Head juror campaigns for terror law change

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The Independent Online

The foreman of the jury that cleared four men of plotting to release ricin on Britain's streets called last night for a complete overhaul of counter-terror legislation.

As ministers prepare to set out plans today to replace control orders, Laurence Archer warned that many anti-terror laws were a "knee jerk reaction to 9/11" and a "sledgehammer to crack a nut".

Mr Archer had no interest in politics before the seven-month trial which ended with four Algerian men being cleared of plotting to make deadly poisons and explosives. But the experience – particularly the claim that much of the evidence against them was obtained through torture – has turned him into a campaigner for scaling back anti-terror legislation. Three of the men still face deportation.

The 56-year-old telephone engineer from west London told The Independent: "All the arrests took place post-9/11. There was hysteria at the time. There were also issues about using evidence from the trial to get the UK involved in the Iraq war. I'm now very wary about so-called terrorism arrests. I worry about how the intelligence behind these arrests was obtained."

Mr Archer, whose book on the "ricin plot" is launched tomorrow, said: "I'd have thought there was enough legislation in place to deal with the terrorism threat. There needs to be a better approach."

Mr Archer visited two suspects under control order-style restrictions amounting to virtual house arrest and was horrified to discover their lives were being "destroyed".

He suggested control orders should be replaced by intensive surveillance and tagging.

New counter-terror legislation will be set out in the Commons by Theresa May, the Home Secretary, after months of wrangling within the Coalition. A Lib Dem source said: "We're swinging the pendulum back so the balance between security and liberty is correct."

Mrs May will announce today that the control order regime, which can impose a curfew of 16 hours based on evidence not shared with suspects, will be scrapped and replaced by a system involving greater surveillance for a handful of suspects and electronic tagging. Suspects will also be allowed to use mobile phones and computers and the rules limiting travel relaxed.

Changes to the stop-and-search powers will also be set out today, along with moves to reduce the time that suspects can be held without charge from 28 to 14 days.