Severely disabled, mentally ill: the truth about Broadmoor 'terrorist' emerges

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Indy Politics

He is known to the outside world only as "P". Nearly two years ago, he was arrested without charge and imprisoned as an alleged foreign terrorist - an al-Qa'ida sympathiser who threatens Britain's national security.

But P is now in a mental ward in Broadmoor secure hospital, one of four men arrested as suspect terrorists since September 11 who have suffered a severe mental collapse. And he is an alleged terrorist who has no arms.

Until now, few details have emerged about P, but The Independent on Sunday has learnt that the man, a single north African male in his 30s who came to Britain as a refugee, has lost one forearm with the other arm amputated above the elbow.

His lawyer, Gareth Peirce, claims that P's experiences highlight precisely why nine Law Lords produced their devastating attack last Thursday on the Government's powers to intern suspected foreign terrorists.

Lord Hoffman, the most senior Law Lord, described the powers as "the real threat to the life of the nation". Other Law Lords branded them as "clearly" discriminatory and unjustifiably draconian.

Ever since his arrest in January last year, P's story has become intimately wrapped up with the life of another detainee, another north African man known as "B".

Also in his 30s, B became P's closest friend when they were incarcerated together in Belmarsh high-security prison in south London. B became his carer and cellmate, giving his friend the most basic assistance possible: help with dressing, eating and washing. Ms Peirce alleges that P was effectively helpless when he was jailed, and had no false arms or disability aids.

"He had had prosthetic arms but had been arrested two years earlier, and the police had broken those arms. They'd actually caused wholesale damage. With that whole experience, he has never been able to bring himself to try them again," Ms Peirce said.

The close relationship between the two men continues. As The Independent on Sunday revealed last week, both men became so mentally disturbed by their isolation and detention without trial, they were in a "life-threatening condition".

In October and November, the two men were separately sent to Broadmoor for specialist psychiatric care.

B's mental collapse, alleges Ms Peirce, was finally caused by the closure of a pottery class at Belmarsh. A skilled artist and potter, B had found escape in the class, in one case taking two years to fashion an elaborately decorated Islamic vase which was coveted by the prison's guards. Closure of the class, she said, "became the final straw".

Their transfer to Broadmoor meant that a third of the current detainees under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 have been officially diagnosed as severely mentally ill.

One man, a Palestinian named Abu Rideh, went to Broadmoor after attempting suicide and suffering a mental breakdown following an attempted hunger strike.

A fourth detainee, "G", is living under extremely tight bail restrictions with his wife and children at home - restrictions that effectively ban him from leaving the house, making phone calls, having visitors or using his garden.

G, who is wheelchair-bound with polio, was bailed by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, a secretive tribunal set up by David Blunkett, the then Home Secretary, because of his mental collapse. Mr Blunkett famously described the tribunal's decision as "bonkers".

Last week, the new Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, indicated that the Government would insist on keeping the men detained, a stance some observers believe Mr Clarke will gradually soften.

As with other detainees, the Government alleges G was linked to a hard-line Islamist terror group in the al-Qa'ida network, in his case the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. They accuse him of providing false documents and money to extremists.

B is alleged to have belonged to an Algerian extremist group, and to have helped find communications gear and other supplies for Algerian and Chechen terrorists.

The most notorious detainee is Abu Qatada, the Jordanian cleric alleged to be al-Qa'ida's "spiritual leader" in Europe and a "highly dangerous man".

One former Belmarsh inmate told The Independent on Sunday yesterday that the summary arrest and internment of the men was causing them to go slowly mad. The former inmate, a Kenyan who gave his name as "Ahmed", said: "You could see the stress and anxiety on their faces. It is really destroying them, and I don't think many will survive, even if they are released today. Many of them have been mentally destroyed."

Ahmed was arrested under separate immigration legislation for allegedly helping to plot the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998, claims the intelligence services eventually admitted were unfounded.

Now with temporary leave to remain in Britain, he was held in Belmarsh for 14 months, and met the terror detainees every Friday at prayers and during education periods.

"They feel they're being used for political purposes and were arrested to create fear in the public," he said. "They know they're no threat. They feel that if they had a fair trial, they could prove to the public they're not a threat. They say they escaped as refugees to this country for safety and justice: it's ludicrous for them to be described as a threat to this country."

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