Control orders: The eight British suspects

A surveillance cameraman (posed by a model) The new system means more monitoring and fewer restrictions

Related Stories

The government is planning to abolish control orders used to restrict the freedoms of some terrorism suspects. So what do we know about the men subjected to the system?

In an ordinary British street, there lives a British man, who the courts say wants to be a suicide bomber.

The man, known for legal reasons as Controlee AM, is one of the eight currently held on a control order, restrictions described in some of the cases as "virtual house arrest".

For the past five years, the home secretary has signed orders to restrict the freedoms of almost 50 men suspected of involvement in terrorism.

But what do we actually know about the men themselves?

Two of the eight have been tried and acquitted on terrorism charges.

Two, including AM, are linked in court papers to the plot to bomb transatlantic airliners in 2006.

Much of what the BBC has learnt about the men, including the real identities and whereabouts of seven of them, cannot be reported for legal reasons. All of them have entered defences saying they are being treated unfairly - but because of the secret nature of the system, they cannot respond direclty to accusations that may be made in closed court sessions.

'Psychological torture'

Controlee AM is British Indian and was initially watched as part of the wider investigation into the 2006 transatlantic bomb plot.

Start Quote

Cerie Bullivant

As long as you are using secret evidence, as long as you are detaining people and are not telling people what they are accused of, it will be used for radicalisation”

End Quote Cerie Bullivant, former controlee

The security service initially thought that AM did not show "the typical characteristics of an individual preparing to martyr himself".

But that assessment changed. AM was subjected to a control order because he was thought to be in contact with senior al-Qaeda figures in the UK and Pakistan. MI5 officers visited him and told him the control order could end if he showed he had turned his back on extremism.

In a legal challenge, AM denied the allegations. He said the control order restrictions which included removing his internet-enabled X-Box, amounted to "psychological torture".

But, in the words of the open High Court judgement in his case, he remained "prepared to be a martyr in an attack designed to take many lives."

The other man linked to the 2006 plot is known as Controlee AY. He was served with a control order in September 2008. A High Court judge later upheld the order, saying AY was a "committed Islamist" who could be involved in "potential future engagement in terrorism-related activities".

Relocation

Among the powers that can be used to restrict a suspect's movements is an order to relocate them, described in one High Court hearing as "internal exile".

An open judgement in the case of AY Open judgements: Limited information in the public domain

"CA", a married British Pakistani man with children, was placed under restrictions in February 2010. He was moved from his home in southern England to another location more than 100 miles away.

The move was an attempt to break up an alleged network after MI5 assessed that CA was trying to travel to Pakistan for terrorism training, something he denied.

The High Court later ruled CA should be allowed back home because the relocation had placed an "unendurable strain" on his wife.

"If his marriage fails, he may well become embittered against British authorities and revert to extremist views and actions," said the judge. "What is, in my judgement, the most significant constraint upon him doing so would disappear."

BX, the fifth of the eight current controlees, was also relocated. He has also been jailed for breaching his order.

The Somali-born former train conductor, married with children, is alleged to have been involved in arranging "financial and other support for al-Qaeda associates in East Africa".

Court documents say that when he was detained at Nairobi Airport he tried to swallow a list of phone numbers.

He denied the allegations, but in May 2010, the High Court declared that the relocation was justified.

"It is too dangerous to permit him to be in London even for a short period," ruled Mr Justice Collins.

Controlee BH is another British Pakistani man accused of having received terrorism training overseas. He is alleged to have links with two former controlees who absconded and fled the UK.

The remaining two suspects have both been charged with breaching their control orders and are likely to face future trials. One of them was relocated twice to towns in different parts of England.

Reformed regime?

So with the coalition expected to remodel the system, what should the authorities do?

CONTROL ORDERS: NEW REGIME?

  • End overnight curfews - but overnight residency at named location
  • Tag suspects - same as now
  • Bans on visiting locations difficult to keep under surveillance
  • Allow mobile phones - but only if numbers are supplied
  • Foreign travel ban
  • Ban on meetings with other suspects

Lord Carlile QC, the outgoing terror laws watchdog, has long said that control orders are justifiable in a small number of cases where individuals are suspected because of secret intelligence material, rather than evidence of a crime.

The replacement regime is designed to allow surveillance to continue while satisfying the coalition's aim of "rebalancing" security and liberties. Surveillance is expensive and requires teams of up to 30 trained observers to watch one suspect around the clock.

But critics say that any forms of restriction are manifestly unfair.

Imran Khan, a solicitor who represents two controlees, says: "If there was a risk, I would suggest that the best way of neutralising that is to have a trial.

"Put that evidence in the public domain, have it tested by lawyers from both sides, cross-examine and question the individual concerned."

But Bob Quick, Scotland Yard's retired counter-terrorism chief, says that there is a difference between credible intelligence assessments of a threat and evidence of a crime that will lead to a conviction.

"Control orders are an instrument of absolutely last resort," he says. "They are intended for people at the very extreme end of those who pose a threat to society, those in respect of whom we have very compelling intelligence."

Cerie Bullivant is a former controlee who speaks openly about the experience. He went on the run from his order - but turned himself in and in 2008 won his case in the High Court. He says that the system cannot be reformed - and the new restrictions are just the old ones rebranded.

"I was born and brought up in Great Britain where there are fundamental rights to a fair trial, to hear the evidence, to know what you are accused of.

"As long as we are back-tracking on that, things that have been part of this country since the Magna Carta, then we lose any battle before we have started."

"As long as you are using secret evidence, as long as you are detaining people and are not telling people what they are accused of, it will be used for radicalisation."

More on This Story

Related Stories

More UK stories

RSS

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.