Presumed Guilty

Remember the Birmingham Six, the Maguire Seven, the Guildford Four and Judith Ward? Behind the campaigning numbers were 18 innocent people who collectively spent scores of years in British jails after being falsely convicted of terrorism offences.

Their sin was to be Irish (or, in Ward’s case, to have spent time in Ireland) during that 1970s period when the Provisional IRA was bombing targets in the UK.

The police, convinced in each case that the 18 were guilty, extracted confessions under torture and/or intimidation, faked evidence and lied in court.

All of this is known, but all of this is too easily forgotten. Now, amid the hue and cry in Britain over the activities of the Islamic State (Isis), it is timely to recall the “mistakes” by the police, by MI5 and by a compliant media, of 40 years ago.

I couldn’t help but notice the triumphant and incautious tone in some newspapers last week when five men, aged 20 to 21, were arrested in London over “a suspected terrorist plot to mount an attack in Britain”.

We learned from some papers last Wednesday (8 October) that they had links to Syria and to Islamic State (Isis). The headlines were unequivocal: “Jihadi plot to attack UK smashed” (Daily Mail); “MI5 smash British ‘Isil terror plot'” (Daily Telegraph); “British medical student arrested on terror charges ‘may have just returned from Somalia'” (the Independent); and “MI5 nab surgeon” (The Sun).

The leaking to the press of such specific information, about Muslims being arrested, by the Police is extremely worrying, and is a repeat of how the Irish were treated not too long ago. But rather than learn from those harsh lessons the Police seem adamant on repeating them.

The criminal justice system in England and Wales has a long standing principle that people are presumed innocent, it is a part of the Human Rights act in both the UK and EU.

But as this Guardian article suggests, here in the UK if you are a Muslim you are presumed guilty and have to prove your innocence.

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