Two terrorist suspects are on the run despite being on control orders which are supposed to monitor their every move, the Home Office has admitted.
The embarrassing admission leaves a serious question mark over the main strategy used by the Government to keep track of people it deems a security threat either at home or abroad.
It means authorities have now lost contact with two of the 15 terrorist suspects they believed potentially dangerous enough to put on control orders severely restricting their freedom.
One man, a British national of Pakistani origin, fled a fortnight ago after climbing through the window of a mental hospital unit where he was being held.
There are few details of the second man, an Iraqi, although he is known to have been at large for several months. He absconded soon after successfully persuading a court to relax the conditions of his control order.
John Reid, the Home Secretary, is expected to agree tough new rules on the issuing of control orders in the wake of the latest fiasco to hit the Home Office.
Parallels were being drawn last night with the release of more than 1,000 foreign prisoners without deportation hearings, the crisis that cost Charles Clarke his post as Home Secretary in May.
David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "It is extraordinary and very hard to believe. The Government justified control orders on the basis of protecting the public from potentially dangerous terrorists. It is therefore hard to understand how these men were allowed to escape."
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said the escapes were "a huge blow to the Government".
The man who escaped from the mental health unit is alleged by the security services of planning to travel to Iraq to fight Western forces. After being placed on an order in March, he was instructed to report to police daily and surrender his passport.
He was moved to West Middlesex University Hospital at Isleworth, south-west London, after being sectioned under mental health laws.
The 25-year-old man, a British national who is understood to have appeared at the Old Bailey this year, was supposed to be under constant observation.
His brother claimed he became ill after he was allegedly tortured in Pakistan, where he was arrested last year.
He was returned to Britain in January and two months later became one of six UK nationals placed on a control order.
His family is appealing for him to return home to clear his name.
A man only identified as his brother told the BBC: "It's in his best interests to come back. His case is winnable. Being on the run will make things worse for him."
The fact his brother had disappeared only became public after he spoke to the BBC. When the Home Office was contacted, it confirmed the disappearance and shortly afterwards was forced to admit a second terrorist suspect had also vanished.
Control orders, which can amount to virtual house arrest, were introduced 18 months ago after the policy of indefinite detention without trial was ruled illegal. The policy only reached the statute book in March after a protracted parliamentary battle.
An array of conditions can be imposed, including restrictions on movement, meetings, going out at night and internet and telephone use. Suspects can also be put on electronic tags. The orders have proved controversial, not least because of the use of secret intelligence such as phone tap evidence for placing suspects on control orders.
Tony McNulty, the Policing Minister, defended the decision not to disclose the escapes until yesterday. "People who needed to know in the interests of public safety did know," he told BBC2's Newsnight.
What is a control order?
* Control orders have been imposed on 15 suspects since they were introduced last year to cater for people believed to be a terrorist threat, but who could not be prosecuted through the normal system.
* Orders can include stringent curfews, imposed using electronic tags, monitoring of suspects' movements and surveillance of all internet use and telephone calls.
* They are issued by the Home Secretary but must be confirmed by a judge within a week.
* Six of the orders were thought to have imposed 14-hour daily curfews on suspects previously held under "virtual house arrest".Reuse content