Ministers were forced into a rapid rethink of a controversial early-release scheme last night after it emerged that two prisoners convicted of terrorism-related offences had been freed earlier this year.
Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, initially announced the changes after Yassin Nassari, who was arrested at Luton airport carrying blueprints for constructing a rocket of the sort used by Palestinian militants targeting Israel, was freed 17 days early under the end-of-custody licence (ECL) scheme, which was brought in last year to ease prison overcrowding.
Nassari, 28, from Ealing, west London, was released from Wakefield jail last month, seven months after being given a three-and-a-half year sentence. He had spent more than a year on remand before that. The Government had insisted that only "non-violent" offenders would be considered, but Mr Straw has now clarified the rules further by banning those convicted of terror offences from being freed early.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "The Justice Secretary has decided to change the criteria for the ECL scheme so that any prisoner convicted under terrorism legislation would not be eligible." He added: "The number of terrorism-related cases likely to fall within the current criteria is very small."
Last night, the revelation was compounded when it emerged that a second man, Abdul Muneem Patel, 18, had been released from Glen Parva prison on 7 January this year. Patel, of east London, was jailed for six months at the Old Bailey in October 2007 after a jury found him guilty of owning an explosives manual. The judge added that Patel – who was 17 when he was arrested – was not a "radicalised or politicised Islamist".
Patel was found guilty of having material which could be used in terrorism, but was cleared of the more serious charge of having an article for terrorism.
Police found the manual – which contained instructions on how to make home-made bombs – when they raided his home and his wife's family home in August 2006. Other material found included a floppy disk with recipes for poisons such as sarin and cyanide.
Judge Peter Rook told Patel that a custodial sentence was necessary to deter others from hoarding similar material.
The Ministry of Justice denied that the previous policy was a "mistake" but confirmed that a second man convicted of a terrorism offence had been released under the scheme.
David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "Jack Straw must now say when he knew about this, and why he has only just acted ... The Government's perverse approach to security defies common sense."
Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "There is a huge discrepancy between the Government's rhetoric on terrorism and its actions.
"Next week ministers will bring before Parliament unnecessary and draconian legislation on pre-charge detention in a desperate attempt to look tough on terrorism. People convicted of terrorist offences can be back in society having served less than half their sentence because of our desperately overstretched prison system."Reuse content