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Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Mohamed is not the only one to lose control


We knew that Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed is a master of disguise and a dab hand at disabling a tag. Today we learned that he also has some pretty good lawyers.

Charles Farr, the Home Office’s Security and counter-terrorism director, the latest top securitocrat to break cover and appear in public, was almost apologetic as he explained to an incredulous Select Committee how Mohamed had serially – and legally – managed to get out of custody. Having been arrested and charged with 14 breaches of his control order, said Mr Farr (“stop me if I’m going into too much detail”), he was bailed in October 2011 after successfully arguing that the prosecution should be stayed pending the review he was seeking of the legality of the control order. And again in December 2012. At this point the Tory MP Mike Ellis exclaimed: “If I may say so, this is extraordinary.”

Hmm. Not as “extraordinary” as it was to get. “Ah,” said Farr, warming to his theme, “there is one more relevant episode.” In August this year exactly the same process happened, and the suspect was bailed yet again. But while the incredulity of Ellis and others was understandable it was less apparent why committee members  took so long to grasp why Mohamed had been allowed to come back to Britain from Somalia in 2011.

Well, Farr explained, he was actually a British national (who had come to this country aged three, naturalised at 13, whom neither the Somali (or as it happens, the British) had the evidence to prosecute. What were the Brits supposed to do about their “legal obligation” to allow him to return? Finally chairman Keith Vaz took the point. “We can’t send him to Mars, can we?” he said, regretfully.

On the Edward Snowden mass surveillance revelations, Farr predictably endorsed the arguments of the intelligence chiefs last week, insisting that they had made their job harder. Labour MP Ian Austin helped him out handsomely here. It was “really important to recognise” that the security services were not “interested in the text messages and emails sent by members of the public”.

Asked earlier about why there had been less public tumult here than in the US about the revelations, David Anderson, the independent QC overseeing counter terrorism measures, had said: “Bletchley Park and James Bond.” With due deference to Austin, it’s not clear those great, if disparate, models serve as well they once did.