A control order ruined my life - and my respect for Britain

Nigel Morris meets Cerie Bullivant, who spent two years under house arrest

Friday 07 January 2011 01:00

An innocent man who spent two years on a control order designed for terrorist suspects told last night how the restrictions had wrecked his life.

Cerie Bullivant issued an emotional plea to David Cameron and Nick Clegg to scrap the regime, which has been denounced by civil liberties groups as an affront to natural justice.

Mr Bullivant, a Muslim convert, was required to wear an electronic tag, observe a curfew, report daily to police and to expect his home to be raided at any time.

The regime forced him to drop out of college, made it impossible for him to find a job, caused the collapse of his marriage and led to him being shunned by friends and family.

He said he still faces abuse and suspicion to this day – despite having his control order quashed by the High Court almost three years ago.

He told the Independent: “I grew up – maybe naively - thinking the Brits were the good guys, thinking we went around saving countries going through hardship and bringing democracy to the world.

“That belief has been severely shaken by living through something you would only expect in a totalitarian dictatorship. Control orders shouldn’t be in a country like Britain – they are trademarks for countries like China or Burma, oppressive dictatorships, not what we call the home of democracy.”

Mr Bullivant first fell foul of the authorities when he was stopped from boarding a flight to Syria where he planned to learn Arabic and work in an orphanage.

In July 2006, a week after he was also forced to scrap plans to visit Bangladesh, he was arrested and put on a control order on the grounds he was on his way to fight in Iraq. The sanction – based on secret evidence he has never seen – appeared to have been imposed because of his close friendship with two men whose brother had been convicted of terrorism.

Mr Bullivant, aged 28, of Dagenham, east London, insisted he knew nothing of the connection – and had simply been found “guilty by association”.

His existence changed irrevocably from the moment of the order. He said: “It became impossible to live an ordinary life.”

The requirement to sign in with police daily made it impossible to pursue his nursing degree at the University of East London.

“They had given me permission to do the course, only to make it impossible. With the conditions, there was no way I could carry on – they were making me late every day.

“They wouldn’t change my signing-on times. You do six weeks of university study and then six weeks out as a student nurse in hospitals – trying to do shift work without them changing my signing-in times meant it was never going to happen.”

Mr Bullivant’s recent marriage to a young woman whose parents had fled persecution in Iraq also faltered under the strain of early-morning police raids on the family home.

“It brought back memories of what happened before and fresh pain because this was a country they had come to for refuge... Ultimately, the pressures on them were more than I could put them through and more than they were willing to go through.”

He added: “As it got out in the community you are on a control order, you become like an untouchable. No-one wants to go near you. It’s not they think you’re guilty, but everyone knows this can pretty much happen without evidence and much basis.

“If it happened to me because of association, it could happen to them for the same reason, so they feel scared to spend a lot of time with you. I felt completely ostracised and isolated from my community.”

Under the strain – his doctors diagnosed a severe depressive episode – he absconded from his control order.

“I was in a position where felt everything I felt I touched was withering and dying, not in an abstract way, but in a literal way.

“I absolutely felt hopeless with everything to do with my life, there was no part of my life I could look at and feel there was any hope for.

“What’s worse, the control order was indefinite, and I wasn’t given any evidence, so I could see no way that I could beat it and how it would ever end.”

He voluntarily gave himself up just over five weeks later and faced trial for breaching his order. But he was cleared by a jury because of his medical condition and Mr Justice Collins said MI5 had demonstrated “no reasonable suspicion” he was a security risk.

Mr Bullivant said he still found it impossible to work in his chosen profession as a teacher of English as a foreign language because he could not pass checks by the Criminal Records Bureau. He had only finally been able to open a bank account – enabling him to claim benefits – in August.

“Two weeks ago I was walking down my road and someone recognised me and went: ‘Oi, it’s the bomber!’. That still follows me about – I have come to terms with the fact that I’m never going to change the way people think about me.”

In a message to ministers, he said: “You can’t win a war on terror by terrorising a community. Control orders are so counterproductive within the Muslim community. It’s like internment with the Irish. You are throwing fuel on the flames of anyone who is going to be radicalised.

“How can we stand up and claim to be a beacon of truth and justice when we are locking people up without evidence and putting them under house arrest?

“People who want to radicalise people will pick on this. All this for a system that every single person that has absconded has not been caught. How much protection is this offering us?”

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