Our security services often get it wrong. I was innocent, but bore the brunt of secret hearings. Mohamed should keep on running
This week politicians and the media have raged about “terror suspect” Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed, who absconded, dressed in a burqa, while being monitored by electronic tag. I know how he feels.
I spent two years living under a control order – and the accusation that I was a terrorist. A control order is largely the same thing as a Tpim (terrorism prevention and investigation measure) – with which Mohamed had been issued – just more draconian.
Like Mohamed, I found the pressures of being labelled a “terrorist” life-sapping. And I also absconded.
Mohamed went “on the run” without having been charged with a crime and without being shown the evidence of his alleged wrongdoing. Call me old-fashioned, but I still believe in the basic concept of a trial. I’m not alone. Our justice system has world respect because it was built on the old principle that someone is “innocent until proven guilty”. But with legislation such as Tpims and Schedule 7 – under which David Miranda was detained – this no longer seems to be the case.
I was cleared of my “crime” – but not before I’d lost two years of my life in a netherworld of prisons, police, tags and harassment. The cumulative effects of the conditions destroy all normality: I was forced to stop caring for my sick mother and I had to quit a degree I loved doing. In short, every aspect of my life was dismantled and ruined.
When my case eventually came to court, the judge, Justice Collins, was astonished by the flimsy evidence of my so-called wrongdoing put before him. He said three times that he could see no grounds to suspect me of involvement in terrorism. He added that, if he had seen the evidence before, he’d have thrown the order out.
I was grateful to him for being candid, but by that point I’d lost my previous life.
Over the years it has become clear that the reliability of information from our security services is not to be trusted. They assured us there were WMDs in Iraq, and there were not. They can get it equally wrong in a terrorism case.
That is why we need fair, open trials. Four of the men living under Tpims have been found not guilty in a court of law. And yet an anonymous group of men and women in suits have taken it upon themselves to override this verdict. This is an ugly precedent to set, reminiscent of regimes that are universally condemned.
After 18 months on my control order, I was ready to snap because of the pressures placed on me by these draconian measures. For my sanity, I felt my only option was also to go “on the run”. There was a manhunt, with 400 officers, so I’m told. They didn’t find me, or the two other men I left with. In fact they’ve never caught anyone who’s breached their conditions.
I returned of my own accord after five weeks. I was innocent. I didn’t want to be labeled a “fugitive” – running from a crime I didn’t commit. I handed myself over to police and spent the next six months in Belmarsh prison.
So as someone who’s felt the injustice of being called a terrorist – without evidence – as someone who’s been on the wrong side of secret hearings, and who also saw the futility of a system built on secrets, I say to Mohamed: run as far as you can, run far away from these rainy shores, and I hope you will find the justice that is missing here.
Sometimes, when faced with injustice, the only option is disobedience, so God speed and good journeys.