Excluded man branded a terrorist by Howard: Unprecedented statement may make Matthews a target

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IN AN unprecedented statement, the Home Office yesterday insisted that John Matthews, cleared in court on Tuesday of an attempted IRA bombing, was involved in terrorism.

It followed 24 hours of furious debate after Liverpool-born Mr Matthews, 22, was discharged by a magistrate but immediately rearrested pending an exclusion order. He was flown to Belfast yesterday after Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, issued the order banning him from Britain.

The Home Secretary's statement said he was satisfied that Mr Matthews had been concerned in the commission, perpetration or instigation of acts of terrorism. It said that among information he considered was material which would be inadmissible as evidence in court.

'Exclusion is not used as a response to the dropping of criminal charges. The Home Secretary's only concern is for the safety of the public from the very real threat of terrorism,' it said.

People deported from England to Northern Ireland have expressed concern that the action would make them targets for loyalist assassins. Mr Howard's statement will increase fears that Mr Matthews's name may find its way on to a loyalist 'hit-list'.

Mr Matthews, a graduate of Queens University, Belfast, said when he arrived in Londonderry, where his family lives, that he had been used as a scapegoat by police. 'I was innocent when I was arrested and innocent when charged . . . . All they wanted was an Irishman in jail so they could write off another crime. They were not interested in justice. They were just interested in getting a face to fit.'

Mr Matthews was accused of hijacking a mini-cab driver in north London and ordering him to drive a bomb to Downing Street on 24 April, the evening of the Bishopsgate bombing in the City of London. The vehicle was abandoned in Holborn, where it exploded. No one was hurt.

He was arrested at Heathrow airport three days later but always maintained his innocence. During several preliminary court hearings, the Crown Prosecution Service said it had scientific and identification evidence against him. But on Tuesday it offered no evidence.

Last night his solicitor, Gareth Peirce, said no decision had been made to appeal. She said: 'This was a profoundly unfair executive decision which is subject to no judicial control. If you wish to appeal, you have to meet an adviser to the Home Secretary who refuses to tell you the grounds on which you have been excluded.'

Mr Matthews was initially arrested in connection with the Bishopsgate bombing but was able to prove an alibi.