Times : Inquiry to be held into anti-terror operation which caused Bob Quick's resignation

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Inquiry to be held into anti-terror operation which caused Bob Quick's resignation

Sean O'Neill and Russell Jenkins | April 23, 2009

The anti-terrorist operation that led to the resignation of a senior policeman, armed raids, the search of 14 properties but ultimately no charges, is to be the subject of an independent inquiry.

Lord Carlile of Berriew, the reviewer of terrorism legislation, said that he would carry out “a snapshot review” of the detention of 12 men picked up a fortnight ago in Manchester, Liverpool and Lancashire, amid claims of an Easter bomb plot. Gordon Brown said at the time that the authorities had foiled “a very big terrorist plot”.

The release of the final two suspects yesterday means that all 12 have been freed without charge. However, 11 of them, Pakistani citizens in Britain on student visas, face deportation on national security grounds, a process that is likely to spark lengthy legal challenges.

Lord Carlile said that he had personally decided to review Operation Pathway, details of which were accidentally disclosed to Downing Street photographers by Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick of Scotland Yard, forcing the arrests to be brought forward. Mr Quick resigned, admitting that he had compromised the operation.

Lord Carlile said: “I shall be requesting input into these events from all involved as soon as possible. This will include those arrested and their legal representatives.”

The only British citizen among those freed was named locally as Hamza Shenwari, 41, a delivery driver, from Cheetham Hill, Manchester. Neighbours said that Mr Shenwari was staying at a hotel while police restored his home to the state it was in before extensive searches.

Afzal Khan, a local Labour councillor, described Mr Shenwari as an “ordinary guy who goes to the mosque to pray”. He added: “I am deeply concerned. On the day of the arrests, people on the streets were saying straight away that they will find nothing, and that it is all political. This has only reinforced that view.”

A Greater Manchester police spokesman said there was insufficient evidence to justify extending the detention of the men. Peter Fahy, the Chief Constable, said that his force was involved in a complex investigation and had acted because of a threat to national security. “When it comes to the safety of the public we can’t take any chances. We must act on information we receive,” he added.

“We don’t take these decisions lightly and only carry out this kind of action if it was wholly justified.”

There are growing recriminations, however. Security sources say that the 12 men were under round-the-clock surveillance and were arrested on the basis of intelligence “chatter” alone. It was hoped that searches might unearth bombmaking equipment or that computers would yield evidence of terrorist planning but no evidence to support a prosecution was found.

The failure of the operation raises questions about the level of co-operation between different anti-terror agencies. MI5, Scotland Yard and Greater Manchester are said to have had angry disagreements about the timing of the arrests. Mr Fahy denied that there were disputes between agencies that were supposed to work together. He said: “I do not feel embarrassed or humiliated by what we have done because we have carried out our duty. There’s been no disagreement between us and the security services.”