Abu Qatada's 'freedom' blocked by judge

 

Abu Qatada's bid for freedom was blocked by a judge today over Britain's terror threat at the Olympics.

Allowing the radical preacher free on London's streets would be "exceptionally problematic" during heightened security at the Games, a Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) hearing ruled.

Qatada, who is accused of involvement in several bomb attacks, will remain in a British prison for at least another five months as he launches fresh action against the Government's bid to deport him.

Mr Justice Mitting cited "the very high level of demand in resources" highlighted by Home Office barrister Robin Tam QC.

"There will be a very high level of demand in those resources in order to protect the UK during this period," Mr Tam said.

"As a matter of logical inference, if Abu Qatada were to abscond, either resources would have to be diverted to finding him or finding him would have to be accorded a lower priority."

Qatada's lawyers said they would take his fight against deportation back to Europe if Siac rules against him at a tribunal in October.

Qatada was not present as the judge told a central London courtroom of his frustration that the case had already taken so long.

He said: "This case has gone on for an unconscionable amount of time and must be brought to a conclusion one way or another."

Edward Fitzgerald QC, representing Qatada, said the case would need a "significant" amount of time.

Arguing Qatada's right to be released, Mr Fitzgerald said "it would be quite wrong for him to remain in prison for another six months".

He said: "There will be obviously a right of appeal for both parties and the matter is one which will almost inevitably go all the way back to Europe."

Mr Tam said the proceedings should be "straightforward", adding: "This is not the time to be dragging things out until the last minute."

But Mr Fitzgerald said: "Our evidence will have to deal with the situation on the ground.

"It will be difficult to ascertain how those who are giving evidence do so."

The barrister questioned evidence taken in Jordan against Qatada before highlighting allegations that the country's previous leader had been "window dressing", while the secret services retained control of the country.

Mr Justice Mitting told lawyers that another hearing could take place on July 24 but said the full tribunal would not begin until October 10.

Around eight BNP supporters gathered outside the court to protest about Qatada, who was described by a judge as Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe and is being held in a high-security prison.

Repeated failed attempts by UK governments over the last 10 years to deport the radical cleric have cost nearly £1 million in legal fees, Government figures show.

No figures have been given for how much Qatada has received in legal aid and some estimates put the cost of keeping him in the UK, either in a high-security jail or closely monitored under strict conditions in the community, along with the legal costs of the fight to deport him, at more than £3 million.

Qatada, who is said to have wide and high-level support among extremists, was convicted in his absence in Jordan of involvement with terror attacks in 1998 and faces a retrial in his home country.

He also featured in hate sermons found on videos in the flat of one of the September 11 bombers.

Since 2001, when fears of the domestic terror threat rose in the aftermath of the attacks, he has challenged, and ultimately thwarted, every attempt by the Government to detain and deport him.

The judge added: "I'm satisfied that managing the risk posed by the appellant outside a Category A prison during that time would be exceptionally problematic.

"That time occupies almost all of the time between now and the hearing date and I am not prepared to take that risk and it would be wrong for me to do so."

A Home Office statement said: "Qatada is a dangerous man and we are pleased the court agreed with us that he should remain behind bars before he is deported.

"We intend to remove Qatada as quickly as possible. The assurances we have secured from the Jordanian government will allow us to do that."

PA

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