At the height of Northern Ireland’s “troubles” in 1984, the members of the British Cabinet were targeted by an IRA bomber at Brighton. The then Trade and Industry Secretary, Norman Tebbit, was pulled from the rubble of the Grand Hotel several hours after the explosion: both he and his wife were seriously injured. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her husband Dennis both narrowly avoided injury themselves. Five people were killed.
The Government itself was attacked in the most physical and literal sense, and the bombing changed the mentality of the generation then leading the Conservative Party, leaving people in power feeling threatened in an extremely personal way.
Yet even then, government did not infringe upon liberties as the Blair Government does now.
The Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act was rushed through Parliament in December 2001 in the wake of 9-11. It was used to imprison a dozen men without charge. This detention was ruled illegal by the Law Lords late last year but, with the exception of one man, known as “C”, who was released without explanation on the February 1, 2005, they continue to remain in custody.
It is a fundamental tenet of civil society that no-one shall be imprisoned without due process.
An individual charged with an offence should appear before a judge. That judge should hear evidence on the legitimacy of his detention. The individual should have a chance to hear the charges made against him.
Instead of honouring these rules, rules which many men better than us died to preserve, we are now asked to entrust those in power with total, arbitrary control over personal freedoms.
On the basis of his knowledge of the evidence, on the February 3, 2005 Sir John Stevens, former Chief Constable of the Metropolitan Police, appeared on television and offered a personal assurance that no-one was imprisoned in Belmarsh without good reason.
This is a man whose integrity is undoubted, and whose service to his country and fellow citizens has been great. It is very tempting, in times we are constantly told are very dangerous, to trust the words of such men as he.
We should be wary of great men. It is precisely those whose qualities are unquestioned that can threaten our freedoms the most. Powers of discretion over personal liberty should never be granted to the state or its servants, and never have been before in the long, unbroken history of freedom in this country, until now.
For the say-so of an individual - be they politician or policeman - is never enough to condemn someone to imprisonment. If the evidence is strong enough, they should be tried. If it is not, they should be freed.
The current government policy succeeds because we are frightened.
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