Moazzam Begg: Former Guantanamo Bay detainee cleared of terror charges

Moazzam Begg was formally acquitted of all charges when he appeared before the Old Bailey via video link from high security Belmarsh prison

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The Independent Online

Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg has walked free from prison today after seven terror charges against him were dropped by prosecutors.

The 45-year-old had been in custody for seven months awaiting trial on charges connected to the civil war in Syria, including an allegation he attended a terrorism training camp there.

Mr Begg, of Birmingham, was formally acquitted of all charges when he appeared today before the Old Bailey via video link from high security Belmarsh prison.

As he walked free from the prison today, Mr Begg was asked how he felt about being released. He told waiting reporters: "I wanted my day in court but I was very happy."

His trial had been due to start on Monday after he pleaded not guilty to all the charges at an earlier hearing.

But the prosecution dramatically dropped the case at a pre-trial review today.

Moazzam Begg outside high security Belmarsh prison, south London, as he walked free from jail after a string of terrorist charges were dramatically dropped (PA)

Asked what he planned to do, Mr Begg said: "I need to reconnect with my family again. I need to understand what it's like to be a free man and I think that it's important to point out some of the Government's failures in its foreign policy and its internal policy - its clear demonising of the Muslim community.

"And not once but twice in my case this Government has been involved either in directly detaining me or indirectly detaining me."

Earlier today, Mr Begg, who suffers from post-traumatic stress, appeared before the Old Bailey via vide0-link as Mr Justice Wilkie directed that he be formally found not guilty.

During the hearing, Prosecutor Christopher Hehir said: "The prosecution in every criminal case of every type have a duty to keep under review the sufficiency of the evidence.

"When Mr Begg was charged with a number of offences earlier this year the Crown Prosecution Service were satisfied there was sufficient evidence to afford prosecution.

"In the months that have followed the prosecution have kept under review the sufficiency of the evidence in this case.

"The prosecution have recently become aware of relevant material and in light of which, after careful and anxious consideration, have reached the conclusion that there is no longer a realistic prospect of conviction in this case. The prosecution therefore offer no evidence."

The judge responded: "On the indication of the Crown offering no evidence verdicts of not guilty should be entered."

Mr Begg told reporters that on both occasions he had been detained it was "unlawful".

He went on: "I think it shows that we have a knee-jerk reaction. It shows that little has changed since the beginning of the early days of the war on terror and there is not an appetite, there isn't a desire, to try to really understand what's taking place and the more this continues the more it's going to alienate people.

Moazzam Begg has had seven terror charges against him dropped at the Old Bailey (PA)

"I have to thank my lawyers, I have to thank my community, I have to thank my family and everybody who's been around me. They have been extremely supportive and I'm very pleased about that."

Mr Begg was charged with seven counts. The first related to attending a terrorism training camp in Syria between October 9, 2012 and April 9, 2013.

The next five charges were for the possession of "an article" for a purpose connected to terrorism between December 31, 2012 and February 26, 2014.

They were listed as being electronic documents with the titles Camp 1, Camp 2, Tactical Training Schedule, Camp Rules, and Fitness Training Schedule (training exercises).

Finally, Mr Begg was charged with funding terrorism by making available a Honda generator between July 14 and July 26, 2013.

Mr Begg, who has been in custody since March, was refused bail at a hearing in May, despite fears for his mental health.

The court heard that Mr Begg was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder from his time in Guantanamo Bay.

His lawyer Ben Emmerson QC said some of his symptoms had re-emerged since he had been in custody.

"Theoretically the longer he is in custody the worse there are likely to become," Mr Emmerson said.

Following the hearing, West Midlands Police assistant chief constable Marcus Beale said: "Terrorism investigations are often long and complex. This case was no exception.

"New material has recently been disclosed to police and CPS, which has a significant impact on key pieces of evidence that underpinned the prosecution's case. Our criminal justice system - quite rightly - demands a very high standard of proof.

"I understand this is going to raise many questions. However, explaining what this newly revealed information is would mean discussing other aspects of the case which would be unfair and inappropriate as they are no longer going to be tested in court.

"From the beginning this case has challenged the relationship between West Midlands Police and some of the communities we serve.

"I would like to reassure them and Mr Begg that at every stage of this investigation my officers acted in the best interests of the public and of justice.

"This case has been investigated in a diligent and professional manner. Today's events demonstrate that the police and CPS continually assess the evidence in terrorism prosecutions and will alter course if that is the right and proper thing to do."

Additional reporting by Press Association