Police officers to face trial for abuse of terror suspect

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The Independent Online

Four police officers accused of a "serious, gratuitous and prolonged" attack and racist abuse of the terrorist suspect Babar Ahmad are to be charged with assault after a U-turn by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

The CPS said that Detective Constable John Donohue and Constables Nigel Cowley, 32, Roderick James-Bowen, 39, and Mark Jones, 43, will appear before magistrates charged with causing actual bodily harm. All have been put on restricted duties, meaning they will not be dealing with the public and will be desk-bound.

Mr Ahmad, 36 – the longest-serving prisoner held without charge in the UK – is in a secure isolation unit at Long Lartin prison in Worcestershire, fighting extradition to the US. He was initially arrested at his home in Tooting, south London, in December 2003.

In March last year, lawyers for the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, admitted the suspect was the victim of violence. The force paid £60,000 in damages after evidence submitted to the High Court in London said Mr Ahmad was assaulted and racially abused by a group of officers who were accused of a "serious, gratuitous and prolonged" attack. The case led to an independent review by a retired senior judge, Sir Geoffrey Grigson.

Inquiries into the attack were marked by the loss of key documents, including previous complaints against the officers, and the refusal of some to attend court. Simon Clements, a spokesman for the CPS, said yesterday: "Babar Ahmad was arrested by the officers on suspicion of terrorism offences. He suffered a number of injuries during that arrest, including heavy bruising to the head, neck, wrists and feet.

"The CPS received a file of evidence on how those injuries were caused from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) in 2004. We took the view at that time that there was insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction of anyone involved.

"Following Mr Ahmad's successful civil proceedings for compensation last year, his solicitors asked the CPS to look at the evidence again," he said.

"Our conclusion is that there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to charge four of the officers involved in the arrest of Mr Ahmad with causing actual bodily harm to him, contrary to the Offences Against the Person Act 1861," Mr Clements added.

Through his solicitors, Mr Ahmad said: "I am pleased that the CPS has decided that a jury will hear the evidence in this case and it will now be for the jury to determine whether any police officer should be punished for the assault upon me."

Mr Ahmad has never been charged in Britain, but has been in custody since 2004 after the United States issued an extradition warrant.

The computer expert was originally held on suspicion of supporting and helping to recruit terrorists to fight in Afghanistan and Chechnya through email accounts and websites.

In July, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg halted the extradition process as it considers whether handing over Mr Ahmad to the Americans would breach his human rights by exposing him to life imprisonment without parole.

Among the officers being charged, DC Donohue has been transferred to the special operations wing since Mr Ahmad's arrest. The other officers belong to the Metropolitan Police's territorial support group (TSG).

They are due to appear at City of Westminster magistrates' court onWednesday, 22 September.

Sadiq Khan, the Labour MP for Tooting, and a close friend of Mr Ahmad's, said yesterday: "I am pleased that the CPS decided to look at this incident again. Mr Ahmad's injuries, which he received £60,000 compensation for, show there are serious issues to be examined here surrounding the conduct of the arresting officers.

"It is important that these very serious allegations are properly considered in a criminal court, and that justice is seen to be done," he added.

The CPS decision creates a fresh headache for senior Scotland Yard staff over the role of the TSG wing to which three of the officers belonged.

The unit has long been blighted by controversy, not least over the death of Ian Tomlinson, a 47-year-old who died after being struck with a baton and pushed to the ground by Constable Simon Harwood on the fringe of G20 protests in central London on 1 April last year.

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