'Unfounded and unsubstantiated': London policemen cleared of beating Muslim

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Monday, June 6, 2011

A jury last week cleared four officers from London's Metropolitan Police of assaulting a Muslim arrested on suspicion of al-Qaeda involvement. After trial their lawyer described the charge as "unfounded and unsubstantiated" – but in 2009 the police said Babar Ahmed, 34, had suffered "a serious, gratuitous and prolonged" assault.

Ahmed has been previously paid £60,000 in a civil case, which the jury was unaware of. After one hour of deliberations, they acquited Pc Roderick James-Bowen, 40; Pc Mark Jones, 43; Pc Nigel Cowley, 34; and Detective Constable John Donohue, 37, of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

The four officers claimed at trial that Ahmed's wounds were either self-inflicted or caused during legal restraint during his December 2003 capture. They said he had fought hard against arrest. The prosecutor contended the four officers, from the specialist Territorial Support Group, "punched and [beat Ahmed] on the floor," calling him a "fucking bastard" and a "fucking cunt."

"On the floor the assault continued as his wife called out for the police to stop," Jonathan Laidlaw, prosecuting, told the jury. This was followed, he claimed, by a visit to Ahmed's prayer room, where he was positioned as if praying and asked "Where is your god now? Pray to him."

The prosecution alleged further abuse against Ahmed in a police van en route to the police station, with Ahmed saying at Charing Cross police station he was attacked again in an area not covered by CCTV surveillance. He was left, in the words of Laidlaw, with "areas of bruising, reddening and grazes to [his] head and neck, bruising to the chest, areas of bruising to [his] back, extensive bruising and grazing of the arms. In effect, there were injuries all over the victim's body."

The defence noted that MI5 bugged Ahmed's house and a recording of the arrest failed to show elements of the alleged attack. James-Bowen told the court of a "ferocious" fight with Ahmed, who used "significant force." Jones told the jury his superiors had informed him Ahmed had been trained in both armed and unarmed fighting.

Less than a year earlier, a similar operation in Manchester resulted in an officer stabbed to death by a suspect now serving life in prison. The four officers dealing with Ahmed had been warned their suspect posed a similar threat.

Speaking outside court, their solicitor, Colin Reynolds said the men were now able to "[get] on with their professional lives" following the dismissal by the jury of "unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations." Local media had been barred during trial from reporting that, between the two of them, Jones and James-Bowen had been accused of a total 40 assaults from 1993 to 2007, all of which have been rejected. Jones was previously tried for assaulting two teens in the back of a police van and yelling racist abuse at them, but was cleared.

Fiona Murphy, who represents Ahmed, was critical of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. "We now call upon the IPCC to put its abject failures in relation to this case to one side and to give proper consideration to the misconduct aspects." Ahmed released a statement, saying, "Today's verdict means that no police officer has been held to account for this abuse. Therefore I urge the Metropolitan police to bring disciplinary proceedings against all officers who were personally involved in the assault – and those who turned a blind eye." His father read it out at a post-trial press conference.

Ahmed was never charged, but was re-arrested in 2004 and has spent the last seven years in custody facing extradition to the US. The US seeks to try him for fundraising for militancy amid claims he is a member of al-Qaeda; though initially a ruling in favour of extradition was reached an appeal is pending.

Judge Geoffrey Rivlin QC, who oversaw the trial, expressed support for Ahmed's position detained without trial: "I express the hope that his ordeal as a man in detention in this country for a number of years without trial is brought to an end as soon as possible, either by his extradition or by his release. It is no concern of this court as to which, but it is a matter of concern and I would have thought should be a matter of concern to the public at large, quite apart from Mr Ahmed, that here is a man who has been in custody for literally years without knowing what his fate is to be."