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Britain 'sliding into police state'
The home secretary, Charles Clarke, is transforming Britain into a police state, one of the country's former leading anti-terrorist police chiefs said yesterday.
George Churchill-Coleman, who headed Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist squad as they worked to counter the IRA during their mainland attacks in the late 1980s and early 1990s, said Mr Clarke's proposals to extend powers, such as indefinite house arrest, were "not practical" and threatened to further marginalise minority communities.
Mr Churchill-Coleman told the Guardian: "I have a horrible feeling that we are sinking into a police state, and that's not good for anybody. We live in a democracy and we should police on those standards.
He added: "I have serious worries and concerns about these ideas on both ethical and practical terms. You cannot lock people up just because someone says they are terrorists. Internment didn't work in Northern Ireland, it won't work now. You need evidence."
Mr Churchill-Coleman's team had to counter IRA cells which mounted the 1991 mortar attack on Downing Street. His criticism comes as Mr Clarke attempts to convince cabinet colleagues about the need for new powers.
The home secretary has already shown an appetite for the kind of political language favoured by his predecessor, David Blunkett, to justify the tools he says the state needs to fight the ongoing war against terror.
In an interview in today's Daily Telegraph, he warns of the need to monitor not only alleged terror suspects but their family, friends and acquaintances. They could be subjected to potentially daily searches even though they are not accused of any crime, he said.
He said: My first responsibility is to protect people. I don't regard their rights as absolute. There are serious people and serious organisations trying to destroy our society. We are in a state of emergency."
Mr Clarke appeared to be digging in for a long and potentially turbulent fight to achieve his new powers.
As criticism of the proposals grew, Mr Clarke gave a lengthy cabinet presentation on the plans. It is believed that some of the government's own law officers have reservations about the details of the new powers, which are needed to ensure it survives any expected legal challenge under the human rights convention.
Guy Mansfield QC, the chairman of the Bar Council, said yesterday that house arrest without trial was as damaging as imprisonment without trial and would breed resentment among ethnic minorities.
The leftwing Labour MP and QC, Bob Marshall-Andrews, called the proposals "the most substantial extension of the state's executive powers over the citizen for 300 years".
He predicted the bill could face a Labour backbench revolt of up to 70 MPs.
Tony Blair mounted a strong defence of the plans.
Speaking from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, he said: "I pay great attention to the civil liberties of the country. But on the other hand, it is also right that there is a new form of global terrorism in our country, in every other European country and most countries around the world."
Some of the 11 foreign terror suspects held in Belmarsh and Woodhill prisons and Broadmoor high security hospital could be released under strict bail conditions within weeks or even days.
Lawyers will be pressing for three of them to be freed from detention under restrictions similar to the proposed new control order in a series of bail hearings starting on Monday.
The applications, on behalf of the detainees known as A, C and P, could be heard partly in open court at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission.
The men's lawyers will argue that the home secretary had accepted that imprisonment was unnecessary to protect the public when he announced this week that it would be replaced by a new control order imposing restrictions on suspects in the community, up to and including house arrest. The Home Office refused to say yesterday whether Mr Clarke would oppose bail. But lawyers said it would be virtually impossible for him now to argue that imprisonment was necessary for public protection when he himself was proposing a maximum restriction of house arrest.
Lawyers believe the chances are strong that Mahmoud Abu Rideh, a Palestinian detainee whose bail application was heard in December, will be released when the commission delivers its judgment, which is expected imminently.
Mr Clarke's proposals face
a hazardous passage through both houses of parliament as MPs and peers seek
to condemn what some regard as a draconian extension of state power.