Fertiliser bomb plotters lose appeal

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The Independent Online

Five men jailed for life for plotting a series of bomb attacks to rival the 9/11 New York atrocities lost challenges against their convictions today.





Omar Khyam, Waheed Mahmood and Jawad Akbar, from Crawley, West Sussex, Anthony Garcia, of Barkingside, east London, and Salahuddin Amin, of Luton, Bedfordshire, were all found guilty of conspiracy to cause explosions likely to endanger life after a lengthy trial at the Old Bailey last year.



At the Court of Appeal in London today, three judges rejected their bids to overturn their convictions.



The jury was told by the prosecution that the five plotted to bomb public places such as the Ministry of Sound nightclub in London and the giant Bluewater shopping centre in Kent using chemical fertiliser bombs.





Khyam, Mahmood and Garcia were told by the trial judge that they would have to serve a minimum of 20 years in jail.

Akbar and Amin were told they would have to serve at least 17-and-a-half years.



Today Sir Igor Judge, Mr Justice Bean and Mrs Justice Dobbs reduced Garcia's minimum term to 17-and-a-half years.

They also cut the minimum term in Amin's case to 16 years and nine months.



During their recent appeals against conviction, criticisms were raised over the trial judge's handling of their case.

Patrick O'Connor QC, representing Amin, giving an overview of the case, said criticisms related to rulings made by Judge Sir Michael Astill and his "approach to various issues".



Khyam and Garcia were also convicted of having 600kg (1,300lb) of ammonium nitrate fertiliser. Khyam was further found guilty of having aluminium powder for the explosives.



The gang was arrested after the fertiliser was found stored in a warehouse in Hanwell, west London, in early 2004.





Sir Igor, the newly-appointed Lord Chief Justice, said: "The many and varied criticisms of the summing-up are unfounded."



He referred to the "care with which the judge approached the unenviable task of summarising the evidence and the rival contentions for the prosecution and all seven defendants in the course of this mammoth trial".



Sir Igor added: "The single error of omission for which the summing-up can fairly be criticised was immaterial to the safety of the convictions, and examined in the overall context of the task which he faced, it was trivial."



He said: "By the time the jury came to reflect on their verdicts, they had the advantage of accurate directions of law and a masterly precis of the critical evidence called and the opposing contentions of both sides."





Sir Igor said it had been suggested that the minimum sentence to be served in each case was "excessive".



The judge said that "with two relatively small exceptions" - the terms imposed on Amin and Garcia - "we disagree".



During the hearing of the appeal applications Sir Igor had expressed concern at the length of the trial, when he commented: "The jury system simply cannot survive if we have trials that last 14 months. It is not fair to jurors.".



In today's ruling, he said it had been pointed out that "this case is no longer typical of terrorist trials".



He said: "Much closer judicial case management and the exercise of the powers now available under the Criminal Procedure Rules have produced a significant reduction in the number of pre-trial hearings, as well as the length of most terrorist cases."



Sir Igor said: "Adherence to, and if necessary, judicial enforcement of the rules is and remains a high priority, and judges and practitioners who fulfil their own responsibilities within the trial process on the basis that time is a limited resource can anticipate wholehearted support in this court if and when they are criticised for doing so.



"None of these measures interfere with the due administration of justice. Rather they enhance it."