Qatada ruling not acceptable, says Theresa May


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The Independent Online

It is simply not acceptable that Britain cannot deport a radical Muslim cleric who "poses a serious risk to our national security", the Home Secretary said today.

Theresa May said she disagreed with a senior immigration judge's decision to bail Abu Qatada  yesterday, which means he will be free and walking his child to school within a week.

"The right place for a terrorist is a prison cell; the right place for a foreign terrorist is a foreign prison cell far away from Britain," Mrs May said.

Mrs May said British courts had found Qatada  "poses a serious risk to our national security", has a "long-standing association with al Qaida" and provides "religious justification for acts of violence and terror".

She added that his bail conditions, which include a 22-hour curfew and strict conditions over whom he can meet, were among "the most stringent imposed for anybody facing deportation from the UK".

"If any of these conditions are breached, he will be re-arrested and we will seek his immediate re-detention," Mrs May said.

"But however strict the bail conditions, I continue to believe that Qatada should remain behind bars.

"It simply isn't acceptable that, after guarantees from the Jordanians about his treatment, after British courts have found he is dangerous, after his removal has been approved by the highest courts in our land, we still cannot deport dangerous foreign nationals."

Answering an urgent question in the Commons, Mrs May said she wanted to be in a position "where we can deport Abu Qatada so he's not in this country when the Olympics come".

She went on: "We will do everything we can within the existing legal regime to deport Qatada and we're doing everything we can to reform that regime to avoid these cases in future."

Qatada has been held for six-and-a-half years, more than any other detainee in modern immigration history, while fighting deportation to Jordan.

But he will be released from the maximum security prison where he is being held after applying for bail when human rights judges in Europe ruled he could not be deported without assurances from Jordan that evidence gained through torture would not be used against him.

Mrs May said the Government was continuing to consider the case for a British Bill of Rights and the Prime Minister was leading the case for reform of the Strasbourg-based human rights court.

Mrs May added that Qatada does not have immigration status and is therefore not entitled to claim benefits.

Labour's criticism of Mrs May focused on the Government's decision to replace control orders for terror suspects with Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (Tpims).

Former justice secretary Jack Straw said: "On any analysis, the powers that she has put on the statute book are much weaker than the powers of control orders which were there and were working satisfactorily in the past."

Earlier, Attorney General Dominic Grieve said the Government was bound by the rule of law "as much as anybody else".

Mr Justice Mitting, president of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) which considered the case, said that while Qatada's detention to date had been justified, "the time will arrive quite soon when continuing detention or deprivation of liberty" would have to stop.

Ruling that Qatada should be "bailed on highly prescriptive terms", he gave the Home Secretary three months to show British diplomats were making progress in negotiations with Jordan or risk seeing Qatada's bail conditions removed.

Under the terms of his bail, Qatada must stay at a home address, which will be checked by MI5 over the next few days before he can be released from the high security Long Lartin jail in Worcestershire within a week.

He will be on a 22-hour curfew, allowed to leave for only two one-hour periods each day, and must stay within a prescribed area at all times.

But he will be allowed to walk one of his five children to school, Mr Justice Mitting said.

All visitors to his home, apart from his wife and children, must be approved beforehand, as must all pre-arranged meetings outside his home, and he will have no access to the internet or electronic communications devices.

The conditions are some of the toughest imposed since the September 11 terror attacks.

Qatada has been held for six-and-a-half years while fighting deportation "against a background of almost nine years' detention without charges on the grounds of national security", the equivalent to a 17-year jail sentence, the commission was told.

Qatada, also known as Omar Othman, 51, was convicted in his absence in Jordan of involvement with terror attacks in 1998 and has 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.

Last month, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that sending Qatada back to face terror charges without assurances that evidence gained through torture would not be used against him would be a "flagrant denial of justice".

The ruling was the first time that the Strasbourg-based court has found an extradition would be in violation of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to a fair trial, which is enshrined in UK law under the Human Rights Act.

Qatada's solicitor Gareth Peirce dismissed the furore surrounding his release as a "small storm raging in today's news".

"He has been on bail before and somehow there wasn't a kerfuffle then. He has been under a control order before and there wasn't a kerfuffle then," she told BBC Radio 4's PM programme.

"I think one has to get a grip on reality here."

She said that if Qatada had been deported to Jordan he would have faced trial solely on the basis of evidence obtained from co-defendants under torture.

"That is something we say - our judges in this country say repeatedly - we will not stomach," she said.

"So it isn't a European opinion superimposed on what the courts of this country would reject. It is the same message."