Reaction: Reid 'put trial of terror suspects in jeopardy'

Premature: Home Secretary claimed that police had caught 'the main players'
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The Independent Online

John Reid was at the centre of a gathering political storm last night as he was accused of jeopardising the trial of terrorist suspects arrested during last week's raids.

The Home Secretary was accused of prejudicing a future trial after he had claimed that the police had caught the "main players" in a plot to blow up airliners leaving British airports.

The Attorney General has privately told ministers and the police that they must be careful not to prejudice a future trial by making sweeping public statements. Lord Goldsmith fears defence lawyers for the suspects could contend that their clients will not get a fair hearing in court if it is implied that they are guilty before any trial.

In Whitehall there were fears that the Home Secretary's claim that "the main players" had been caught could also mean that terror suspects still at large could escape with a light sentence.

Yesterday the Attorney General and John Reid issued a joint statement calling for an end to speculation that could prejudice trials.

The row follows anger among Labour MPs that John Reid has sought to use the terror crisis to further his own career. Allies of John Prescott are furious that friends of Mr Reid have implied that the Deputy Prime Minister had been sidelined.

They also have raised questions about a speech Mr Reid made on the day before the terror raids about the threat from al-Qa'ida. Downing Street's grid, which sets out key ministerial speeches, shows that originally the speech was scheduled to have been about "borders", or immigration. But on 4 August, six days before the arrests, the entry was changed to a speech about protecting the public.

There were also questions in the US about a briefing that Dick Cheney gave on Wednesday in which he warned of a threat from "al-Qa'ida types" . Democrats asked questions about whether he was briefed on the terror plot in advance. The White House admitted the Vice President knew of the plot but not that raids were about to take place.

John Reid is in favour of a fresh push to change the law so terrorist suspects could be held for up to 90 days without charge. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown also support trying to increase the 28-day limit, despite opposition from Labour MPs, Tories and Liberal Democrats. Last year MPs threw out the plans after 49 Labour MPs rebelled. But government sources say that the terror raids may create a new climate for putting 90-day detention back on the political agenda.

Ministers move to stop backlash

Ministers are working closely with senior police officers to prevent a violent backlash in areas with large Muslim populations. The police's National Community Tension Team has been mobilised to prevent riots in towns such as Bradford and Oldham and a backlash from the far right.

Tomorrow Ruth Kelly, the Cabinet minister responsible for community cohesion, will hold meetings with Muslim leaders. The Government wants Muslims to root out extremists, while ensuring they are not victimised.