Police warned not to misuse anti-terror laws to round up innocent people

Police must avoid the "temptation" to abuse anti-terrorism laws by using them as a net to round up innocent people – particularly in the run-up to next year's Olympics, the Government's terrorism watchdog has warned.

David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, cautioned police while ruling yesterday that six men arrested during the papal visit last year were never involved in any plot to kill the Pope.

The half-dozen Westminster street cleaners, who were all Muslims of North African origin, were seized at gunpoint on the basis of a "barely credible" tip-off, Mr Anderson found.

The watchdog warned that there will be "future temptations" to use the anti-terrorism powers, acquired under the Terrorism Act 2000, "in relation to individuals as to whom the necessary reasonable suspicions do not exist".

Mr Anderson expressed particular concern "in the context of international high-profile events such as the London Olympics". "Constant vigilance is required to ensure that the legal boundaries of those powers are respected, as they were in this case," Mr Anderson concluded. Scotland Yard counter-terrorism officers launched "Operation Grid" after a tip-off that the six men, who worked for Veolia Environmental Services, had been seen looking at a picture of the Popemobile in a newspaper.

The source said the men had expressed a desire to kill the Pope as an act of revenge for the recent burning of a Qu'ran and that "there were virgins waiting for them" if the attack succeeded.

The men, aged 26 to 44, who deny any such conversation took place, were arrested at gunpoint and questioned at the high-security Paddington Green police station on the second day of the papal visit. Police searched eight homes in north and east London and two business premises in central London, including a street cleaning depot, as part of the investigation.

Searches of the premises did not uncover any weapons or suspicious materials, Scotland Yard said. They were released without charge, having been held for between 33 and 42 hours. All street cleaners were removed from the Pope's London route as a precaution, the report found.

The watchdog found that police had reason to be suspicious – they had used their powers "lawfully and appropriately" in this instance, he said, because of the fact that 10 street cleaners' uniforms were missing. But there were other reasons for Scotland Yard to react sceptically to the initial tip-off.

It did not conform to any established pattern of intelligence, it was "barely credible" that those involved in such a plot would talk about it in public, and the conversation was only on a general level.

Their arrest was prompted by a canteen joke that had been misunderstood, it later emerged.

"There is no reason to believe, with the benefit of hindsight, that any of the arrested men was involved in a plot to kill the Pope, or indeed that any such plot existed," Mr Anderson found.

Mr Anderson said he was "in no doubt that to be subjected to an armed arrest at their place of work was a shocking and disorientating experience" for the suspects. "Whilst none of the men complained of any mistreatment during periods of detention, this too must have been a bewildering and unpleasant experience for them," he said.

The watchdog called for police forces to review their procedures for enabling suspects to let someone know about their arrest. Even when given the chance to call someone, at least two of the suspects were unable to do so because the numbers were stored on their mobile phones which had been seized and they could not remember them.

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, welcomed Mr Anderson's report and promised to publish a full Government response to his recommendations.

She said she was "pleased that he finds that the police exercised the powers afforded them under the Terrorism Act 2000 lawfully and appropriately in seeking to prevent what they had reasonably suspected was a potential terrorist plot".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
news
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Sport
Brendan Rodgers looks on from the touchline
SPORT
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick