Qatada can stay in UK - but May vows to get rid of him

HOME Secretary Theresa May vowed today that the Government would continue to fight to “get rid” of radical cleric and terror suspect Abu Qatada after he won his latest battle to stay in the UK.

Qatada, who has been fighting extradition for more than a decade, will be released from prison tomorrow after winning an appeal against deportation to Jordan to face trial.

The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) allowed his appeal and chairman Mr Justice Mitting granted him bail, meaning Qatada will be released from maximum security prison HMP Long Lartin tomorrow to return to his home address.

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He will be subject to a 16-hour curfew and allowed out between 8am and 4pm, with the condition he wears an electronic tag, does not use the internet, and does not contact certain people.

Once described as Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe, Qatada was convicted of terror charges in Jordan in his absence in 1999.

The Middle East country has given the Home Secretary assurances that no evidence gained through torture will be used against him. But in today’s ruling, Siac judges said they could not be sure this would be the case.

The Government now plans to appeal, and Mrs May told the Commons today: “Qatada is a dangerous man, a suspected terrorist, who is accused of serious crime in his home country of Jordan.

“The British Government has obtained from the Jordanian government assurances not just in relation to the treatment of Qatada himself, but about the quality of the legal processes that would be followed throughout his trial. We will therefore seek leave to appeal today’s decision.”

She said she believed Mr Justice Mitting applied the “wrong legal test” in finding in Qatada’s favour, adding: “It is deeply unsatisfactory that Abu Qatada has not already been deported to Jordan.

“Successive governments have tried to remove him since December 2001. He has a long-standing association with al Qaida.

“British courts have found that he ‘provides a religious justification for acts of violence and terror’.

“In Jordan he has been tried and found guilty in absentia of planning to attack Western and Israeli targets.

“The Government has been doing everything it can to get rid of Abu Qatada and we will continue to do so.”

Qatada, who is said to have wide and high-level support among extremists, featured in hate sermons found on videos in the flat of one of the September 11 bombers.

He has challenged and ultimately thwarted every attempt by the Government over the last decade to put him on a plane, which is thought to have cost at least £420,000.

Three Siac judges, including Justice Mitting, ruled that evidence from his former co-defendants Abu Hawsher and Al-Hamasher, said to have been obtained by torture, could possibly be used against him in a retrial.

“The Secretary of State has not satisfied us that, on a retrial, there is no real risk that the impugned statements of Abu Hawsher and Al-Hamasher would be admitted probatively against the appellant,” they said.

“Until and unless a change is made to the Code of Criminal Procedure and/or authoritative rulings are made by the Court of Cassation or Constitutional Court which establish that statements made to a public prosecutor by accomplices who are no longer subject to criminal proceedings cannot be admitted probatively against a returning fugitive and/or that it is for the prosecutor to prove to a high standard that the statements were not procured by torture, that real risk will remain.”

But Robin Tam QC, for the Home Office, told the court it had ruled on a “possibility of a possibility”.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper backed plans to appeal against the “extremely serious and worrying judgment”, but said Mrs May needed to get Qatada’s deportation “back on track”.

“According to security experts, the Home Secretary and the courts, this is an extremely dangerous man, and we all want him to be deported to stand fair trial abroad as soon as possible and to be held in custody in the meantime,” she said.

“Yet it now appears we face the prospect of Abu Qatada walking the streets of London and remaining at liberty in this country instead.

“The Home Secretary is right to appeal against this worrying judgment, as every avenue to secure his deportation must be pursued.”

She added: “The Home Secretary needs to say urgently what she is now doing to get Abu Qatada’s deportation back on track and to keep the public safe in the meantime. We cannot have any more mistakes that simply leave the public at risk.”

Qatada’s solicitor Gareth Peirce welcomed today’s decision.

She said: “It is important to reaffirm this country’s position that we abhor the use of torture and a case that was predicated upon evidence from witnesses who have been tortured is rejected - rejected by the courts of this country as by the European Court.

“We clearly agree with the decision, but it is important to emphasise the fundamental rules of law that we subscribe to. To that extent, it is important for other cases, not just for this case.”