Charlie Hebdo buyers' details should not have been sought by police, says senior counter-terrorism officer

Sir Peter Fahy's comments come after a police force was made to apologise for asking a newsagent for the details of Charlie Hebdo buyers

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The Independent Online

Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism police officer has said that police should not have sought the names of law-abiding Charlie Hebdo readers.

Earlier this week, Wiltshire Police was forced to apologise after one of its officers ordered a newsagent to disclose the names of four customers, who had bought the first post-attack copy of the French satirical, following a massacre at its Paris headquarters.

Sir Peter Fahy, chief constable of Greater Manchester Police and the national head for preventing extremism, said he was urgently clarifying guidance to all UK forces.

He also admitted that the actions of the Wiltshire Police officer appeared “over-zealous and unnecessary”, and said such actions would only be supported if there was “clear evidence” a crime had been committed.

In a letter to the Guardian, Sir Peter explained officers had visited newsagents to provide reassurance due to a rise in anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia in the wake of the Paris attacks, and said that forces were not told to collect the names of Charlie Hebdo readers from newsagents.

On Monday, Wiltshire police confirmed that it had deleted the names of the buyers from its system, which were collected after officers toured shop warnings newsagents to be vigilant during an “assessment of community tensions” at a newsagent in Corsham.

Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police Sir Peter Fahy has said new guidelines are being issued to police forces (Getty Images)

One customer, a 77-year-old retired ward sister, described the officer to The Independent earlier this week as a “jobsworth”, and said that she found the whole situation so unlikely that she thought it was a hoax.

“At the time I was a bit miffed,” Anne Keat said, adding: “I thought that’s a bit rich, two days after I got my copy, haven’t they got better things to do?”

Amid the controversy, a senior lawyer has said that the murders of staff at the French magazine have attracted support for an extension of surveillance powers, but warned that one of the objectives of extremists is to curtail civil liberties.

Alistair MacDonald QC, chairman of the Bar Council - which represents barristers - wrote in the latest issue of Counsel magazine that a rigorous framework under which surveillance can be authorised and conducted is needed “more than ever.”

Additional reporting by PA