The report also suggested that offenders given warnings had risen dramatically, with 50,000 letters sent out last year compared to 10,000 in 2009.

While Mr White accepted that there was a place for communities to localised problems, he said it was crucial that officers are able to deal with offences in an appropriate way and that they are able to use their discretion.

He said: “While cuts are seen as the solution to the problems now, when the consequences become apparent in a couple of years we could see the policy reversed.”

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