Terrified, humiliated – and innocent: the evidence against 42-day detention

As ministers press ahead with their anti-terror measures, Colin Brown hears the story of one woman's incarceration

Tuesday 01 April 2008 00:00 BST

A young Muslim woman has spoken about the appalling conditions she had to endure when she was held for 12 days without charge by police using existing powers to detain suspects in terrorist cases.

Farrah* was eventually released without charge but her experience has left her angry and bewildered. After arrest, it was almost 24 hours before she was allowed to see a solicitor. She has protested to Liberty, the civil liberties group who claim there will be more such cases, if the Counter-Terrorism Bill before Parliament today extends detention without charge from 28 days to 42 days.

Liberty is highlighting her case in an attempt to persuade MPs to reject the extension of pre-charge detention in the Commons.

Farrah was arrested with her husband, who was also held for allegedly possessing documents connected with terrorism. She was not allowed to speak with her family for four days. Eight days had passed before the police disclosed the reason she was being held.

On the day she was arrested, Farrah was at home with her family. The police came to her house, searched the property for three to four hours then arrested her and removed her family from their home.

Farrah's father is disabled and was upset about being moved. It was a week before the family was allowed to return. During the search, the police took away her father's disability badge. It was returned to him a year later, months after it had expired.

When Farrah arrived at Paddington Green, her clothes were taken from her. Suffering from diarrhoea, she was in constant pain. She described the basic washing and hygiene facilities in detention.

"There was no toilet roll and only paper towels for body drying. I wasn't even allowed to comb my hair."

Exercise consisted of walking around in a circle in a small yard behind the station for five minutes while officers held guard dogs in each corner. Farrah said: "I was frightened of the dogs so rather than getting any exercise, I just found these exercise periods really frightening."

She became unwell, suffering from diabetes, and a doctor was called on numerous occasions. He confirmed that an existing condition had been exacerbated by the stress of her arrest and detention.

Farrah claimed the guards were constantly rude and aggressive when dealing with her. She was effectively held in solitary confinement and not allowed to communicate with or pass another prisoner when being taken to and from her cell between questioning. After four days, she was permitted to make a telephone call to her parents. They speak English but she was told to make sure she spoke in English and not in "your language".

After 12 days of 24-hour detention in a cell and repeated questioning in a room with no natural light, Farrah was released without charge. No explanation was given and no apology made. She had no way of travelling home and was not offered assistance; her solicitor organised a taxi. She said she felt "tired, shocked and exhausted", and had thought she was never going to get out. Her clothes were never returned.

After release, Farrah said she became increasingly paranoid, not wanting to leave the house alone. Her employers were understanding but the pressure of colleagues knowing what had happened to her, the increasing paranoia and her poor health forced her to quit her job. Friends and family stopped visiting, terrified they would become suspects by association.

* Name changed to protect her identity

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