The Observer reported yesterday on the findings of a standards investigation into the handling of the arrest and detention by West Midlands police of Rizwaan Sabir, a doctoral student at Nottingham University. The investigation into police handling of the affair shows that evidence given by the university’s terrorism expert, Dr Rod Thornton, was ‘made up’ by police officers. Thornton has referred the matter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
From the Observer:
“A Muslim university student was held for seven days without charge as a suspected terrorist after police "made up" evidence against him.
“Documents from the professional standards unit of West Midlands police reveal that officers fabricated key elements of the case against former University of Nottingham student, Rizwaan Sabir.
“The highly controversial case generated a debate over the extent of Islamophobia within UK universities and also an international furore over academic freedom led by renowned US scholar Noam Chomsky.
“Sabir was researching terrorist tactics for a master's at the University of Nottingham in 2008 when he was detained under the Terrorism Act and accused by police of downloading an al-Qaida training manual for terrorist purposes.
“The 27-year-old, however, had downloaded a manual from a US government website for his research which could be bought at WH Smith, Waterstones and Amazon as well as the university's own library. After seven days and six nights in police custody, Sabir was released without charge or apology.
“Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act also reveal that the arrests were mentioned in a report, cited and disseminated by the Home Office, called Islamist Terrorist Plots in Great Britain: Uncovering the Global Network.”
The university’s terrorism expert, Dr Rod Thornton complained to West Midlands police about the handling of the case, as well as publishing an article condemning the way that the university treated Sabir and handled his arrest.
The Observer states that an investigation by West Midlands police has now concluded that “officers effectively invented what Thornton, the university's sole terrorism expert, told them about the al-Qaida training manual in a police interview.
“During the interview Thornton said that he merely told police that Sabir was studying al-Qaida, but was never asked to discuss the manual. Thornton says that officers invented claims that he had concerns over the manual which he says are an apparent attempt to justify the arrest and police anti-terror operation.
“The findings of the force's standard's inquiry upheld Thornton's claim that officers "made up what he said about the al-Qaida manual."
“It also states that the actual minutes of the Gold Group meeting of the detectives assigned to the case "incorrectly recorded" their conversation with Thornton.
“Thornton has now referred the police treatment of him to the IPCC. The standards board, however, says that no officers will be investigated for misconduct.”
“Thornton, a former counter terrorism officer in the British army who earlier this year left his post at Nottingham University by mutual agreement, said: "The police were totally unprofessional. After their mistakes they tried to cover them up. I've seen some altered police notes, I've seen evidence made up. The whole thing seems to be a complete tissue of lies, starting from the cover up of their mistakes in the first place."
“Sabir, now a PhD student at The University of Bath, said: "I have known that the police lied and deceived in order to justify my arrest and treatment and this has now been proven.
"What should raise alarm bells is how and why the police think it is acceptable to make up information to send innocent Muslims to prison as terrorists. The onus is now on the IPCC to conduct a full and proper investigation into this matter."
Sabir’s case is one of a number which illustrate the concerns raised by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC on the “excessive enthusiasm” with which some counter terrorism legislation has been applied. Other cases include the Birmingham spy cameras, which were removed after outrage was expressed by local residents and Birmingham MP, Roger Godsiff, on the violation of residents’ right to privacy; and the concerns recorded in the IRR’s report on the Prevent programme, Spooked!, on initiatives being funded to covertly gather data on Muslim communities.
Sabir’s case brings under renewed scrutiny the calls made by government for university staff to monitor and ‘keep an eye’ on Muslim students, with a view to referring ‘vulnerable students’ to counter-terrorism police. Such action has been widely criticised, and a recent Home Affairs committee report into the Roots of Violent Radicalisation concluded that “there is seldom concrete evidence to confirm that this [universities] is where they were radicalised.”
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