Will May’s terrorism clampdown restrict freedom of speech?

Police at Finsbury Park after latest terrorist attack

Police at Finsbury Park, north London after the latest terrorist attack this week Pic credit: BBC

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Theresa May promised ” Enough is Enough”  after the two vicious terrorist attacks in Manchester and London Bridge during the election campaign. Since then we have a third attack in Finsbury Park, north London targeting Muslims.

Today a much slimmed down Queen’s Speech promises new laws on security and possibly a U-turn on police cuts. But we need to be vigilant on what measures are taken and ensure that in a rush to clamp down on extremist perversions of the Muslim faith that the law is not used against other people to restrict freedom of speech and robust debate.

This threat was highlighted by none other than researchers at the House of Commons library who produced a timely review of terrorist legislation and also pointed out the pitfalls of badly drafted legislation and loose definitions of extremism.

As I wrote in Tribune last week:

In the Tory manifesto Theresa May had committed herself to creating Commission for Countering Extremism. The Commons library paper says the last Tory government has already got a Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill in the pipeline – which was never introduced because of the snap election.

This included powers to regulate all official out-of-school activities to prevent extremists from using them and banning people with extreme views from teaching in schools by extending the scope of the debarring system, at present used to prevent criminals and sex abusers from getting jobs.

It also included new powers to block people streaming extremist videos from outside the EU and new action to be taken against local councils that did not act to stop extremism in schools.
What is not clear is whether the new legislation would also include measures to disrupt extremist activity, including outlawing some organisations and some individuals, barring them using premises and trying to criminalise people who say they do not believe in democracy and advocate violence even if they have no intention of committing offences themselves. Some of this would involve issuing civil orders against individuals.

The  Commons report  raises a lot of questions:
• Can extremism be defined in a way that offers legal certainty?
• Is it necessary to resort to new civil orders instead of existing criminal offences?
• How will proposals avoid unjustified interference with freedom of religion and expression?
• Is it justified to limit speech which is not in itself illegal?
• How can online extremism be dealt with both by government and social media companies?

It warns: “Unless a consensus can be reached as to what constitutes extremism in the first place, the development of effective measures will continue to prove problematic.”

And the government can hardly introduce a law that singles out Muslims.

These are wise words because the direction of travel is to try to prosecute people for what they say not for what they do – and somehow try and control what is on the internet.

It is a law of unintended consequences as the Commons paper reveals. For while naturally Liberty objected it also led when the idea was debated in 2015 to objections from Christians.

They were protesting that people advocating gay marriage should be banned could face prosecution or denial of access to buildings because they would be described as extremists.

It is delicious irony that tough talk to clamp down on radical extremism could end up alienating  the Tory’s preferred government partner, the Democratic Unionist Party , who oppose gay marriage, unless of course there will be a special exemption for Northern Ireland.  Even Dominic Raab, Conservative MP for Esher, now a government minister at the Ministry of Justice, objected to curbs on free speech, warning it could be used to prosecute other groups – including Christians opposing gay marriage,

People should scrutinise the proposed terrorism bill very carefully when it is published today. The Commons research paper is here.

Independent Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry WILL investigate the late Greville Janner and whether there was a cover up

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Lord Janner Image courtesy BBC

The independent inquiry into child sexual abuse has decided to go ahead with a wide ranging inquiry into allegations that the late Greville Janner was involved in child sexual abuse and whether the Labour Party, the intelligence services, Parliament and government departments could have been involved in a cover up.

The decision, announced on the inquiry’s website, comes despite strong objections from Lord Janner’s family and a plea from retired  Assistant Chief Constable Tony Butler, from Leicestershire Police  to halt investigations immediately.

The terms of the inquiry are set out in a full statement  from Alexis Jay, chair of the inquiry here but the full terms are worth repeating in full.

” 1. The Inquiry will investigate institutional responses to allegations of child sexual abuse involving the late Lord Janner of Braunstone QC (“Lord Janner”).
2. In particular, the Inquiry will consider
2.1. the adequacy and propriety of law enforcement investigations and prosecutorial decisions relating to allegations falling within paragraph 1 above;
2.2. the extent to which Leicestershire County Council and the Kirkwood Inquiry were awareof allegations falling within paragraph 1 and the adequacy of their response;
2.3. the extent to which the Labour Party, Parliament, government departments, and/or the security and intelligence agencies were aware of allegations falling within paragraph 1 and the adequacy of their response;
2.4. the extent to which any other public or private institution may have failed in its duty to protect children from sexual abuse in respect of the allegations falling with paragraph 1;
2.5 whether any attempts were made to exert improper influence in order to hinder or prevent an institution from effectively investigating or otherwise responding to allegations falling within paragraph 1.
3. In light of the investigations set out above, the Inquiry will publish a report setting out its findings and recommendations to improve child protection and safeguarding in England and Wales. ”

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Daniel Janner QC Pic credit: http://www.regulatorycriminallawyers.co.uk

In a series of private meetings Lord Janner’s three children, Daniel Janner QC,Marion Janner OBE and Rabbi LauraJanner-Klausner,  objected to further inquiries while they were pursuing cases against people who had claimed they were sexual abused by him in the civil courts.

They two daughters argued: “The Janner family and Estate remains energetically opposed to the singling out of an innocent, dead man for a paradigm case study that will, necessarily, be based on incomplete and distorted information.

“It is a further insult to Lord Janner’s posthumous reputation with consequential cost to the Janner Family and Estate, including devastating emotional upset.
It would be more representative to pick a prominent person from public life as the paradigm who is either alive,or has been subject to a prosecution process (whether convicted, or not).”

Daniel Janner argued:“the decision on whether to hold the investigation and whether it should be part of the Westminster strand should be put on hold pending the outcome of the civil case and IPCC.”  He insisted that his father was innocent.

There was also an attempt by the Janner family to have one member of the panel, Dru Sharpling removed from this particular inquiry, on the grounds that she could have a conflict of interest having worked for the Crown Prosecution Service and HM Inspector of Constabulary, but this was rejected by Amber Rudd, the home secretary.

But the strongest objection came from the former assistant chief constable of Leicestershire Tony Butler, who wanted the inquiry stopped.

He argued:”this particular investigation is unlikely, by virtue of temporal scope, number
of institutions involved or as a paradigm of the “pendulum effect”, to contribute
any unique or unusual feature”

He claimed all previous inquiries had already established what needed to be done in Leicestershire – during the time Frank Beck, who was found guilty of numerous child sex abuse attacks – in the 1990s. This is quite evidently not the case as the excellent book Abuse of Trust by  Paul Gosling and Mark D’Arcy which examined the Beck scandal reveals.

But this was rejected by alleged victims of child sexual abuse and counsel to the inquiry and their view prevailed.

I am very pleased with the decision particularly now it is known that the scope of the inquiry will be wide ranging. It is equally important that the inquiry looks at whole picture surrounding the allegations of child sexual abuse against Lord Janner which means delving into the Labour Party, Parliament, the security services and Whitehall and also forensically investigating whether there were further cover up. if they appear to be true.

So I applaud Alexis Jay for pursuing this against a background where some newspapers would rather it was not investigated.

 

A Romanian scandal that threatens press freedom that the UK could stop in its tracks

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Alexander Adamescu: Facing extradition from the UK using the European Arrest Warrant

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Romania is not particularly high profile. It is  best known for Bram Stoker’s Dracula stories and the infamous  rule of Communist President Nicolae Ceaușescu overthrown and killed in a revolution in 1989.

Now it is seen as a NATO ally, a democracy with free elections and in European Union circles as being tough on corruption.

But beneath the surface there is growing evidence that Romania is about to go the same way as Hungary and Turkey with a crackdown on the freedom of the press, arbitrary arrests and flouting the rule of law.

The issue is becoming deeply personal – and this blog has decided to take up the issue – over the plight of a German businessman who with his father owns Romania’s oldest newspaper, Romania Libra. The paper  has been a thorn in the side 0f successive  governments by exposing corruption  and political intrigue. I have written both a news story and a large  feature in Tribune this week on the case.

Alexander Adamescu currently lives in St John’s Wood in London. His father Dan is in hospital in Romania while serving a prison sentence for corruption based on the uncorroborated evidence of one person that he tried to bribe an official. His son is now – two years later -facing a similar charge after a flimsy examination of the evidence in a 30 minute hearing called at two hours notice in his absence.

The Romanians are  using the European Arrest Warrant – which faces only a very limited challenge in the British courts- to try and extradite him to Romania and this spring there will be a court hearing.

Alexander Adamescu has applied for political asylum to Theresa May, has asked the all party Romania committee to take up his case in Parliament and appealed to the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn as a backbencher took up his father’s case in 2014 and was heavily critical of Romania’s judicial process. So far British politicians have not acted.

In the last year there have been more sinister developments – reminiscent of Russia’s secret service – affecting his family. He believes his wife, Adrianna, was the subject of a bungled kidnapping  outside his St John’s Wood flat this March.

As she got out of her car and approached her flat two masked men attacked her and tried to drag her to a waiting car.

She said: “They were both wearing bandanas and gloves. They drove in a Mini Cooper with fake number plates – as I was later told by the police – and didn’t steal anything from me despite the fact that I was wearing diamond earrings, and had my car keys in my hands.”

“When they approached me, I threw myself to the ground, and fought with them until my neighbour Kymone Hansson, hearing my screaming and came running out to me. At the same time, a cab driver with a passenger in the back seat pulled over next to me and called the police. That was the moment I was saved. The two men ran to their car and quickly drove away”.

The Met Police were able to trace the car but not the people and the case has been left on file.

Later there was a second incident which can be directly attributed to the Romanian authorities. Adrianna was returning from Bucharest and was stopped at the airport before she could board the plane. The authorities said her four year son could not leave the country because he was Romanian (he was born in the UK). As he is four they could not detain him so she quickly left the airport with him and drove across the border to Bulgaria and returned from there to the UK.

The issue of prison conditions in Romania- where nearly 500 people have died over the last five years often due to the lack of medical treatment –  has already been challenged in the High Court in London by the international human rights lawyer, Ben Emmerson ( who also represented Alexander Livenenko’s widow in the recent public inquiry into his poisoning by plutonium). He has taken up the cases of other people being extradited by the Romanians and the prison.

Romania’s cramped and unsanitary prison conditions mean that pre-trial detention has also become a kind of punishment. Prison standards are so bad that between 1998 and 2015, the European Court of Human Rights found Romania guilty of 178 violations of Article 3 of the ECHR prohibiting inhuman or degrading treatment. The court recorded 27 violations in 2015.

.Serious questions about the role of the independent judiciary, the misuse of the European Arrest Warrant and the freedom of an independent press to investigate the government are all at stake. Even the role of major accounting firms working in Romania like KPMG have been questioned.

Journalists on the paper have published an open letter accusing KPMG of aiding and abetting members of the Romanian government to rig insolvency hearings to destroy and silence their newspaper, infringing on the publication’s fundamental rights to freedom of expression.

“There is no doubt about it – this is a case of privatized censorship. KPMG has been used as a front by certain members of the Romanian government to take over control or shut us down,” said Sabin Orcan, chief editor of România Liberă.  “Our publication has survived more than 140 years of the worst types of oppression, including during the Soviet period. But who knew it would be the accountants who would deliver the death blow to freedom of the press in Romania?”

KPMG, to be fair, did find problems with the insurance company that bankrolled the paper, but recommended changes that amounted to a rescue plan for the company. The government vetoed the plan which shows where they stand.

All this suggests that the British government should act to stop this move. Given that it is committed to leaving the EU it should be possible to overrule this action or grant him political asylum.

 

 

 

 

Brian Altman: The scuba diving prosecutor who “speared” Milly Dowler’s killer

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Brian Altman – new lead counsel for the independent child sexual abuse inquiry. Pic credit: 2 Bedford Chambers

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The announcement this week that former Treasury counsel Brian Altman has been appointed lead counsel  from March to the much troubled Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse should be  good news for survivors.

The man has a formidable reputation as a forensic prosecutor and a particularly strong line in bringing criminals to justice in  ” cold case ” murders.  For once the phrase ” highly experienced”  used by the inquiry chair, Alexis Jay, is no exaggeration.

He has yet to get a cameo role as a lawyer  in ” Silent Witness” – though he did appear in a BBC 4 Real Crime and Punishment series ( sadly no longer available on BBC i-Player.).He has received much praise from journalists who regularly cover Old Bailey trials for the way he ensnares defendants who hope to escape justice for unspeakable crimes.

His case list of successful prosecutions is impressive. They include the notorious serial killer and rapist Levi Bellfield who murdered  teenager Milly Dowler and  killer Colin Ash-Smith convicted 21 years after he murdered 19 year old Claire Tiltman.

He has also prosecuted in a joint British and Dutch investigation  of canal murderer John Sweeney who killed and dismembered former American model and photographer, Melissa Halstead, in Holland in 1990, and disposed of her remains in a Rotterdam canal, and Paula Fields in London in 2000, whose dismembered body parts were found in the Regent’s Canal in 2001.

He has a string of other murder cases – where he both defended and prosecuted killers – and successfully prosecuted terrorists-including  those involved in a disrupted Islamic state terror plot and Syrian trained terrorists planning attacks in the UK.

He is familiar with the workings of the security services  and bad behaviour by MPs – he once advised on whether to prosecute one for expenses fraud – and his client list include members of a Middle  East Royal Family – though not disclosing whether it is the Saudi Arabian one or not. For a full list see his entry on his  chambers website here.

All this should bode well  for those who want forensic examinations of some of the most highly contentious cases that will be looked at by the child sexual abuse inquiry. This will in time include the Westminster paedophile ring, Greville Janner and the Leicestershire institutions involved in child sexual abuse and some of the more contentious child sex abuse scandals in London.

Historic child sexual abuse is also a ” cold case ”  issue – so this quote should comfort the sceptics.

“For cold case murders, he is the go-to barrister because he is able to draw together all the small pieces to provide a coherent analysis, and he knows these cases so well that there is nothing the defence can come up with to outfox him. He is completely relentless, extremely personable and a great team player”; “He is a master of detail who never makes a mistake.” Chambers & Partners 2016 (Crime)

Frankly  the inquiry after all the row surrounding the departure of his predecessor, Ben Emmerson, could do with a boost. Given there is also outside pressure – thankfully resisted by Theresa May who set it up – to try and get the government to close the inquiry down because of its scope and cost, this is doubly important.

Brian Altman in his Linked In profile also lists two hobbies – scuba diving and travel. I can well understand  he will sometimes want to get away from it all after all this work pressure.

He is  coy about where he has travelled and where he has scuba dived. He tells me one of the places he has not yet visited is Australia’s Great Barrier Reef – the largest scuba diving place in the world.

Given he is probably lead counsel for the largest child sex abuse inquiry in the world- perhaps he also should also get some time off to relax there as well soon.

 

 

 

 

The mystery of the secret discovery of chemical WMD in Iraq which poses more questions than answers

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Sir John Chiilcot: Pic Credit: BBC

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It could be from the pages of a novel. But my colleague and co author Nick Kochan has an extraordinary story on the Exaro website this week just as the damning Chilcot report on the Iraq War has been published.

The essence of the story is a large cache of  chemical weapons  shells containing the nerve gas sarin were discovered and destroyed  by the Americans and British in a remote British area of Iraq in 2005 and 2006 long after the UN weapons inspectors had disappeared.

The source for the story has told Exaro about how the CIA using a front company purchased thousands of shells many containing the nerve gas sarin from an Iraqi war lord and then destroyed all the weapons.

Incredible as this may seem this story is stood up by information released in the United States under the US Freedom of Information Act and in the UK  to a lesser extent by the Ministry of Defence.

The US info which named the clandestine operation as Avarice  and the British operations were known as  Bedouin 1 and 2..

In 2015, the New York Times reported details of covert operations that involved the CIA, US military intelligence and the British Army.

The International Business Times, a US-based website, later revealed details of the British-led Bedouin missions.

What is curious is that neither  revelation made much of a stir at the time – even though it meant that chemical WMD had been discovered.

And this week’s Chilcot report makes no mention of the clandestine operations though it does reveal that later discoveries of chemical weapons was reported to the Joint Intelligence Committee.

This  raises loads of unanswered questions. The discovery in 2006 would have been very useful to Tony Blair’s case that  Iraq still possessed chemical weapons and you would have expected Alistair Campbell to have shouted it from the rooftops. But this information was either never used or never reached either of them.

The other question is more sinister. What was the use made by the warlords of the CIA money?

For soon after many British and US troops were killed by IED’s planted by war lords to get the UK and US out of Iraq. Exaro’s source is fearful that the money paid by the CIA may have been used to buy these weapons and to kill British and American soldiers.

Given Chilcot’s strong criticism of the inadequacy of equipment for the troops including snatch landrovers this is a highly damaging allegation.

“It is possible that western forces were killed by Mahdi army funded by the CIA. Nobody ever identified what happened to the [US] money and what it was used for,” the source claimed.

“The only people who could have moved those sorts of things around that area were involved in many nefarious activities.”

So far  even with Chilcot we are none the wiser.

IRAQI FREEDOM

As Coalition Forces respond to a car bombing in South Baghdad, Iraq (IRQ), a second car bomb is detonated, targeting those responding to the initial incident. The attack, aimed at the Iraqi police force, resulted in 18 casualties, two of which were police officers, during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. pic credit:bbc

Why police whistleblowers will be crucial to getting to the truth of historical child sex abuse

While controversy rages about the future of the independent panel into child sex abuse,a key development almost passed unnoticed at the end of last year.

It was the decision of former police officers in previously closed down child sex abuse inquiries to present a dossier to Sir Bernard Hogan Howe, the Met police Commissioner, and to the overarching inquiry into child sex abuse when it finally starts taking evidence.

My colleague Alex Varley-Winter on Exaro produced two powerful pieces revealing both this move and the extraordinary revelations on a closed website by former police officers  who investigated child sex abuse allegations during those dark days of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.. You can read her pieces on Exaro here and here. They reveal that  their own investigations were ” canned” when they started to involve prominent people or politicians.

As she reports:”The participants in the two discussions are mostly former Met officers. One exceptionally identifies himself as having worked for “UK gov”, and said that he signed the Official Secrets Act. And another was a firearms instructor in the Met.

…”Across all the discussion threads published by Exaro, seven participants claim to have direct knowledge of a cover-up of VIP paedophiles. Many others say that they were told by colleagues or do not specify the basis of their claims about closed operations.”

The significance of this cannot be underestimated. At the moment the police have  detailed allegations from survivors of very serious abuse and possible murders of three survivors. As Scotland Yard has already said the allegations by ” Nick” as revealed by Exaro are credible. But the police need more evidence to corroborate this to bring charges. These could come from other survivors.

But  what better evidence  could there be than from former police officers who could h\ave been investigating the very same allegations if they can come forward.  This would provide the Crown Prosecution Service with quite separate evidence in addition to the survivors themselves.

I have a feeling that this could be a game changer in the investigations that are currently taking place across the country if these police officers are able to testify. This will make this year a very important one for all survivors of historic child sex abuse who have been denied justice for such a very long time.

Child Sex Abuse: Will the police finally catch the perpetrators ?

The extraordinary revelations at the weekend by my Exaro colleague Mark Conrad and the Sunday People should finally dispel fears that the police have no intention of investigating the VIP paedophiles and now possible murderers in the Westminster paedophile scandal.

I could tell until this weekend  many in the mainstream media  were sceptical ( and some still are) that such horrendous acts involving MPs could ever have taken place in the 1970s and 1980s without the Westminster lobby knowing. Some, including one of my long-standing former colleagues on the Guardian, emphatically told me no MP could possibly be involved in the murder of a young boy.I’ll spare his blushes until there is an arrest.

However the disclosure at the weekend  that two former police detectives are now corroborating that they had heard about a murders and were aware of a paedophile ring in Westminster but couldn’t investigate.

As the Exaro article says :A source close to the investigation said that the two former police officers alleged: “There was a significant paedophile group in Parliament who were untouchable to the police.”

They provided new information on Sir Cyril Smith, the former Liberal MP, and Sir Jimmy Savile, the BBC star, who were exposed as paedophiles after their deaths. They have also provided potentially important information on former MPs and living perpetrators of child sex abuse.”

The key thing about the police coming forward is that the story by the brave survivor called ” Nick” has now a possible chance of being collaborated by other sources. This will be essential if they are to be prosecutions.

Also in the same week I learnt that in Durham where 900 people have come forward alleging sexual and physical abuse at the now closed Medomsley young offenders institution arrests are likely before Christmas and Operation Pallial in North Wales is also expected to lead to more arrests shortly. Even the home secretary, Theresa May, has indicated that she believes  it is only ” the tip of the iceberg” so far..

Altogether the chances of this far too long running historic scandal being dead and buried again are becoming much slimmer. The police now have to throw everything at it to get at the truth.