Police to get powers to hold terror suspects 'indefinitely'

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Indy Politics

Emergency legislation giving police the power to indefinitely detain asylum-seekers suspected of terrorist links, and to deport them automatically without the right of appeal, was announced yesterday by Tony Blair.

The package of measures, which also includes speeding up extradition procedures and enforcing tighter controls on bureaux de change to stop them being used for money-laundering, angered civil liberties groups already concerned by new anti-terrorist legislation.

The new legislation is expected to be rushed through Parliament within the next few weeks. He said a new law on identity cards was still being considered.

Mr Blair said the package covered "basic things that we need to be able to do to protect the security of our own citizens". The speeding up of extradition procedures follows criticism from some countries of the length of time it can take to extradite suspects from Britain.

The plans are the latest in a series of measures being planned by Britain in its own right or as part of Europe. Others include the creation of a European intelligence unit, improvements topolice co-operation behind the scenes, the introduction of a wide-ranging European arrest warrant and possible new phone-tapping powers.

Roger Bingham, a spokesman for Liberty, said last night: "Nobody persecuted in their own country should be locked up here without good reason." Urging the Government to proceed with caution, he said Liberty was not against moves to speed up the extradition process "so long as standards are maintained". He said innocent people should not be taken from their homes in this country to be locked up in foreign prisons unless "our courts have had an opportunity to assess the evidence against them".

Stephen Jakobi, the founder and director of Fair Trials Abroad, said: "Thousands of Britons are going to disappear for long periods of time, because it is easier to issue a warrant than to bother to make sure you have decent evidence and to transmit that to police. The civil liberties implications of that are appalling."

Another civil liberties group, Statewatch, warned against giving terrorists a "second victory" by dispensing with the very freedoms that characterise open societies.

Mr Blair's announcement comes on the first anniversary of the introduction of the Human Rights Act and a week after David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, warned that the introduction of counter-terrorism measures may require the Act to be diluted.